So, here’s Thought Experiment #12

Time for a Thought Experiment

There’s always time for lateral thinking.

In previous Thought Experiments, I’ve asked you about everything from coffee to evil. But as a card-carrying nerd (No, really — I have a S.H.I.E.L.D Agent ID I got from the Marvel Experience, and if that isn’t a nerd card I don’t know what is), I think it’s time we got down to the good stuff.

Comic books.

Oh, comics. How I love you. From the goofiness of the Golden Age to the grittier-than-thou late 80s and 90s, that four-color art form warms my heart. Cliche monthly titles or sprawling graphic novels that challenge the form. Sophisticated storytelling like Neil Gaiman’s epic Sandman. Insightful coming-of-age work like Ted Naifeh’s Courtney Crumrin. Inspiring brilliance like Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel. And I can’t forget artists and inkers…

I’m going to stop before I start babbling.

Comics are having a serious pop culture moment, and they owe a lot of that success to the idea of the superhero. There are all sorts of other stories, of course, but when we think of comic books, we think of fluttering capes and quips made under pressure and feats of superhuman coolness.

So here’s the experiment: If your brand was a superhero, who would s/he be? What sort of costume, powers, and backstory would set him or her apart from the others? Maybe your brand is a driven anti-hero detective. Or a conflicted beacon of righteousness. Or a compassionate, regal visitor to the world of men.

Why would I ask this?

Because you, buddy, ought to be thinking about what makes your brand unique.

Go ahead. Give it a think. See what you get.

So, here’s Thought Experiment #11

Time for a Thought Experiment

There’s always time for lateral thinking.

You don’t have to be Lamont Cranston, who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, in order to see if something’s wrong at work. If you have a business, or run a department, or supervise anyone or anything at all, you know that one of your responsibilities is to shore up the weak and make best use of the strong. That could mean people. That could mean processes. That could even mean weird directives handed down from the home office/upper levels that make no real-world sense. So here’s my question to you. Do you know what the weak parts are?

In other words, if you were the bad guy, all nefarious and mustache-twirling, how would your take down your own biz?

Maybe you’d approach a dissatisfied employee who’s vital but feels under appreciated and has been more negative than usual recently. Maybe you’d exploit a manufacturing inefficiency. Maybe you’d develop a social media strategy for your competing company that whupped the pants off what you’re currently rocking.

What’s really important is that you take stock. New year, new start, right? Like Peter Drucker said, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

Why would I ask this?

Because as you let your inner evil genius out to play, it ought to occur to you, buddy, “Hey, now I know what parts of my sky-writing firm/jelly bean factory/envelope licking service need to be fixed!”

Go on. Take a look around. See what you find.

So, here’s Thought Experiment #10


Time for a Thought Experiment

There’s always time for lateral thinking.

Philly’s favorite son John Wanamaker is one of the fathers of modern advertising. He was the first to buy a half-page newspaper ad, the first to buy a full-page newspaper ad, and — more near and dear to my heart as someone who thinks writing is an art, dammit — the first to hire a full time copywriter.

But maybe most famously, he’s the cat that said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

So here’s your task, my little tater tot. Let’s say your marketing budget gets slashed in half. Boom! 50% gone like Gone Girl. Pop quiz, hot shot. What do you do? What do you do?

Do you pull a stunt and try to go viral? Skywriting? Maybe a street campaign with clever flyers optimized for Instagram and reaching out to influencers on social media? Or do you whittle down and dig into data and try to figure out where each of your dollars really does the most good? Maybe both?

Why would I ask this?

Because you, buddy, should be considering how to blow past setbacks.

Wrap your brain around it. See what you get.

So, here’s Thought Experiment #9

Time for a Thought Experiment

There’s always time for lateral thinking.

Last time we experimented thoughtfully, I let you in on the secret method behind my madness for these challenges — lateral thinking. Since then, I’ve been thinking about thinking, in a recursive kinda way. I’ve decided there’s a Patron Saint of Lateral Thinking. And he’s got a mullet.

Yes, ladies and gentlebeings, I’m talking about Agent Angus MacGyver. (Didn’t know he had a first name, didja? Well he did, and it was Scottish. And awesome.)

So here’s your Saint MacGyver Challenge.

Look around you right this instant. At your desk or on your phone or when and where ever you’re reading this. What’s in sight? Paper clips? Coffee stirrers? The answer to the mystery of the Mary CelesteWhatever you see is all that you have for this experiment.

Now. Construct something. Even just an image or a logo or a still life. But here’s the catch. That something has to represent your brand.

Bonus points if it blows up. Because MacGyver.

Why would I ask this?

Because you, buddy, should be flexing those lateral thinking muscles.

Go on. Get cracking. Make Mac proud.

So, here’s Thought Experiment #8

Time for a Thought Experiment

There’s always time for lateral thinking.

“Hey, Stephanie — what’s with the Thought Experiments, anyway?” you didn’t ask. But I’m going to answer anyway. I’m nice like that.

There’s this clever gent named Dr. Edward de Bono who wrote “The Use of Lateral Thinking” in 1967. And it is. Useful, I mean. It’s become sort of trendy and buzzword-y since then, and the original meaning has sometimes been lost in a haze of vague approximation, but in essence, lateral thinking is using creative, indirect approaches to solving problems.

That is what each of these little experiments is designed to do. Make you think about your branding in a different way. Shake up your assumptions. Walk up to your preconceptions, poke ’em in the chest, and say, “What’re you gonna do about it, punk?”

In other words, there’s a method to my madness. And here’s today’s experiment.

What coffee drink is your brand?

Maybe you want to be a sleek and high-tech coffee, like a Chemex pour over, to reflect your modern sensibility. Or maybe you’re youthful, playful, something frothy and blended? Maybe you take no guff and no prisoners, and you’re a straight up cup of joe, black, no sugar.

Why would I ask this?

Because you, buddy, should start thinking about how you want to present your company to consumers used to seventy gazillion options.

G’head. Give it a ponder. See what’s in your cup.

So, here’s Thought Experiment #7

Time for a Thought Experiment

There’s always time for lateral thinking.

If you’ve been paying attention to Content Marketing World 2014, you know they got one hell of a keynote speaker: Kevin Spacey. Yeah, the Kevin Spacey. Keyser Söze himself.

(Note from 2018: Wow, did this keynote speaker choice not age well.)

But that got me thinking about one of my favorite storytelling techniques — the plot twist. Oh ye gods, I love a good plot twist. If I don’t see it coming, if like the finest stage magician you distract me with sleight of hand and then spring the surprise on me with a flourish? I am all sorts of into it.

What sort of plot twists can work in your advertising? And how can you make them work on social media? 140 characters isn’t a lot of room, so you’ll have to be clever. But it can be done.

Why would I ask this?

Because you, buddy, should start thinking about how to play with and delight your audience.

Give it a think. See what your inner magician can pull off.

So, here’s Thought Experiment #6

Time for a Thought Experiment

There’s always time for lateral thinking.

By now, if you write or market or create, oh, anything, you’ve heard of the elevator pitch. Forbes has covered ’em. Entrepreneur has covered ’em. This page has the best image choice ever for ’em. We can safely conclude that critter is here to stay.

But you don’t want to craft an elevator pitch for your brand. Ugh. Boring.

Nah. You want to craft a movie trailer for your brand.

Please note: I’m not saying go make one (though you could and it would be awesome and if you do please send me the link immediately.) But think about it. What’s your music? What’s the voiceover text? Does stuff blow up?

(Oh, man. Stuff should blow up. Unless maybe you sell Unexplodable Widgets. Then…yeah. Don’t do that.)

Why would I ask this?

Because you, buddy, should start thinking about how you want to manage perception of your brand.

Run it up the flagpole. See if it waves.

So, here’s Thought Experiment #5

Time for a Thought Experiment

There’s always time for lateral thinking.

One of the great and abiding tragedies of the modern world is the cancellation of a show called Firefly. This brilliant study in character and world building, helmed by Avengers director Joss Whedon, lasted a paltry eleven episodes, though fourteen were filmed.

Y’all, it was good. So good. “Best BBQ you’ve ever had washed down with an icy cold beer” kind of good.

One of the best things about the show was how it took genre expectations and tweaked them. Sure, there were spaceships and far-flung worlds and a galactic empire. But it wasn’t Science Fiction. At its heart, it was a Western.

Which brings me to my thought experiment: What genre is your business? And should you subvert it?

To return to the imaginary flower shop we’ve discussed, it would be easy to define them as a Romance (in the modern, not classical sense). But could they twist that around, set themselves apart from the competition? What about a Science Fiction approach? Easy enough to establish with imagery. Beakers. Clipboards. Very Serious People in Very Serious Lab Coats. All of that would stand out against a background of pastels and petals.

Why would I ask this?

Because you, buddy, should start thinking about intelligently subverting expectations.

Give it a think. See what occurs to you.

So, here’s Thought Experiment #4

Time for a Thought Experiment

There’s always time for lateral thinking.

Storytelling is my obsession and my life, sure, but not all stories need to be on the list of the longest novels in the English language. Ernest Hemingway famously was issued a challenge to tell a story in just six words. Here’s his reply:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Heartbreaking, mm? All that pathos crammed into six words. Extraordinary economy.

And that’s exactly what you need in social media storytelling. Can you do it for your brand? Let’s say, for example, you have flower shop.

“You’re in trouble. We can help.”

That’s a little too easy, isn’t it? Plays to negative stereotypes about how men and women interact. Can we do better?

“Rainy days need color. Send flowers.”

That’s a little better. Reminds folks to use your service for Just Because, not just Special Events. But maybe we can do better than that.

“She’s wondering. Answer her with flowers.”

There we go. Nice. Concise. Worth the price.

Why would I ask this?

Because you, buddy, should start thinking about making your message fit the medium.

Give it a shot. See what you get.