Catholic Knights Insurance has one unique marketing constraint: it only sells insurance to Catholics. They’re a team of experts, so after establishing market leadership in quality healthcare and successfully defending various lawsuits against their company, the Catholic Knights decided to grow their top-line. To figure out how to do it, they called up innovation consultant and author Bryan Mattimore. Together, they focused on one primary ideation technique — opportunity redefinition — to increase sales.
The results were stunning. Six months later, Mattimore got an email from the VP of sales reporting that that technique alone was responsible for a multimillion-dollar increase in sales for his team — an over 52% climb.
Opportunity Redefinition is a simple, sometimes silly-feeling technique, which involves writing an opportunity statement, substituting words in that statement, and then randomly combining the new words to get new opportunity statements. But it worked like magic. In an interview, I asked Mattimore to explain the success: “Because we know our businesses so well, we tend to have a limited view on how to sell and what we can do. That very simple technique totally opened up their minds to the literally thousands of possibilities to deal with the conventional questions,” he said.
Opportunity redefinition is only one of many powerful ideation techniques that Mattimore has used with clients to improve sales, develop products, and position brands. Most of these techniques, which he explains in depth in his books, rely heavily on asking and answering questions in new ways to reveal possibilities. “Sometimes the real creative accomplishment is the question, even more so than the answer. The question will often imply the answer because to formulate it; you may have to consider things that haven’t been considered before,” explained Mattimore. Question-based techniques not only help you generate new ideas by sheer quantity, but they can also help you transform the way you frame a problem, so you can then come up with strategically sound, but new ideas.
Take a look at these two surprising examples of how simple questions can direct revolutionary business decisions.
THINK YOU WANT TO DISRUPT YOUR INDUSTRY? LISTEN TO MATTIMORE EXPLAIN WHY YOU MIGHT WANT TO THINK AGAIN.
Problem Framing Through 20 Questions
Here’s an example of how Problem Framing works in a real life situation. A New York City developer who found himself in dire need of a new idea when, to his horror, he discovered that he hadn’t installed enough elevators in a building. When he started asking himself what he could do, he began with the basics:
- Where can I get more money to install extra elevators?
- Can we make the existing elevators work more efficiently?
These answers are all about efficiency and money, but as he continued to probe, he expanded his scope of consideration:
- How can we encourage less use of the elevators?
- How can we get people to take the stairs?
- Can we decrease the number of people who need to take elevators?
This second set of questions lead to more creative solutions including staggered work hours, healthy steps initiative, and new leasing strategies. As the developer continued to probe, though, he asked another, final question.
- How can we make the wait for the elevators seem shorter?
The answer? TVs and mirrors. Problem redefined. People spent so much time preening, they didn’t even mind waiting for the elevator.
New Solutions Through Questioning Assumptions
Mattimore’s co-founder at Growth Engine, Gary Fraser, was once the head of the oral care division at Unilever, leading marketing efforts for AIM, Pepsodent, and Close-Up. His brands did well – with 12% market share — but they were overshadowed by the behemoths — Crest and Colgate — which held a full 60%. Fraser decided to question assumptions about his company to see if he could he possibly make his products stand out in a category as established and boring as toothpaste.
He started by list some assumptions about how toothpaste is made, marketed and packaged:
– It cleans and whitens teeth
– It prevents cavities
– It comes in a tube
– It sells for about $ 2.00 to $ 3.00
– It has safe ingredients
Fraser’s team knew that in the 1900’s, Americans used a mixture of baking soda and peroxide for oral care. The oxygen that was released when the peroxide and baking soda reacted was great for cleaning teeth and keeping gums healthy. It tasted awful, though, and it presented a problem.
The toothpaste would be ineffective if the baking soda and peroxide reacted before landing on the toothbrush. How could Fraser’s team prevent the ingredients in a tube from reacting?
Then came Mentadent.
Toothpaste served in a standup dual dispenser and possibly the first revolution in toothpaste since toothpaste was invented. Before the brand was sold, Mentadent achieved annual sales of $150 million and won Fraser the title of Brandweek’s Marketer of the Year. And we no longer assume toothpaste must come in a tube.
These techniques just begin to border the vast landscape of ideation. Some of the most prominent uses of ideation techniques include sales challenges, product and feature development, content generation, activation ideas, brand positioning and distribution.
Stay tuned to this space to see some more in our ideation series or learn more about specific ideation techniques and workshops in our previous posts. Better yet, come to our event in NYC next Thursday night, March 31st. Get 50% off tickets if you use this link.