About Thinking Creatively

Thinking Creatively is about taking a step back... when you want or need to think strategically and creatively about your business... or about your customer's business... or about a solution to a challenging business problem. The goal is to be one part inspiration and one part motivation. We hope to provide - over time - thought-provoking advice, tools, ideas and company profiles that help get you to your next breakthrough. Your feedback and interaction is invited, welcomed and encouraged.

Thinking Creatively is made possible by the support of GMCSoftware Technology. Normally such features are for "Premium Members" only. However, because the topic is so timely and essential to all executives in the industry we asked GMC Software Technology to provided support for this series. Their support allows us to to present these articles free for all WhatTheyThink.com members.

In this installment of Thinking Creatively, I want to cover five trends that I believe are hot, but will stay hot for quite some time. People ask me all the time: "Do you think this is a fad or something real? Can I bank on this trend continuing?" In that spirit, here are some trends that warrant serious consideration as you think about where to focus and how to grow your business over the next few years.

The Rise of Personal Choice Communications

As consumers, we've now taken over the steering wheel when it comes to commercial communications. It was inevitable that the old model of the marketer controlling the media... and the message... and the conversation... would not last. Today, consumers can choose whether messages are ignored or consumed, critiqued or passed on. Consumers can easily opt out of advertising messages; with TIVO and DVRs, we typically skip commercials. Every commercial email carries the option to "remove me from this list". Online, we're given the option to "skip this ad". Browser plug-ins allow you to view web pages without ads.

Net result: We control what commercial communications we choose to consume or ignore. Finally, the burden is on the marketer to serve up relevant, compelling and valuable communications. Implication for you? Help your customers design messages and materials that are consumer-centric... and find a way - any way - to participate in the social media revolution now underway.

The Most Resilient Industry in our Economy Will Continue to Create Opportunities

If you guessed health care, you guessed right. According to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the U.S. spends 16% of GDP on health care. Also, 18.5% of government spending is directed to health care. With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act now law, you can expect business opportunities to abound. And you have time to still get into the game, even if you are not doing any health care business.

Net Result: By 2014, when most of the law takes effect, the communications needs will be enormous. Implication for you? Find a niche in this industry where your strengths as a company can be leveraged... and get in the game in as big a way as you can.

Demographic Shifts Point the Way to Two Big Opportunities

We've all heard about the rise in minority populations. According to recent Census figures (http://bit.ly/ucG7n), 48% of all babies born were minorities. Another Census stat: Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin total 15.4% of the U.S. population in 2008. Many companies have been slow to adapt. Also, don't forget businesses, while this data is older (2002), almost 18% of all businesses were minority owned... if you add women-owned businesses, that number goes up to 46%.

Net Result: The needs, attitudes and beliefs that drive a lot of marketing today have to be revisited. Implication for you? If you are not producing multi-lingual communications -- or do not have the capability to do so -- acquiring this capability positions you to capture incremental business for a long time to come.

When it comes to the aging of America, the trends are profound. According to a study done for the travel industry (http://bit.ly/dsxNvr) the U.S. population age 65 and over is expected to double in the next 25 years. By 2030 almost one out of five Americans (some 72 million people) will be 65 years or older. The age group 85 and older is now the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population.

Net Result: In addition to health care, there will be a continuing need for products and services that cater to an aging population, from travel to senior living/care facilities. Implication for you? Establish a beachhead in one or more of these expanding industries.

Globality: The Most Obvious Business Expansion Strategy is Geographic

The globalization of business is not new. Companies like Coca Cola and McDonalds learned very early that the secret to continuous growth was to find geographical areas they didn't serve... and find a way to export their offerings to appeal to local tastes. Now, the world economy is so intertwined, many of the traditional barriers to doing business overseas have been eliminated. And, with the internet, the ease with which you can reach new customers is remarkable.

As countries like China and India, with billion-plus populations, continue to spawn a growing middle class, opportunities will abound.

Net result: Most large corporations have made this journey. Implication for you? The companies that find ways to "globalize" their offerings will continue to experience consistent and sustainable growth.

Business Models Tied to Philanthropy Will Proliferate and Get More Creative

As people move into their 50's and 60's, the drive to "give back" increases. While companies have historically put in programs like "matched donations" or a small percent of profit directed to a specific cause, there is a new trend underway. Creative ideas are springing up that change the ballgame of connecting through philanthropy.

Take Panera Bread Company. Through their foundation, they have opened a new, non-profit store in St. Louis (http://bit.ly/blydoT ).

What's different? First of all, you don't have to pay for your meal.

That's right, the store is completely on the honor system. Customers who are unable to pay, can eat for free, or pay what they can. Others are encouraged to pay full price... or a bit more... to subsidize those less fortunate. The hope was that the store would break even, even though they did not know how they would fair with this concept. Surprisingly, the company is exceeding its goals and will be opening two more stores within months.

Net Result: Creativity... and belief in the goodness of people is alive and well in America. I expect this type of experimentation to continue. Implication for you? Your imagination is the only barrier to finding new ways to exist and thrive in today's business world.

I welcome your feedback, questions and suggestions on this or other topics of thinking creatively. Email me at [email protected].