What To Do When The Box Flips Inside Out

January 3rd, 2012 | Shakirah Dawud | 27 Comments

do you need to think "outside the box"?Dumbphone users used to be cool (yes, they did!).

Working at home used to be an oxymoron.

Facebook used to be the only company making money off Facebook (go ahead and laugh).

What happened?

The novelty of the iPhone has worn off (although it has kept its edge). Working from home is no longer unusual. Now just about everyone on social media wants to make money.

And now those of us who made it fashionable find ourselves surrounded by four walls and a lid, making it pretty uncomfortable to keep head-and-shoulders above the rest. The box – that one we’re meant to think outside – has been flipped inside out, and somehow we’re on the inside.

What now?

First, a little about why this matters for your brand. Differentiation is the name of the game. Your customers don’t just need to know why they should buy from you. They need to know why they should keep buying from you, too. 

The moment you choose to become a trend-setter in your industry, you join a never-ending arms race to stay fresh. Whether an aspect of your service, a flagship product, or an innovative process, most of your competitors will choose to roll with rather than reinvent the wheel that made you famous. And then all of a sudden, you’re one of many.

How to keep ahead?

Create a box within your box. Be outside it.

In the publishing industry, the creation of subgenres and “crossover” genres differentiates new voices within each category of storytelling. In communications, smartphones are taking dumbphones by storm.

The trick is to look at what’s being done, and not only tweak the edges or add an extra, but upgrade it or change it on some unprecedented level of “better.” And not in your eyes, but in the eyes of the market you’re targeting.

Find another box. Be outside it.

If you stick out (or used to stick out) in one area of production or service, there’s nothing to stop you from rising above masses of similar products in another way, too. One computer I was instantly envious of years ago: iMacs. Not because I thought them superior. Just because they came in colors I liked. To Apple fans at the time, they were practically a collector’s item.

Remember that your box is relative.

To some, if you can’t meet in person, you’re not a person. To some, social media marketing is as foreign a landscape as the dark side of the moon. To some, a Flash website is like hanging ten: can’t get any cooler.

Then you come along and flip their box inside out.

Image: id-iom via Flickr, CC 2.0

Shakirah DawudShakirah Dawud is the writer and editor behind Deliberate Ink. Based in Maryland with roots in New York, she’s been crafting effective marketing copy as a writer and polishing many forms of prose as an editor since 2002. Clients in many fun sizes, industries, and locations reach her through the Web.

Shakirah Dawud

Shakirah Dawud

Writer & Editor at Deliberate Ink
Shakirah Dawud is the writer and editor behind Deliberate Ink. Based in Maryland with roots in New York, she’s been crafting effective marketing copy as a writer and polishing many forms of prose as an editor since 2002. Clients in many fun sizes, industries, and locations reach her through the Web.
Shakirah Dawud
Shakirah Dawud
Shakirah Dawud

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"A Little Birdie Told Me" could fly into your inbox just once a month. It's Shonali-as-seen-nowhere-else. What're you waiting for?

Shonali moderator

There's so much good stuff here, it was hard for me to pick my favorite. But this might be it: "remember that your box is relative." I think way too often we forget that pretty much everything is relative. Remembering that, and applying that to everything we do can often mean the difference between "success" and "failure."


I enjoyed this a lot, Shakirah. I agree that often we must find new ways to distinguish ourselves, and like @kaarina said below, throwing the box away is also a viable option. However, something I would also offer is that rather than figuring out an entirely new niche in which to inhabit, dig in and make yours extraordinary. Yes, many will, and have, come along into this sphere and it has gotten quite noisy. What I see taking shape is that with more people come more eyes and more opportunity. Stay put and carve out that niche; doing it better than others can talk about doing it will you have standing on top of that box before long.


Happy New Year!

So, what's with all the boxes? Make boxes within boxes? Why in this box would somebody want do that, except maybe for their children to play with?

Boxes or no boxes, boundaries will be breached, lines will be crossed, and blogging about it (or not) isn't about to change anything.

Dumbphones are still cool; Is that MONEY bleeding out of your ear, or is it just an app? Working at home still sucks, unless somebody built a box with you inside of it with a sign that says: "Work harder and harder, for no pay!". Slack off. Let someone else have gainful employment a while. Who died and left you employee of the week, anyway?

Smartphones or no, we're all going to miss Steve Jobs. 'Nuff said.


Thank you for sharing this Shakirah - it's wonderful to be part of a community that encourages us to keep pushing the boundaries, or in the case of your post, redefining the boundaries altogether to drive the next stage in the evolution of social media and business.

With the new year upon us, this is a great reminder for all of us of the opportunity we have to get up each day and do great work to develop new ideas that redefine the box altogether.

Happy 2012!



Hey Shakirah, good to see you at Shonali's. I saw all that food she was cooking, hopefully she invited you to dinner.

Yes, you have to work really hard to keep that edge and keep people buying from you. In my industry (commercial insurance) I have seen people go out and develop a unique niche in a product line only to have a flood of others come in right behind them.

The best thing is to always be forward thinking and not be reactionary or it is probably too late.

Good insight on this one; hope all is well.


Thanks for reminding those of us who sometimes feel like we get stuck in the box!!


Predictions have been made since the dawn of time, and if we made decisions based only on predictions, we'd be a sorry lot. Taking self-responsibility, being of service, finding out ways and means to solve someone's problem to their satisfaction, and perhaps even throwing away the box...all things that help the rise to the top. Cheers! Kaarina


I love this. I know a lot of people who avoided Social Media because they said that when it got popular, it would have the same clutter as any other form of media. Obviously that is what we're seeing now, but it doesn't mean you should avoid it. If the clutter is there in your business category, you have to find a way to differentiate yourself, without just shouting louder than the others. I love your approach, Shakirah!


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