Unordinary Thinking No.15 – Using death to create life and other stories, by SJ Watson

Being a law abiding citizen, I had never really thought that I could be inspired by crime, but that’s what happened last week.

I was lucky enough to be at an inspirational evening with SJ Watson last week including a reading from his best-selling crime novel, ‘Before I go to sleep’. As many will know this is his debut novel, in fact the fastest selling crime book ever from a new author. And before it even hit the number one spot in the Times crime novel list, Ridley Scott had snapped up the film rights. Which for an author who still holds a part time (although not drawing a salary) post with the NHS his story seems more like fiction.

During the evening he revealed how this overnight success actually took many months of writing and editing and a few years before that believing and growing in confidence as a writer. Which owed as much to the creativity in his process as anything else.

As the evening unfolded I was looking to pick up tips to help stimulate my own future writing ambitions but, in truth, I was finding I was also picking up a number of creative thinking suggestions to improve my present occupation as a strategic marketer.

Through his explanation of the creative writing process I found there were some interesting parallels between his world and my own. We both look to create a plan to achieve a goal and are heavily reliant on smart interpretation of research to create structure and need to inject this with creativity to achieve compelling output. Whilst I’m not convinced a strategic marketing plan would ever make the Richard & Judy Book Club, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be a boardroom page turner.

I believe great marketing strategy is achieved when you focus on where you take ideas to, not where you take them from. So with that in mind, indulge me and I’ll illustrate two of the many things from the world of crime writing which you can apply to the strategic marketing day job:

#1 A crime novelist researches characters; a strategic marketer looks deeply at customer insight

In order to breathe life into characters and develop their profile, SJ Watson looks for neatly packaged articulations of a life. And he finds these in obituaries, where a person’s entire life is summarised. Their stand out moments, achievements and defining characteristics are captured in a few short paragraphs. Very quickly you recognise and establish a portrait in your mind. Take this back into customer insight activities to frame segments and you will find it a very smart, and quite dramatic way to bring a segment to life. Try it, it works.

#2 A crime novelist builds his story around ‘magnetic ideas’; a strategic marketer develops ‘propositions’

SJ Watson also spoke about the strength of an idea as a magnet. It can be measured by the amount of related elements that can be drawn and attached to it. Which, in turn, strengthens it. Look at strategic marketing and we seek to build propositions which achieve the same magnetism by being able to incorporate the assets of a brand, resonate with the emotional needs of customers and optimise the capabilities of a business.

However, perhaps marketers try too hard to tick all the boxes of the proposition build checklist or an A3 mind-map template.  If, instead, we think about it within the laws of magnetism, it allows the mind to reach out to a wider selection of ‘attractive’ elements. And, when visualised, these elements will be pulled towards the central thought. You’ll find that your mind will repel the less attractive but those elements it allows to attach will make the central idea even more powerful.

Both are unordinary approaches to arrive at better outcomes for conventional challenges. That evening made a big impression on me. I caught up with the author afterwards and he acknowledged the importance of looking beyond the obvious places to find something extraordinary. The fruits of his method are in abundance in his novel. Do read it, it’s wonderfully original and executed in a captivating fashion.

Overall it reminded me of the extra energy and different perspective you can gain when you look at the challenge from an alternative starting point, or even apply a different logic and approach.  And, by doing this, you get to interesting outcomes you may never have considered.  Who says crime doesn’t pay?

Posted by Christopher Brooks

Lexden is a marketing strategy agency which creates unordinary propositions to motivate customers and deliver commercial advantage for brands.

For more information on how we can help you, contact or, or call us on T: +44 (0)20 7490 9123.  And you can follow us on Twitter @consultingchris and @consultingajai.

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