Marketing success depends, at least partially, on creative strengths. You may have a logically better project, an objectively lower price, and a measurably longer history than your closest competitor, but if your marketing messages are boring or stale, people aren't going to give them a second glance. Creativity helps you stand out in a world bombarded with advertising, it helps differentiate you from your competitors, and it makes you more memorable in your customers' minds.

The solution is easy: come up with more creative ideas!

Except it isn't that easy. You can't force creativity, and sometimes, "creative" isn't enough for an idea to succeed. But before you find yourself too hopeless, try these strategies to come up with more creative ideas in your own campaigns:

1. Read up on marketing news. Companies are constantly launching new advertising campaigns, some of which are breaking open the stereotypes and challenging the conventions of the industry. The more you know about these ongoing breakthroughs, the more unconventional ideas you'll be able to work into your campaign. That doesn't mean you should copy these campaigns, but you can draw inspiration from them. For example, if you hear about a major retailer's recent guerrilla marketing stunt, you may take that same bravado and apply it to a realm you're a little more familiar with. Don't limit yourself to your own industry--there's a place for this focus as well.

2. Check on your competitors. Your competitors probably won't come up with the same award-winning, attention-grabbing stunts that major brands are pulling, but they'll have similar goals, products, and audiences as you, meaning you'll have a more direct line of sight on the campaign's effectiveness. How are people reacting to this? How can you modify this to suit your own brand? Again, you'll want to be careful not to duplicate any campaigns you find here; instead, use them as inspiration to fuel your own brainstorming. Keep tabs on them in a social media list, or read up on industry news regularly.

3. Pay attention to what intrigues you. This one extends beyond the digital realm, and has to do with how you live your own life. So many marketers get so bogged down in thinking about what other people might be interested in, they neglect the first-person perspective of the encounter. You may not fit exactly into your company's target demographics, but if something naturally intrigues you in the natural world, it will probably intrigue someone else. For example, did that bus ad get you to turn your head? Ask yourself why. Did that TV commercial stick in your mind for days? Ask yourself why. Take these elements and introduce them into your next campaign.

4. Get to know people in your target demographics. If you want to be a creative, effective marketer, you need to know your demographics inside and out. To many, that means performing exhaustive, secondary, quantitative research on demographic trends, but this doesn't give you an accurate perspective on these people. Instead, strive for a more personal approach--see if you can meet and speak with your customers on a personal, maybe even friendly level. You'll earn a better understanding of their perspectives, and they might even give you your next creative breakthrough.

5. Apply caricature thinking. A caricature is a portrayal with gross exaggerations of noticeable qualities, usually for comedic effect. However, you can also apply caricature thinking to your own business, products, and customers. Think about the distinguishing characteristics that make you unique--how can you build up these characteristics to exhibit even more of the qualities that make them unique in the first place? For example, if your customer service is better than a competitors, you might use advertising to portray a customer service agent going "too far" in the line of duty. If your brand is known for its casual voice, take it to the extreme for a campaign.

6. Crowdsource. Don't put the burden of idea generation entirely on yourself. You may have an entire team of marketing peers in your organization, and even if you don't, you probably have coworkers or mentors who can help you out. You don't need to call in a formal brainstorming session, but don't be afraid to ask around to see if other people have ideas they'd like to lend to your future marketing campaigns. You'll find most ideas require tweaking or modification--but they'll at least give you a working start.

7. Stop throwing out bad ideas. Not all "bad" ideas are actually bad. It's true! Ask anyone who came up with something brilliant or norm-defying, and they'll likely tell you that it sounded crazy when they first thought it up. We have this natural tendency to come up with lots of ideas, but throw out everything but a scarce few that make it to the top of our standards. Instead, keep those "bad" ideas around a little longer--see if you can tinker with them, adapt them, and turn them into something more interesting. And don't be afraid to take a risk on a promising idea!

If you try to force yourself to come up with creative ideas, you're going to stifle your own progress. Difficult though it may be, try to take a step back from the problem and let your mind wander on its own; the more liberties you give your thought process, the more interesting directions your thoughts will be able to travel. These strategies aren't blunt-force creative sparks--they're just paths and motivations that can help guide you in this line of creative thinking. Be patient, and find your own rhythm.

Published on: Mar 29, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.