May 13, 2015

Brainstorming Techniques to Make Your Marketing Campaign More Interesting Than This Headline

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Charles Dickens wasn’t really talking about A Tale of Two Cities. He was referring to every moment I’ve spent brainstorming ideas during my career as a copywriter and marketer.

I’m not alone, am I? You’ve had the sinking feeling that you have no more creativity left in your body. That maybe we only get a finite amount, and yours may have leaked out of you while you were sleeping. And then, miraculously, brilliance strikes and you think, “How could I have doubted myself? I’m f***ing awesome!” You ride that high for maybe 30 seconds (or, if you’re lucky, an hour or two) before you think, “What was I thinking? This idea is garbage”, and you try again. Hence Dickens’ next line, “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”

So how do you keep your ideas fresh? Your marketing efforts are a significant driver of sales. If your ideas are a flop, your sales might just be flat as a pancake, too. Stimulate your creativity and make your next campaign a success using creative advice and brainstorming techniques from excellent marketers.

Adjective. Period. Wow.

Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of thinking there’s some creative shortcut you can take. Creativity takes time and effort. Otherwise you end up with a corporate tagline that feels like it was stitched together using three adjectives and a spoon. (Why a spoon? To quote the Sheriff of Nottingham: “Because it’s dull, you twit, it hurts more!”)

When you start brainstorming, you need to think about the campaign as a whole, rather than attacking one asset at a time. As Rajinder Sidhu, Graphic Designer at Vidyard, suggests,  the best ideas are a combination of how creative, content, data, and technology will all work together throughout the project’s lifespan.

Focus on understanding the company’s brand, the target audience, and the goal of the campaign. If a meat company makes tasty beef but the public is concerned about the welfare of the cows, creating a campaign about the product’s low cost isn’t going to help anyone. Or, if you’re a serious, authoritative brand, it may not go over well if you start dropping f-bombs in your marketing material.

Same thing goes for your audience. You need to know what they really care about, and address that in your marketing. When I start brainstorming, I always ask myself, what would make me care about this if I were the customer? This can keep you focused on the benefit to the customer, rather than the features of the product. As marketing guru Ted Levitt once said, people don’t buy a quarter-inch drill bit, they buy a quarter-inch hole.

If all you have is a hammer, you’ll treat everything like it’s a nail.

…So said psychologist Abraham Maslow, and it applies to brainstorming marketing campaigns as well.  Part of being able to brainstorm fresh ideas is exposing yourself to fresh ideas. Check out magazines, books, campaigns that have won awards, and even stuff that seems completely unrelated. Topics that have nothing to do with your campaign can give your brain the kickstart it needs to think about something from a completely different angle.

Check out what your competitors are doing . As advertising expert Luke Sullivan pointed out in his book, you can make some awesome campaigns that feed off of your competitors. For example, Avis once suggested people rent a car from them instead of Hertz because Avis is number two, so the line at their counter is shorter.

Don’t forget, your customers can also be a fountain of insight about your brand. Find out what they think and feel, and use that information to help you figure out where to go next.

Be one with nature. Or your shower. Or a coffee shop, if you’re “normal” like that.

Creativity doesn’t always come when you’re waiting for it at your cluttered desk rammed with stress-inducing papers, deadline-filled calendars, and half-eaten granola bars. It’s too routine, which might just keep your brain mired down in its routine pattern.

I’ve found that my best ideas hit me in the shower. Probably because it’s relaxing and my mind is free to wander. Try what works for you; chilling outside, laying on a couch, or maybe you’ll prefer what Kimbe MacMaster, Vidyard’s Content Marketing Manager, does: pick a meeting room that’s free of the distractions of your phone, email notifications, and office chatter. Use a whiteboard or bring some scrap paper and headphones to get in the zone. Whatever works for you.

Is your brainstorm more like a brain-gentle-mist?

As Kimbe suggests, you don’t want to show up to a creative meeting empty-handed; doing some brainstorming first helps ensure each member of the creative team can offer unique ideas. And sometimes you’ve gotta get a little wacky to jumpstart your own creative engine.

I talk through my ideas out loud. (People in the office think I’m a little odd, but I prefer the word eccentric.) Or, give fidgeting a whirl – I’m not talking about picking at cuticles, but more like playing with or squeezing a ball. Keep activating your brain with your hands by handwriting your ideas. While you’re at it, try doodling or sketching out your ideas. A concept definitely doesn’t have to be driven by copy.

Still not working? Try listening to some music, or watching a few video clips of the creative people who inspire you most.

Is that thunder I hear?

So you’ve got some ideas now (hopefully). Now’s the time to come together as a team, and brainstorm some more. You should include in the group people who are very familiar with the project (you’ve already had the briefing meeting, right? It’s probably not a great idea to share a new project and immediately ask for input!). Also invite a few people who aren’t already in on the project because they may insert some fresh perspectives you haven’t thought of.

Warm up first; try some stretching, or even some mime-work (haha come on, you know you want to!). Play some word association to take your brain off its normal track. It may feel like a game, but it will help you connect words, feelings, and thoughts in unique ways.

Ask each other questions that might feel stupid at first; Sullivan shared an anecdote on how a Volkswagen ad was once created: The creative team wanted to talk about how safe the car was, even in the winter. At first they talked about how the car was so safe, even snowplow drivers preferred them. Then someone on the team innocently asked, how does the snowplow driver get to the garage where the plows are kept? Bam! Creative genius was born.

Get the goods–I mean greats–on paper

Got a few great ideas down on paper? Good. Now do that anywhere between 25 and 100 more times, and you’ll be doing what a number of advertising and marketing agencies suggest. This way, when you finally pick the best option, you’ll KNOW it’s the best option.

Do you have some fantastic brainstorming techniques that help you create awesome campaigns? Share them with us!

The fun doesn’t stop there! Now that you have an amazingly creative campaign, find out how to optimize it for results-driven marketing during our upcoming webinar!


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Emily Ross

Emily Ross

Emily was previously the Brand and Creative Manager at Vidyard. Today, she's a UI writer at Intel. Emily loves creating interesting and unique content oh, and food...if you haven't already noticed, she loves food.

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