For New Brand Ideas, Look Beyond Your Backyard

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We’re all looking for the next big thing – that silver-bullet product or that new brand idea that sets us apart from the pack and sends our growth curve rocketing ever skyward.

Trouble is, we often look in the wrong places. We’re waist-deep in the same data points, stuck between the walls of our narrowly-defined industries. We’re looking at the usual suspects and, inexplicably, expecting them to tell us something new. We’re turning over the dirt in our own backyards.

Let’s get our heads out of our cubicles, our categories, and our competitive sets. If you’re looking for track-jumping, new brand ideas that spark real growth, try these tips to get you started:

Keep a “consumer experience journal.”

For reasons I’ll never understand, marketers often see consumers as a kind of alien life form, engaged in odd behaviors and driven by strange motivations. Such marketers tend to overlook the fact that they, themselves, are consumers. And so are you.

On any given day, you use hundreds of brands and are exposed to thousands more. For instance, at this moment, I’m typing this article on a Dell laptop equipped with Microsoft Word; as usual, iTunes is also running. Within arm’s reach is a GE phone, a bottle of Bell’s beer (don’t tell my editor), a Palm planner and a Moleskine notebook. I’m wearing Converse jeans, a Penguin polo, and Onitsuka Tiger sneakers (thanks, Zappos). That’s 12 brands, and I haven’t moved. I’d consider myself a fan of several of these brands, indifferent to some, and something of a hostage to one.

Grab a blank book and start a consumer experience journal. Its purpose? To consciously gather insights about these brand interactions. Throughout the day, note those brands that stand out. Ask questions like: Why do you use the brands you use? Which delight you? If they’ve earned your loyalty, exactly how did they do that? Which fell short of your expectations? Why? Does that suggest a problem that can be solved?

Do this for a few weeks, and you will almost certainly gather insights and new brand ideas that you can apply to your own challenge.

Learn from “best-of’s” and rising stars.

Look to the current and emerging leaders in categories beyond your own. Dig deep on their success drivers. Don’t make a surface-level conclusion like “Apple wins with great design.” Study exactly how Apple wins – culturally, operationally, tactically – and allow for the fact that your initial hypothesis may be inaccurate.

And look beyond the world of product and service marketing. Rising stars in the worlds of music, movies and pop culture may provide inspiration. So might almanacs or the Book of Lists.

Borrow some brains.

There’s no rule that says you have to figure it out on your own. You’re surrounded by smart people. Share your challenge with them and benefit from their perspective.

For that matter, share your challenge with people who are unfamiliar with your world – the college friend who works in a completely different field, the pharmacist you’ve come to know and trust. It doesn’t always work. But it doesn’t always not work either.


I don’t just mean branding and marketing books. I mean philosophy, history, psychology, science, fiction – whatever strikes your fancy. Support your local bookseller and buy a half-dozen magazines you’ve never heard of. Dig in. They’ll take you somewhere new, and you’ll be amazed at what can be applied.

We business types tend to develop similar thought patterns and our own curious language. These are sometimes well removed from the real world, and we should consciously fight this kind of insularity. Expanding your literary horizons is a powerful and inexpensive way to do that.


It’s not a popular choice in the nose-to-the-grindstone workplace, but sometimes you just gotta walk away. Move your challenge from the front to the back of your mind. Focus on other things. A few days later, you’ll return to it with refreshed thinking and a new approach.

Where do you get your ideas? Share your thoughts in the Comments section.

A version of this post appeared in the American City Business Journals column “That Branding Thing” on July 24, 2009, and appears here with permission.

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew helps challenger brands to focus, grow and win.  Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.”  His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation.  Contact Matthew here.  He calls Chicago home.

Copyright 2009 – Matthew Fenton.  All Rights Reserved.  You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.

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