Step Outside Your Industry to Seek Inspiration

As a veteran of marketing in the building products industry, I’m always intrigued by the majority of companies that I’ve studied, followed or worked with that focus on what their competitors are doing to find inspiration. Companies that go beyond direct competitors for new ideas exist, but they are few and far between. I believe that if companies want to differentiate and lead over just following their competition, they need to think differently and find inspiration in other ways that will break through their “building products” blinders.

Here are three ideas to consider when your company wants to seek inspiration from unique sources that go beyond the expected.

Host a city design crawl

I worked for a cabinet company and each year, we took a small group of progressive thinkers to an up and coming city for a design crawl to look for new and exciting ideas that would inspire product development. We divided into small teams and walked around the city taking pictures of architectural details, colors and unique finishes. We would then research and determine what might be viable for developing a new cabinet color, finish or style. By looking beyond our competitors, we could become industry leaders, not followers.

Last year, I brought this idea to Interrupt. Our entire team traveled to Detroit to check out the renaissance city, walking the streets with cameras in hand, seeking inspiration that we could bring back and use with our clients. Again, we broke into teams and walked different parts of the city, regrouping in the afternoon to share our stories. We continued the process at the office during the following week. Each team presented what inspired them and how we can use these ideas to push our client work to the next level.

Experiential store shopping

Whenever I have an opportunity and extra time when visiting a city, I always try to seek out new stores that offer a unique experience. Something that breaks the norm and engages me in a different way. There are the obvious cities like Chicago, New York and Seattle, but don’t just stop there. I’ve often found really interesting stores with experiential engagements in cities like Nashville, Savannah and even Harrisburg, PA. One of my favorite places when I’m in Nashville is Two Old Hippies. It’s a boutique store that features an amazing collection of guitars, awesome clothing and a stage where they bring in local talent to perform and entertain. Every aspect is merchandised in a way that inspires you to spend more time, engage and want to come back.

I recently came across a great article on Retail Dive, 22 experiential stores NYC has to offer written by Corrine Ruff and Cara Salpini. The article profiles stores across New York City from the Adidas store on 5th Avenue, b8ta on 34th Street, Casper, Muji, Outdoor Voices, Phluid and a list of others. If you’re looking for a great opportunity to get your team inspired to think differently around products and merchandising, take a couple days and visit some of these unique retail locations for inspiration.

Other Industry Shows

Growing up near Detroit, I always enjoyed going to the North American International Auto Show to see the new car models. I was always fascinated, especially by the prototypes and futuristic cars. While my focus has changed as an adult, I still make it a point to get to the auto show each year as another opportunity to look for inspiration. And while I still enjoy seeing the new models and prototypes, what has inspired me the most is the innovation within the merchandising displays and presentations. I’ve fostered many ideas for more interesting and practical ways to create product displays that separated my clients from their competitors, which can help them lead their industry.

I’m a fan of the auto shows, but don’t stop there for inspiration. Have you been to a fashion show? How about the consumer electronics show? There are plenty of opportunities to find inspiration outside of building materials industry trade shows for product inspiration, design inspiration, merchandising and display inspiration.

Seeking inspiration?

These are just a few ideas to break out of the conventional approach of looking at what your competitors are doing and either copying them or one upping them.

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