Forget “thinking outside the box”— it helps to just get outside
Sometimes it only takes a little reminder to realize the limitations of the virtual world and the impact of experiences in the real world.
For me, that reminder came in the form of cowboy boots. Lots and lots of cowboy boots.
A friend and I recently visited my alma mater on a college football Saturday, a school where football, and dressing up for football games, is a big deal for the students. As my friend and I got closer to campus, she noticed a group of young co-eds all wearing sundresses—with cowboy boots.
“That’s odd,” she said. And I responded with an equally deep sociological observation. “Well, maybe it’s a thing.”
That’s exactly what it turned out to be—a big thing. A big trend. Everywhere we went on campus, we saw scores of young women wearing skirts and dresses with cowboy boots. They didn’t sport that look when I was in school, and no, I generally don’t hang around 18- and 19-year-old girls. So how would I have known about this trend?
As a copywriter, I’ve always made it a point to stay abreast of societal trends, new technologies, and other shifts and changes that affect the advertising business. And the Internet makes it easy to research any topic you like. But you can only go so far from behind your desk.
We’re all creatures of habit. Habits are comfortable. We have our favorite TV shows, go to the restaurants we know and like, and we gravitate towards similar people. It’s just human nature to embrace what’s familiar.
But there’s an awakening that occurs when you go places you ordinarily don’t and experience things you don’t usually experience. Think about it: If you drive the same route to work day after day, you can almost do it in your sleep, right? (In fact, I think I might have.) But what would happen one day if they closed the road you take to work and you’re forced to take a detour? All of a sudden, you’re more awake. You pay more attention. You see new things, you experience new territory. And you grow as a result.
Back to the cowboy boots for a minute. I’m not sure how the trend started. Maybe Miley Cyrus had something to do with it, who knows. (I’ll bet someone reading this does.) But how would a boot brand respond? A shoe store or e-commerce retailer? Does this cowboy boot trend have, uh, legs? Will it be around next year? 10,000 college co-eds buying cowboy boots is a big market—and probably a fickle one. Plenty of marketers have made, and lost, tons of money riding a trend like this one. I left the campus that day with lots of questions.
Yes, there are plenty of research services, Account Planners, ethnographers, trend hunters, and other companies that report and deliver information on what’s happening out in the world to the ad industry. And you can read their reports, visit their websites and get their e-newsletters. We’ve become accustomed to learning about life, and our target audiences, through Google searches.
However, all the technology that’s opened up new possibilities for marketing also constricts us. You can immerse yourself in all the social media you want, but it’s amazing how the pressure to keep up it all, and the time it takes, can make you anti-social. Nothing replaces the feeling you get when you experience a phenomenon for yourself.
The advertising business thrives on what’s new and what’s different. Sure, we’re often a step behind the curve on music, fashion, and other trends. We take trends and co-opt them once they’ve become popular. But we have to keep experiencing what’s out there. Without new stimuli, ideas get stale. Concepts feel dated. And that’s when advertising agencies and clients get restless.
So if you’re feeling like life’s getting a little staid, that you’re not as productive or stimulated as you’d like to be, make the effort to get out of the office. And out of the usual routine. It’ll make a difference in how you look at things. Sometimes you just have to get out and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
Or even better, their cowboy boots.