Creative Problem Solving in Marketing & Branding

Gregg Fraley is the author of Jack’s Notebook.

Greg works an an innovation consultant to Fortune 500 companies and does keynote speeches and workshops on creative thinking, innovation, problem solving, and new product development 

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity pick Greg’s brain and squeeze out some of his juicy thoughts on marketing, branding and how he thinks creative problem solving applies to the mix.

Q: When it comes to building brands, what mistakes do you commonly see?

Gregg: With regard to new brands, I’d say a lack of differentiation, a lack of consistency, and a lack of authenticity. I mean the best brands are truly unique and they stay true to themselves. Examples that come to mind are Apple, but also brands like Quaker Oats, or Budweiser. They do what they do well and they stay within the confines of what is believable and real to consumers. With big established brands the dangerous tendency is to water down the brand by extending it into areas where it really doesn’t belong. Line extensions are easy, and so they extend and extend until the brand caves in on itself.


Q: What is your view of the state of organizational marketing and branding? Where should CPS fit into these structures?

Gregg: There’s a $64,000 question! Let me give it a go.

Organizational marketing is going through a profound shift right now, a shift towards more formal process. The state of Marketing, while highly sophisticated in many ways, is still managed by informal systems within most organizations. Typically, they have no overall model for how to answer the needs of the consumer and fulfill the companies mission across the breadth of the enterprise. Each product, each brand, tends to be handled separately from the others. What this screams for is a formal marketing process that is flexible enough to adapt to the needs of various brands but tight enough to bind them to the organizational mission. CPS, being a generic problem-solving model, has the scope and flexibility to manage this.


Q: Why is understanding your motivation so important?

Gregg: It’s human nature to work harder, smarter, and more creatively on challenges that we care about. If we understand why something is important to us it’s more likely we’ll be creative about it. You can’t fool that thing some people call the soul, it knows what you really want even if you pretend otherwise.


Q: How does this concept fit into marketing? Social Media?

Gregg: Well, motivation is a two way street. As marketers we need to understand why we’re putting out something we need to understand our mission and our message. As consumers we need to feel that the mission and message of the companies we buy from is authentic and not simply a cynical way to extract money from our pockets. Marketers need to understand consumer motivations at a very basic, very fundamental, level. Knowing the consumer in that way enables a marketer to create products, services, and messages that speak to their listening.

Social media tends to magnify who we are.  If we’re authentic, that comes across, and it can be quite powerful. If we’re not, that comes across as well, and probably worse than it should. So, keeping the fact in mind that social media adds or subtracts 10 pounds to our authenticity factor, we should make double sure we know what we want to say, and why we want to say it. As marketers using social media we have to be very careful we’re providing value to the community and not simply selling products. After all, social media isn’t about we and them, it’s about us.


Q: With the introduction of social media and crowdsourcing, do you think there is an opportunity for a company to lead and monitor a CPS session with customers online?

Gregg: Yes, there is such an opportunity.  Actually, it’s already happened in a slightly different format than you suggest. Cisco just sponsored an online contest, using’s system, to find a new business venture to fund. It wasn’t exactly CPS but it most certainly was high level ideation, which is a part of CPS.

Many companies are already using CPS internally via their intranets, and some are using it to reach out to partners. I’ve facilitated online CPS sessions that have involved a mix of a companies internal branding/marketing people and an international network of trained brains. They tend to be pretty successful these sessions because they allow people to work when they can, it allows for adequate incubation, and there’s lot of thinking diversity. It’s certainly a lot less expensive than flying a lot of people into some central site.

It doesn’t have to be complex. Starbucks has an online idea box if you will, which isn’t full cycle CPS, it’s a subset, the ideation step. It’s called and I think it’s a good idea for them. Subsets of the CPS process can be totally appropriate, I mean, how many consumers would even want to be involved with the detailed planning that goes into a product launch?

Virtual CPS sessions, with consumer involvement for the appropriate steps, makes total sense. It’s inexpensive, easy to implement, and potentially very high value.


Q: What would you say to an organization that is clearly stuck in the old model of marketing, which is rapidly losing its effectiveness? Is CPS the answer to overcoming their apparent risk aversion?

Gregg: What would I say? Wake up!

It’s hard to understand sometimes why organizations can’t see the handwriting on the wall. Maybe the answer is tough love. Like in the Dickens story, we have to put the ghost of Christmas future in front of them. It can be grim, or, it can be rosy. But for Tiny Tim to live, they have to wake up and change now!

CPS could be a big part of the answer. CPS is a great process for facing a fear, or a complex situation, and making some sense out of what you might do. If an organization is motivated to change than CPS can be a tremendous tool for helping them do it. Risk aversion build up in organizations as they get bigger. The bureaucracy is built to manage things as they are, and so, change threatens the well-oiled system. It puts people in fear mode. Fear has people thinking like lizards when faced with a threat lizards run, eat, (or mate!) with what’s in front of them. You can’t think like a lizard and change how your organization goes to market; you need imaginative solutions. Organizations should strive for deliberate, continuous, and holistic innovation, and CPS is a good process to enable that. And of course, Jack’s Notebook is a great way to learn CPS!


Thanks Gregg!

Have any questions about CPS in Social Media, Branding and Marketing?

Gregg has agreed to take questions in the comments section, so fire away!

More with Gregg Fraley:

Creative Problem Solving (CPS)