Think Like An Outsider - How To Solve Problems And Create Breakthroughs In Marketing

by Randy Murray on January 19, 2010

A recent article in Wired has a piece of gold buried inside it where most might not ever see it, mainly because of the title: Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up. Neuroscience might not interest everyone, but inside in the article there’s a story about observing two lab teams working on the same problem. One team was made up of experts on the single subject. The other was made up of a diverse group of people with different expertise. The uniform group took weeks to solve the problem – they attacked it by brute force, methodically testing various approaches. The diverse group solved the problem in 10 minutes during a group meeting.

I’ve seen this work in business and especially marketing time and again. When a team becomes insular it falls in love with its own ideas. The team runs up against big problems that take too long and too much money to solve. They are resistant to suggestions and criticism from outsiders. But when teams are made up from a cross-section of the business, problems are quickly solved and the solutions tend to be widely applicable.

Why is this? The Wired Article nails it.

This is why other people are so helpful: They shock us out of our cognitive box. “I saw this happen all the time,” Dunbar says. “A scientist would be trying to describe their approach, and they’d be getting a little defensive, and then they’d get this quizzical look on their face. It was like they’d finally understood what was important.”

Marketing is about communicating. And if you want to succeed at that, you have to escape from your insular, inside-the-box mindset. You have to think like a prospect. If you can realize that and do it, you’ll drop all of the shorthand and jargon that grows up inside a company and get to the place where you can talk about your product or service and your organization in ways that make sense.

Here are some suggestions that have worked for me:

  1. Include someone from your customer service team on your marketing projects. They’re the ones who talk with customers every day. They’ll know the issues, problems, and what really matters.
  2. Build a group of temporary team members who can rotate thru on your big projects. Pitch to them. Ask them about your problems and roadblocks. A continual stream of fresh eyes and minds will help you maintain your momentum.
  3. Keep your competitive research fresh. You need to understand not only what your competitors are up to, but what messages they’re delivering to your prospects.
  4. Develop a list of companies outside your industry that you admire and include them in your competitive research. Track their marketing and continually ask, “How do they break through to their customers?”

Learning how to think like an outsider, how to explain your problem to someone else, is an important skill, but even better, bringing an outsider inside your team will help with that important perspective. But remember, they’ll only remain an outsider for a short period of time. Soon they’ll learn your jargon, begin to think like everyone else. Soon they’ll be part of the problem, just the way you are.

The Think Like An Outsider - How To Solve Problems And Create Breakthroughs In Marketing by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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