Earlier this week, I received something odd in the mail: a catalogue.

Yup, Canadian Tire’s Wow catalogue appeared just as we’re thinking about the holidays. Of course, it’s difficult to think about the holidays when it’s 20 degrees outside.

As a digital creature, my first thought about the catalogue was, “This is dumb. Everyone shops online these days. What a waste of paper”. When I declared this idea to my wife (aka The Luddite), she said a catalogue was a great idea because it was easy to see a variety of products.

She made a good point: it is easier to flip through the [paper] pages than browsing through a Website. Even better, the catalogue can be read in the bedroom because it’s not an electronic device. (a no-no in our house.)

catalogueFrom a big-picture perspective, Canadian Tire’s catalogue highlights a key marketing concept: the willingness to go against the flow. Rather than follow the competition, good marketing is about being different, even if it is riskier and unconventional.

As marketers, it is easy to get seduced by what is hot. Snapchat, for example, is booming with advertisers looking to reach millennials. According to TechCrunch, Snapchat’s advertising revenues will be US$1-billion in 2017.

Facebook advertising is compelling because everyone uses Facebook. Instagram is appealing to advertisers because sharing photos is ultra-popular.

For marketers, it is hard to be questioned when you’re following the “script”. It’s like no one ever got fired for buying from IBM.

In today’s follow the leader world, it is easy for marketing to lose its effectiveness. When everyone uses the same tools and channels, there is a lot of indistinguishable noise.

Everyone is shouting so it is hard for anyone to hear what you’re saying.

This is why going against the grain works for brands that think out of the box. The catalogue is a great example. In a digital world, the catalogue is disappearing. Victoria’s Secret, for example, killed its catalogue earlier this year. Why spend money to mail bulky paper catalogues when a sparkly Website serves the needs of consumers?

Canadian Tire is clearly hoping a catalogue strikes a chord. At a time when catalogues are analogue dinosaurs, their catalogue is a different approach to marketing. People like me dismiss the catalogue only to find themselves flipping the pages to see what’s new and interesting.

Another good example of how an unsexy marketing tool returned to life is the podcast. At one time, podcasts were red-hot. Then, they disappeared. Then, podcasts slowly reappeared a few years ago as individuals and brands discovered they helped them stand out from the crowd. Today,

At one time, podcasts were red-hot. Then, they disappeared. A few years ago, podcasts slowly reappeared as individuals and brands discovered they were an effective way to stand out from the crowd. Today, podcasts are popular again due, in part, to the ubiquity of smartphones used by commuters and drivers.

For marketers scrambling to connect and engage with consumers, it takes a combination of chutzpah, creativity and luck. It asks marketers to think and behave differently to break away from the crowd. Their efforts could fail because consumers aren’t interested. It is also possible that consumers are intrigued in different kinds of marketing.

“You need courage to colour outside the lines and be different because it doesn’t feel safe to be different,” says Kevin Dubrovsky, a friend and fellow marketer. “It feels scary to do something no one else is doing but the irony of it is it feels safe to be middle of the pack, even when the pack runs off a cliff.”

Final questions: Are you using the same marketing channels as the competition? How could different channels be embraced and what approach would you take to make them appeal to customers? It is an interesting exercise to think about doing new and different kinds of marketing.

I’ve worked with dozens of startups and fast-growing companies looking to accelerate their marketing. My services are driven by frameworks and processes to create messaging, strategic plans and content. If you want marketing that makes a difference, let’s talk. If you are looking for hand-picked startup content, subscribe to my weekly newsletter.

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