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Opinion: Thinking outside the box doesn’t have to be revolutionary

Written by Matt Johnson

Normally, these blog posts are written from the point of view of the organisation, providing you with valuable insight and actionable top tips. But, this is the first of a new-style blog post.

In this first opinion piece, I’ll be looking at the term “think outside the box” and its relationship with marketing.

My view, as you’ll guess from the title, is that thinking outside the box doesn’t have to be revolutionary.

Within the bubble of marketing, we love sharing examples of best practice. But more often than not, these are big-budget campaigns by national and international brands.

Although learnings can be extracted from these examples, they’re not very relatable to your average SME.

For those on the fringes and outside the marketing bubble, there may be an inaccurate reflection of what “good” marketing is. An inaccurate reflection of what “thinking outside the box” looks like.

However, there are so many examples of SMEs who have thought outside the box and produced results that, relative to their size, are exceptional. But because they didn’t win international awards and feature all over social media, they’re not seen as an example of best practice.

And we’re guilty of this too. We feature many prominent brands within our communications and don’t do enough to showcase the small, local businesses doing fantastic work.

Look beyond the obvious.

One of my gripes with the term “think outside the box” is its association with radical and revolutionary ideas. Rather than more subtle ingenuity.

It’s why we use the term “look beyond the obvious”.

To me, looking beyond the obvious can be used to describe when Coinbase decided to use their multi-million dollar Superbowl ad slot to feature just a QR code.

But, it can also be used to describe a small business reframing its marketing communications in a way that results in an outcome greater than the original change.

To exemplify what I mean, I’m turning to a book I’m currently reading. Authored by creative genius Rory Sutherland, Alchemy looks at how abandoning logic and rational thinking can unlock creative solutions to problems.

Within the book, Rich tells the story of how he was once asked to improve a two-page letter selling insurance products.

Previous iterations had been tweaked and added to, seemingly improving the response rate.

So, the “inside the box”, obvious solution was to add further detail to the letter, making it even more informative.

However, Rich’s solution was to rewrite the letter so that it was just several lines long.

When tested against one another, the short letter outperformed the long letter.

Both were reassuring and persuasive, but one was more effective than the other.

By looking beyond the obvious and making subtle changes, SMEs can see impressive results.

Visit Hull

We recently worked with Visit Hull to create a campaign which also exemplifies a subtle peak outside the box. A look beyond the obvious.

Having previously worked on a copywriting project with Visit Hull, we noticed that venues across the country describe most of their venues as family-friendly, even if they are not locations normally associated with families. For example, art galleries.

So, we developed a concept that would show people that Hull’s Ferens Art Gallery is family-friendly, rather than just telling them it is.

We did this by taking three kids to the gallery and letting them loose. With a 117% increase in average video views and positive feedback from both Visit Hull and Ferens Art Gallery, this again shows that looking beyond the obvious can make a real difference.

Wrapping Up

Yes, thinking outside the box can be an exceptional, revolutionary idea. But it doesn’t have to be.

As an industry, we need to try and reframe what “best practice” looks like, showcase more small businesses and appreciate results relative to the size of the business.

I think “look beyond the obvious” describes what I’m trying to explain. And that’s why it’s one of our core values. Sometimes, we will develop a magical, moonshot idea that changes the game for a client. But, more often than not, we will be implementing more subtle, creative ideas that have a relative impact on that business.


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