How do you get your competitor to promote your value proposition? By thinking inside the box, or, in this case, using the box.

DHL did just that in the highly competitive package delivery category. Shipping companies compete on the basis of speed, convenience, and reliability. So the race is on to prove to the market which company performs the best.

In this campaign, DHL spoofed its competitors like UPS to broadcast that it's faster. Can you guess how?

This clever campaign is an example of two of the five techniques of Systematic Inventive Thinking – Task Unification and Attribute Dependency.

The Task Unification Technique is defined as: the assignment of new tasks to an existing resource (i.e. any element of the product or its vicinity within the manufacturer’s control). In this example, the"competition" has been assigned the additional task of "promoting the DHL value proposition" about being faster.

To use Task Unification:
1. List all of the components, both internal and external, that are part of the Closed World of the product, service, or process.
2. Select a component from the list. Assign it an additional task. Consider ways to use each of the three Task Unification methods:

  • Choose an external component and use it to perform a task that the product already accomplishes
  • Choose an internal component and make it do something new or extra
  • Choose an internal component and make it do the function of an external component (effectively “stealing” the external component’s function)

3. If you decide that an idea is valuable, you move on to the next question: Is it feasible? Can you actually create this new product? Perform this new service? Why or why not? Is there any way to refine or adapt the idea to make it more viable?

The Attribute Dependency Technique is defined as: the creation/removal of symmetries or dependencies between existing product properties. As one thing changes, another thing changes. In this example, DHL created a dependency between "elapsed time" and the "visibility of the message."

To use Attribute Dependency, make two lists. The first is a list of internal attributes. The second is a list of external attributes – those factors that are not under your control, but that vary in the context of how the product or service is used. Then, create a matrix with the internal and external attributes on one axis, and the internal attributes only on the other axis. The matrix creates combinations of internal-to-internal and internal-to-external attributes that we will use to innovate.  Take these virtual combinations and envision them in two ways. If no dependency exists between the attributes, create one. If a dependency exists, break it.  Using Function Follows Form, try to envision what the benefit or potential value might be from the new (or broken) dependency between the two attributes.