Theresa Lina Stevens, Lina Group Inc.

Channeling Leonardo da Vinci, the Scientist and Marketer

November 4, 2019

How to Bring More Creativity and Innovation into Science-Driven Marketing

Throughout many years of working with talented scientists and engineers across Silicon Valley, I’ve been fascinated by the analytical mindset that makes them so effective at creating innovative solutions, many of which change lives for the better. When it comes to innovative marketing, however, it’s fascinating to see how quickly some of these brilliant minds dismiss valuable emotional intelligence and creative thinking techniques, calling it “fluffy stuff.”

If you are in this camp, channel your inner Leonardo da Vinci and use the same approach that made him a brilliant painter, engineer, architect and scientist -- childlike curiosity, playful, out-of-the-box creative brainstorming, and other seemingly “fluffy” ideation techniques for problem solving which are still essential today in successfully bringing an innovation to market.

Systematizing the Marketing Mindset

To help marketing stakeholders in technical organizations who tend to limit their out-of-the-box thinking, I developed a framework for driving innovative marketing while staying connected to market needs. It’s a six-step process fed by nine skills – an approach great marketers have been using since the beginning of time.

Systematizing the Marketing Mindset

In many ways, it captures the kind of thinking that set Leonardo da Vinci apart from other scientists and engineers of his era and led to numerous discoveries and inventions. For example, the simple, childlike question, “How do birds fly?” inspired him to fill notebooks with words and sketches exploring lift and propulsion, aerial reconnaissance, and foundational ideas on aerodynamics.

Make sure your team approaches marketing planning and execution efforts with all six of these steps. While marketers typically do most of these, they sometimes omit key pieces and limit creativity:

  1. Focus on Needs: Look through your audience’s eyes, empathize, and focus on root issues. For example, your customer says they want a lower price when the root issue is that they need help with a stronger internal business and financial analysis for the high-value instrument or technology you’re delivering.
  2. Be a Blank Canvas: Be wide open with no assumptions, using a “beginner’s mind.” This keeps you from falling back on old default solutions. For example, approach the new product launch as though you’ve never done one before.
  3. Be Insatiably Curious: Seek a high volume of potential ideas and answers from any and all directions, going far beyond the obvious. Generate not ten ideas but 200. Don’t ask five smart questions, ask 500 “dumb” ones. One way to do this quickly is put 10 key stakeholders in a room and develop 50 each in a brainstorming huddle.
  4. Look for Patterns: Use data analytics, observation, institutional knowledge and customers themselves to point you right to the answer. Da Vinci saw a pattern in trees, figuring out through observation that “all the branches of a tree at every stage of its height, when put together, are equal in thickness to the trunk.”
  5. Craft a Unique Solution: Experiment, prototype, test, iterate and finalize. Da Vinci did this endlessly. Great marketers do this as well. Coors Light decided to experiment with weather-triggered online campaigns vs. generic campaigns in test cities and increased engagement by nearly 90%. [Lest you think a beer campaign can’t possibly inspire ideas for the marketing of diagnostics, see “Skills” below!]
  6. Energize (induce the market to act): Attract interest, get others excited, filter as needed, deliver value, and proactively share. Da Vinci did this in a pitch letter to the Duke of Milan, offering ten examples of his abilities, tailored to the Duke’s military ambitions. One read, “…I have means of arriving at a designated spot through mines and secret winding passages constructed completely without noise…”

As a marketing director, consider creating a culture of creativity by cultivating the following nine skills as best practices for your team. Sometimes just giving your team permission to break out of the box and handing them a few tools will elevate your marketing game.

  1. Be “Other” Oriented: Take yourself and your needs out of the equation, step into the other person’s shoes and truly experience the world in the way they do. For example, go be a patient for a week. This connects you to your audience and increases your odds of marketing outreach that resonates, such as a video campaign that goes viral.
  2. Collaborate: Team with others and value their contributions, especially different skill sets, points of view and experiences. This increases the diversity and creativity of what you produce. For example, scientists paired with artists and copywriters may come up with innovative product packaging that really differentiates.
  3. Embrace Unknowns: Be willing to not have the answers or get answers you’d rather not hear and risk “Failing Forward.” For example, you might not like what you get back from a Voice of the Customer project, but the feedback may be game changer.
  4. Linear vs Lateral Thinking Illustration, TheThinkingCanvas.comThink Laterally: Look at situations from new directions, and seek inspiration from seemingly unrelated but analogous role models. Velcro© was inspired by burs clinging to the fur of the inventor’s dog while out hunting. If stuck inside a mental box, ask what Leonardo da Vinci would do. Or Lady Gaga. Or Steve Jobs. Or your eight-year-old niece.
  5. Think Big: Be audacious and don’t put limits on possible paths and outcomes. (You can always pull back later.) When trying to figure out how to win the space race, John F. Kennedy went far beyond current exploration achievements of the day to aim for the moon.
  6. Use Systems Thinking: Look at situations, patient journeys, lab workflows, marketing programs, outcomes, etc. holistically and consider how the pieces can or should fit together to support one another. Systems thinking inspired Apple to forego checkout counters and add the Genius Bar and seminars to their retail stores, where the focus is on a frictionless user experience.
  7. Engage the Whole Body: Consider, use and appeal to all of the senses. MRI centers play calming music. Realtors bake cookies during open houses. Digital campaigns play to emotions. The possibilities are endless.
  8. Adapt: Be flexible, watch the horizon, and be willing to quickly change course. When Popeye’s launched a new chicken sandwich in August, 2019, and proudly declared how good it was on Twitter, Chick-fil-A jumped in, tongue in cheek, with a “…ya’ll good?” Thus began the spontaneous “2019 Chicken Sandwich Twitter War” between several fast-food chains, sparking a viral phenomenon, enormous publicity and record-breaking demand.
  9. Be an Opportunity-Seeking Missile: Ask “how can we squeeze all of the juice out of this situation?” Factor potential missed opportunities into the calculus when crafting plans and budgets. What else can you get out of that trade show? If you’ll be grabbing market attention during a product launch, what more can you do to leverage it?

Yes, these steps and skills may require training, coaching, time, the formal adoption of new practices and revised measures of success to make the shift. Or not. Either way, it starts by opening one’s thinking in the way that Leonardo da Vinci opened his. Just imagine how powerful your marketing programs will be once you combine the kind of scientific genius that can solve a medical mystery with the kind of creative genius that can paint a masterpiece. The abilities are sitting there amongst your employees and the marketing firms like Market Ready Rx that support you. Just let them out of the box!

To learn more about how Market Ready Rx can support your work, visit Market Ready Rx.

About Theresa Lina Stevens

Theresa is an inspiring strategic marketer specializing in helping technology companies sustainably differentiate in crowded markets. In 2019, she coached the Market Ready Rx team on the use of the techniques in this article to problem-solve for clients and to grow the business.

Theresa is the founder and president of Lina Group, Inc., a strategic marketing training and consulting firm. She is also involved in both the Graduate School of Business and the School of Engineering at Stanford University. She has served as chief marketing officer for Internet-related startups and spent over a decade at Accenture, where she helped found and grow the firm’s communications industry group, now a multi-billion-dollar business unit. Theresa is a frequent speaker, workshop presenter and executive coach on topics such as vision development, strategy, marketing team excellence, thought leadership marketing, message development and pitching.