Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Brain Game: Successful Brainstorming, Part 3

Yesterday, we covered the first five steps you should take when you’re brainstorming. Here are five more that will help lead you to that elusive Big Idea.

6) Innovate. For advertising and marcom purposes, the goal of brainstorming is to come up with a Big Idea that’s unmistakably original. You may not find one that’s never been seen before, but that’s your goal, because a Big Idea’s value is inversely related to its familiarity. But don’t get discouraged if you feel you’ve fallen a bit short of the ideal. As Leo Burnett said, “When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.”

7) Choose the best idea. This can be tough, but ultimately somebody has to crown the champ, without regard for the powerful egos or corporate politics that might threaten to pollute the process. As the group leader (or creative director, if you will), you have to determine which idea communicates the solution to the problem in the most dramatic and compelling way. Which is clearest in terms of summarizing the benefits of the brand? Which is the simplest to understand? Which communicates most quickly and directly. Which is the most creative, the most engaging, the most cogent? All those things and more must be carefully considered before you can confidently make a final decision and recommendation.

Synthesizing all those factors into a coherent whole that leads to a genuinely Big Idea is a big job. That’s why to be effective the leader of a brainstorming session needs experience, expertise and an instinctive grasp of what works best and what doesn’t. It’s more art than science, so after you’ve considered all the facts and research, trust your gut. Once you’ve picked your Big Idea, embrace it wholeheartedly, and file away the others for future reference.

8) Determine the best way to sell your Big Idea to others. Unless you work in a vacuum, you’ll have to sell your Big Idea to one or more people. To do this, you have to be a showman of sorts, presenting it in an exciting, engaging way that really makes it come to life. Of course, you’re bound to run up against objections; that’s where the salesmanship starts. Stick to your guns, unless there are truly compelling reasons to change your mind (corporate gamesmanship doesn’t count as a good reason).

Most often, you’ll find that you must take greater care and spend more time in selling your Big Idea than you took in discovering it. But you’ve got to make the effort, or all that brainstorming adds up to a big zero.

9) Be flexible, reasonable, honest and courageous. Allow for different points of view, listen very carefully to other opinions, accept constructive criticism, but persist in selling your Big Idea. Radiating confidence is the best way to convince others that your Big Idea is the best possible solution to the communication challenge.

10) Don’t be afraid of failure. This is the single biggest obstacle most people must overcome when brainstorming. They’re afraid that they’ll look incompetent, or worse, come up dry. My advice is simple: Don’t worry, just do it. Home run hitters tend to strike out a lot, but that doesn’t stop them from swinging for the fences. So make like The Babe, because one Big Idea is worth a thousand “safe” ones that are timeworn and tired. Try slipping one of those “safe” ideas by a savvy Baby Boomer, and you’ll quickly discover how dangerous it can be to your business.

Well, that’s about it. Now you’ve got a simple, straightforward guide to brainstorming, so start using it today. If you’re unsure about how to make the process flow efficiently and effectively, hire an experienced facilitator, preferably someone with training in group dynamics, as well as creative advertising.

And, if you’re trying to generate ideas that resonate with Baby Boomers, it pays to hire a qualified gerontology counselor with decades of advertising and marcom experience to run your brainstorming session. A multifaceted professional like that can help keep things moving along while keeping an eye out for the inevitable roadblocks that spring up whenever people try to build a consensus.

In the final analysis, brainstorming is never easy, but when it’s done well, it can provide a Big Idea that can take your brand to the next level in terms of sales and image, even with a tough group like the Baby Boomers.

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