When I was growing up I never quite understood my teachers’ zeal in forcing us to color inside the lines. Now, as a parent and having made it through the elementary years, it makes total sense. Controlling our crayons meant developing strength, dexterity and mastering our hand-eye coordination. From there we learned how to write legibly and draw outside of our coloring books. By understanding the rules and the boundaries we learned how to stretch and manipulate them to create interesting and beautiful things. In essence we learned how to “color outside the lines” by learning how to color within them.
Now how does this relate to the business world? When I worked for a large high-tech company I developed a reputation for pushing the envelope in my marketing projects. I was able to get away with it because I knew my products, understood my audience, and always complied with the corporate guidelines. I used the right colors and proper language, but I never let the limitations impose on my creativity.
Understanding how– and how much– to push that envelope is more important than ever. Marketing today has unique challenges because customers have become resistant to traditional sales and marketing tactics. If they want something, they go out and do their own research, and consulting your company website is just one stop. These days they prefer to check you out in social media outlets, consult trusted sources, talk to their friends and make their own decisions. Information needs to be easy to find, and when it is found, messages need to be informative yet subtle, clever but not so much that they could offend or put off potential customers. And all this has to be done in ever more entertaining ways to hold their interest. Those lines around which we are coloring have become rather vague, and maneuvering them in the right way takes agility, good sense and a lot of imagination.
Learning how to color within the lines did not help either of my children to become great artists, but I’ll tell you this: they are both great thinkers, and they sure know how to push their boundaries.