What's in the box? The magic of 'inside the box' thinking

By Naomi Robinson, Senior strategist



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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August 6, 2018 | 4 min read

It’s the '70s. The grown ups are sipping wine from a box, the kids are digging the toy from the bottom of the cereal box, mixing Angel Delight from a box and watching The Muppet Show or Monty Python’s Flying Circus on the box.

What's in the box

The '70s was 'box-tastic'. It was also the decade thinking climbed out of the box, when psychologist J. P. Guilford conducted an experiment in which people were asked to join a square grid of nine dots using four straight lines. Just 20% successfully solved this problem by extending the lines beyond the grid itself and venturing ‘outside the box’.

The experiment sparked a notion that true creative thinking lies beyond the constraints of convention. This was quickly embraced by marketers, psychologists, scientists and product designers eager to raise their creative credentials.

Over the next five decades, ‘outside the box’ thinking spawned a seismic shift in the way brands were advertised, a wealth of ingenious, brilliant and unforgettable campaigns and a few pretentious agencies.

But sometimes the best creative solutions are simple, not earth-shattering. The idea of a rigid ‘box’ outside which truly great ideas are found is a false (and creatively risky) construct, implying there aren’t valuable consumer truths closer to home. In the rush to leap outside the box have marketers been forgetting to explore the gold mine of knowledge and opportunities inside it?

And what is the box anyway? Not a sterile cage, but an amorphous, responsive container filled with what we know about our consumers and our market, its sides constantly stretching and shifting as we uncover more insights.

At ifour we work with clients to identify the boundaries of their market and customer understanding. What information is known? What is assumed? What is yet to be unpacked? What might be unexplored? In doing so, we add new insights and truths to existing ones, expanding the box. We Create Clever®, looking at the big picture to reveal the answers hiding in clear sight as well as those beyond the horizon. This translates into creative solutions that deliver maximum value for brands, not for our creative ego.

For example, our brand workshop with chocolatier Cocoapod revealed powerful and motivating consumer insights along with points of strength and difference that we emphasised in their marketing messaging. Exploring the essence of Cocoapod’s offer opened up new ways to express the brand’s key attributes of quality, fun, creativity, reliability and colour. Following the project, online orders for Cocoapod increased by 63% and revenue increased by 83%.

You can avoid defaulting to ‘outside the box’ thinking by lifting the lid and asking:

  • What is my target market looking for and what is missing from the market?
  • How do my existing audience feel about my brand and respond to it?
  • How do my target market respond to my competitor’s brands?

The answers could reveal a treasure trove of consumer insights, Or, as Graham Robertson from describes them, ‘little secrets hidden beneath the surface that explain the underlying behaviours, motivations, pain points and emotions of your consumers.’

There may be big ideas waiting to be discovered outside the box, just remember to look inside it first; There could be a free toy in the bottom - and it might turn out to be the decoder ring that unlocks your business’ growth strategy.

Naomi Robinson, senior strategist, ifour.


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create clever ®

ifour is a multiple award-winning creative agency based in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Founded by Creative Director, Graeme Hall. His vision was...

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