Open Marketing Starts with a Candle, Matches & Tacks

Everyone who has worked in business understands that we operate in a free market economy. At anytime a new company can enter a market at will, with the sole purpose of taking away your customers. There are many reasons this may occur. A new product feature, a better sales process, or maybe a more relevant customer message.

So how does your business stay relevant and poised to respond to these external forces? Countless books have been written outlining a variety of ways your business can rise to the challenge. From workforce culture to lean manufacturing and everything in between, there are countless strategies to give you an edge. Your business has learned to hire the right way. It’s got a culture of innovation and it’s people are highly engaged. Fantastic! But maybe you’re not seeing the growth you anticipated.

Open Marketing

I’d like you to consider looking at the situation from a different perspective. What if I told you that I could run your business better? You’d likely laugh me out of the room. And you’d be justified to do so…to a degree. The problem isn’t that you don’t want growth. The problem is that, in isolation, you and your team are only equipped to solve your problem with a limited set of tools.

There needs to be a new way of thinking. Open marketing is a philosophy that’s grounded in your organization’s ability to work across the enterprise with other functions in your business. The goal is by working more collaboratively, you can build more meaningful relationships with your customers by providing the right value at every interaction.

Redefining the Problem

Have you ever heard of Duncker’s candle problem? It is the cognitive riddle that challenges you to figure out how to light a candle and attach it to a wall in a way so the candle wax won’t drip onto the table below. To do so, you may only use a book of matches, a box of thumbtacks and the candle itself. If you’re familiar with this exercise, you know the answer. If you’re not, think as you read.

I’ll admit when faced with this challenge for the very first time, I failed. I reviewed the materials over and over again in my head. My difficulty always started with my understanding of the problem. Okay, so no wax can get on the table. Simple right? The problem is that I (and many others) begin thinking of the problem too narrowly.

These kinds of problems often require us to step back and stop thinking. Design thinking is a process that enables many teams and organizations to solve complex problems and it has a specific approach for problem solving. But before we solve the problem, I’d like to look at how design thinking sees the problem.

“Design thinking in problem definition also requires cross functional insight into each problem by varied perspectives as well as constant and relentless questioning, like that of a small child, Why?, Why? Why? Until finally the simple answers are behind you and the true issues are revealed. Finally, defining the problem via design thinking requires the suspension of judgment in defining the problem statement. What we say can be very different to what we mean. The right words are important. It’s not “design a chair”, it’s…”create a way to suspend a person”. The goal of the definition stage is to target the right problem to solve, and then to frame the problem in a way that invites creative solutions.”

Often times we think we see a problem clearly. But as up-and-coming director Ryan Coogler said in a recent interview, “Everybody’s a prisoner of their own perspective. I can only see the world through my own eyes.” Seeing the problem from a different angle will always invite more dialogue, more discussion and greater clarity. This begins with transparency and a degree of self-awareness. When we are able to open up and consider a definition other than our own, we will be begin to see problems in a different light.

This is true of individuals and teams. Many organizations inadvertently create cultures that restrict creative thinking. Teams are structured in a manner that limits the ability of team members to play an integral role in providing their insight when problem solving. Open marketing is predicated on a culture that breaks down barriers of communication, at every level, and shares in the responsibility of creating powerful customer experiences.

Finding the Solution

But solving Dunker’s candle problem didn’t stop at my ability to understand the problem. I also struggled to see a viable solution. I couldn’t see any solution that included the objects provided, which were the candle, the tacks and the matches. This is true of any situation, isn’t it? We are often limited to only what we see.

This limitation was the same challenge Macy’s recently faced. R.B. Harrison, Chief Omnichannel Officer, described their effort of finding a strategy that focused on their most valued customer. This customer is one who engages with Macy’s across all channels (in store & online). Data revealed that these customers were 8 times more valuable to the organization. The in store and digital systems thought they saw the answers clearly. Each were great at serving the customer in their silos. But when the customer went both ways, there was friction in the customer experience. The answer was in bringing both in-store and digital teams together.

“In January we announced bringing the organizations together. Solely focused on providing the best experience that was consistent across digital and in-store. We started by this by cross pollinating the teams together. And we launched a pilot in one of our single businesses, “social dresses”. And in that we brought all the information into one environment, so they (the customer) had complete clarity of vision to the single view of the inventory. Putting them into one environment was where we found the path forward. And we got incredible results. We got a significant increase in sales trend. We got an improvement in natural margin. We got a lot of learnings of what the teams could do when they learned what the other side could do.”

– R.B. Harrison

As you can see, when teams were brought together, the solution became more evident. Many businesses isolate their teams and systems to achieve efficiency and gain greater scale. But a new way forward is required to engage and connect with today’s customer. This means greater collaboration between those teams and systems that touch the customer experience.

Disrupt Your Thinking

This open approach to marketing isn’t some pie-in-the-sky thinking. It’s grounded in research. A study on innovation done by Harvard Business Review contributors found that the best ideas come by studying analogous fields. You might be saying, “So you’re telling me to look at a completely different industry for answers?” Yes I am. However, it’s not simply looking at a different industry. It’s looking for industries that share similar deep structure patterns. Patterns that align to a similar core problem.

For example, if you’re trying to find the best way to engage customers in your product or service, consider a different question; “Why do people feel so passionately about sports?”

“People versed in analogous fields can draw on different pools of knowledge, and they’re not mentally constrained by existing, “known” solutions to the problem in the target field. The greater the distance between the problem and the analogous field, the greater the novelty of the solutions.”

As you assess your marketing goals and challenges, consider the problem you’re solving, your view of the solutions as well as your perspective. Your customer is in the driver’s seat. They are driving the level of engagement with you business. Each marketing decision you make is based on you and your teams perspective. Maybe it’s time to open it.

Brian Solis shares in his book X: The Experience When Business Meets Design;

“Customer experience strategists largely operate in silos, which by design introduces friction into the customer journey. Each department often acts as its own fiefdom, designing and managing their respective touch-points differently and adhering to differing standards and metrics, thereby causing challenges in ownership, responsibilities, and proving ROI of CX (customer experience) efforts.”

– Brian Solis

There is an immense opportunity we have as marketers within our organizations to lead the open marketing discussion. It’s to open new lines of communication across the business. All in an effort to drive meaningful customer interactions and ultimately create brand advocacy. But your strategy must always start and end with the customer.

Remember Duncker’s candle problem? For those who didn’t know how to solve it, did you figure it out? Or did you redefine the problem by going to Google and seek some outside inspiration? 🙂

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