Marketing Strategy Blog

The Power of Lateral Thinking To Ignite Growth

Lateral Thinking in Marketing

What does it take to build a winning professional baseball team?

And what does baseball have to do with marketing?

More than you might think.

Twenty years ago, most managers and baseball executives would have said that to win you needed to load up your team with players who got a lot of hits and banged a lot of home runs.

Then a guy named Billy Beane came along.

Lateral Thinking and Winning

Billy Beane and Lateral Thinking

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Beane faced an incredibly difficult task. As the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, he was given the job of building a winning baseball team with a significantly lower budget than large-market teams like the New York Yankees (merely 30% the budget of the top-spending teams).

He couldn’t afford to go after the big name players who hit all the home runs. The traditional method of building a winning team simply cost too much. So Beane zigged while everyone else was zagging.

Instead of focusing on traditional metrics of player skill, he focused on how effectively a player got on base and scored runs. This non-traditional focus led Beane to players who could score a lot of runs but were overlooked by the rest of the league.

For example, traditionalists had never considered the value of a walk equal to a single. Beane realized they resulted in the same outcome, and so started securing players who got on base by any means, including walks, at cheaper salaries due to other teams undervaluing those types of players.

The result? Multiple years in the playoffs while having one of the lowest payrolls in all of baseball. According to, the A’s won an extra 180 games over a 15-year stretch above standard expectations based on their payroll level. Put another way, the A’s exceeded expectations by close to $1.38 billion during that time (=what other teams would need to spend to match the A’s winning percentage).

Beane was able to win big by engaging in lateral thinking.

If you want to ignite growth in your business, you too must think laterally.

What Is Lateral Thinking?


Lateral thinking is a problem-solving method in which you approach the problem from unconventional, even counterintuitive angles. Instead of using obvious, traditional frames of thinking, you embrace strategies that, on the surface, may seem backwards.

Vertical thinking involves examining the available data and using it to move step-by-step to a logical conclusion. Lateral thinking takes a different approach, with the goal being to come up with numerous ideas without focusing on implementation.

Both types of thinking are essential if you want to grow. Lateral thinking provides you with creative, unconventional solutions and vertical thinking enables you to implement them effectively.

Ready to Rethink Your Marketing for Greater Growth?

Read “Rethink Your Marketing: 7 Strategies to Unleash Revenue Growth” by Stratabeat CEO Tom Shapiro, and uncover steps to grow faster.


The Need For Lateral Thinking

In 1998, the Florida Tobacco Program faced a herculean task: convince Florida teens to stop smoking. Previous efforts, which had largely involved talking down to kids about the risks of smoking, had been largely unsuccessful. Teens were well aware of the dangers but chose to smoke anyway as a way of rebelling against the establishment.

So the Florida Tobacco Program flipped the script. Instead of hammering away with the same message, they created an ad campaign that showed how tobacco companies used marketing to manipulate teens into smoking. They wanted to show the teens that their “rebellion” was exactly what the tobacco companies wanted them to do. 

This new approach worked incredibly well, turning teen rebellion against the tabacco companies themselves, significantly reducing the teen smoking rate in Florida. Advertising Age declared the “truth” campaign to be one of the top 10 ad campaigns of the 21st century.

Truth Campaign

Truth Campaign

Truth Campaign

This story highlights the critical need for lateral thinking in marketing.

Often, trying to tinker around the edges with minor, superficial adjustments to your marketing only leads to frustration. If something isn’t working particularly well, doubling down on it isn’t going to produce the results you want. What’s often needed is a new approach altogether. To take the road less, or never, traveled.

Examples of Lateral Thinking in Action

Some of the most successful companies in the world have leveraged lateral thinking to spur phenomenal growth.

Wipro started out selling vegetable oil (Vegetable oil!!!) and is now an $8 billion tech consulting giant with services in big data, AI, infrastructure, DevOps, blockchain, applications, and more.

Google started out as a cleaner search engine. It then sold ad space in its search engine and around the web. It now sells computers, phones, software, and virtual reality technology and has moonshots in the delivery of internet access to underserved areas through air balloons, in underwater sensing technology to protect the ocean, and in smart glass for factory workers.

Lateral Thinking at Google

When I was the Director of Digital Strategy at the agency iProspect, the company primarily used large industry conferences with thousands of attendees to drive leads. This was an expensive tactic, and we would spend as much as $50,000 for one event.

A colleague and I wondered if a different approach might be more effective. What if we did the opposite? What if we just met with a few targeted people at a time but had 10X better, and 10X deeper conversations?

To test this idea out, we started a roadshow. Only 10 people showed up to the first one, but we closed a 7-figure contract and 6-figure contract out of that event.

Then with the second small event, we landed another 7-figure contract. The small events quickly became the company’s number one lead driver and catapulted us from 85 employees to 700+ within 5 years.

Using best practices is “safe” in that it doesn’t rock the boat. You won’t get fired for following best practices. But it’s also the path to mediocrity.

Lateral thinking enables you to leapfrog everyone else.

Ways To Implement Lateral Thinking

So how can you implement lateral thinking to reinvigorate your marketing and spark business growth? Here are four simple ways to get you started:

Rethink Your Audience

Tableau Software

Are you targeting the right audience with your marketing efforts? There may be other verticals, companies, departments, roles, or job titles that you should be targeting. Is there one segment of your audience that is particularly profitable that you should focus on more specifically?

Christian Chabot, cofounder of Tableau Software, had trouble getting traction for his product in the early days. Every time he talked to an IT department, he would get shut down.

So he stopped talking to IT departments and went straight to business users instead. This shift in audience paid off, with business users loving what he was offering. Tableau now has 50,000 customers.

If your growth is stagnant or declining, consider whether you’re targeting the correct audience.

Rethink Your Offering

Many companies have created massive amounts of growth by rethinking what they were offering.

Shopify started off as an online store that sold snowboarding equipment. Cofounder Tobias Lütke didn’t like any existing ecommerce solutions and decided to build his own (he was a programmer). Eventually, the company realized it could do better selling ecommerce services instead of snowboarding gear. Now, they’re a multibillion dollar company.

Is there a particular aspect of your product or service that customers really seem to love? Would it make sense to double down on that specific product or service and perhaps phase out less profitable offerings?

Ready to Rethink Your Marketing for Greater Growth?

Read “Rethink Your Marketing: 7 Strategies to Unleash Revenue Growth” by Stratabeat CEO Tom Shapiro, and uncover steps to grow faster.


Rethink Your Messaging

If you’re having trouble gaining traction, it may be time to rethink the way you’re speaking to your target audience.

Global consulting firm Antea Group knows that how something is said is just as important as what is said. Instead of constantly using stuffy, jargon-filled language when communicating with their audience, they often include humorous pop culture references as a way of grabbing people’s attention.

For example, they spice up the normally dry subject of EHS consulting with multiple references to Office Space and talk about safety compliance from the perspective of Stranger Things.

Lateral Thinking in Messaging is a website that helps Gen Z and Millennials find credit unions for savings and checking accounts, auto loans, personal loans, student loans, and more. Whereas most marketing in the credit union space (and banking space overall) is rigid, stuffy and boring, FindCreditUnions brings on the sass by speaking to the truth with an unfiltered voice. They speak the language of the audience. The result? Gen Z and Millennials are responding. One credit union just closed six-figures in loans with merely a $200 investment.

Can you come at your marketing messaging from a different angle? Is there another desire or pain point you can speak to? Can you revisit your messaging, tonality and brand personality for far greater psychological impact?

Rethink Your Marketing Mix

It’s easy to become attached to familiar methods of marketing, even if those methods aren’t producing the best results. Sometimes you need to completely overhaul your approach to marketing rather than make incremental changes to the marketing mix.

US IT security firm Aladdin (now with SafeNet) came up with an out-of-the-box marketing technique to reach a niche market of bankers and finance professionals. They sent prospects a remote controlled toy Hummer in a clear box so that it was clearly visible. Also included was a card that highlighted the fact that both Aladdin and Hummer had a reputation for being strong and dependable.

Lateral Thinking in Marketing

The only catch? The remote for the Hummer was not included. If the recipient of the package agreed to meet with someone from Aladdin, they would be given the remote. An incredible 35% agreed.

Take a look at your own marketing mix. Are there any unconventional or even outrageous tactics you could implement? What are your top and bottom performers in the mix? How can you double down on the high performers and quickly eliminate the bottom 20%?

Embrace The Uncomfortable

Leveraging lateral thinking can be an uncomfortable experience. You have to be willing to experiment and even fail on certain things. You can’t rely on the tactics and strategies that you’ve used in the past.

But if you want to ignite growth in your business, you must be willing to think laterally. You can’t do the same things and expect new results. Only by coming at things from a completely new angle can you generate the kind of explosive results that will push your business forward.

Oakland A’s Photo Credit: Debra Roby

Rethink Your Marketing