When I sit down with CEO's for consultancy sessions, or founders who are pitching me to invest or if I am helping an established brand who are working on the exit strategy I often encourage them to 'get creative'.
What ways can they add more value with an alternative viewpoint?
How can they fulfil a demand that their competitors don't?
What is the norm in their sector and how can they do things slightly differently or completely the opposite?
I guess, in a way, I pride myself in being an 'outside the box thinker' these days, but that's only because that alternate way of looking at things has enabled me to enjoy so many business successes when that counter-intuitive reasoning comes into play.
Sometimes you mention the word creativity and people will instantly say 'I am not a creative person, I leave that to my marketing team or branding agency or graphic designer' but creativity comes in many guises and while a lot of top level executives might not think of themselves in the traditional 'artistic' format of creativity, there is almost always a level of innovation within the strategy that they deploy in order to grow and scale a business.
One of the best things that we ever did to scale my first major business, Travelworld, was get creative with how we could advertise our very unique proposition (which I mentioned in a previous blog) by being as up to date with our holiday options as possible.
When I tell you this story, please bear in mind dear reader that we are talking in the pre-internet, pre-smart phone, pre-social media days (yes, I have been in the game that long!)
The local newspaper was the best way to reach our consumers at that time - this was back in the heady days of print dominating marketing, due to circulation numbers and readership being huge. The paper had a section on the back page (prime advertising real estate in print marketing terms) called 'Stop Press' and as long as you got your advert into the paper by 10am that day, it would appear on the back pages that same night. This was about as close to real-time advertising as you could get.
The result of these advertising placements was astounding.
We would turn up at the travel agency on a Saturday morning to a queue of waiting customers all excitedly wanting to spend money with us, based on the offers we had often created just 24 hours before.
Again, this was pre-digital revolution, so the fact that we created a holiday package first thing on a Friday morning, called up with the advert by 10am, advertised it that same day and sold that travel inventory a day later was pretty impressive.
It was such an effective strategy that we literally couldn't handle the demand. We had to open more sites to deal with the number of customers who were queuing out the door, literally! On Saturday's we ended up employing 'runners' who would go up and down the queue taking tea, coffee and bacon butty orders, to keep the patiently waiting (most of the time!) clients happy before they could get into a store. We would regularly have people wait for 4 hours to get in to see us.
I don't tell you this story to make you think I am some sort of smart ass, the point of this tale is the fact that we won because we got creative in a world where no one else was.
We had a good few years before the other tour operators worked out that we had dominated a market that was right under their nose - a market they didn't even know existed frankly. We took huge chunks of market share from incumbent high street giants and no one knew how on earth we were doing it. It got to the stage where my teams were outselling tour operators own-brand stores... on their own stock. This ultimately led to them acquiring us eventually, they had to bring in the plucky, creative upstart into the big machine as we were so disruptive to the marketplace. And one of the main reasons for us to be able to disrupt at that level... we got creative.
So, do it. Think outside the box - it's the deeper level of thinking that helps you go that extra mile - and it's never crowded on the extra mile my friends.