The Idea of Ideas
Not long ago I had the chance to have a lunch meeting with a colleague I’d only worked with on a very limited basis. We were reviewing a project, and as we went over various options I kept tossing out messaging lines and ideas left and right. It caught him a bit off guard, and he asked me where all those ideas came from.
He wasn’t the first to ask me the question; it’s happened a lot throughout my career. And it’s one I’ve asked other people from time to time, when they share a concept that is so far out of left field—and yet so brilliant it practically takes my breath away. You see, I love to know the impetus of concepts, that moment when a burst of inspiration came that led them to create that ad, or campaign or tag line that is sheer perfection.
After pondering the “idea of ideas” if you will, I’ve come to this conclusion: ideas can come from anyone, anywhere and at any time.
1. You don’t have to be “a creative” have creative ideas.
While in my early days at an ad agency, I remember sitting around tossing ideas about an ad we were working on. The owner of a local gym/fitness place allowed us to do some semi-edgy headlines for them, which for me had been a lot of fun. (I think it’s that whole good girl, bad boy thing. I’m generally a pretty conservative person, so edgy headlines naturally draw my attention.) Anyway, the account executive suddenly tossed out an idea that completely caught us off guard. She rarely worked on the creative side of things, so to hear her share an idea that was so risqué and so clever was shocking. And it worked. The client loved it, and they got a lot of attention for it from new and existing customers. Brainstorming different types of people can generate some really fantastic concepts.
2. Look at the world around you for ideas.
As a writer, I always like to think that good marketing content takes its cue from the world around us. Doing so ensures that the work is timely and relevant in terms of current events, trends, etc. Drilling down even further to the “world view” in which the target audience lives or does business increases the opportunity to generate ideas that will connect with them. That could include the industry in which they work, the region in which they live, or their lifestyle (travel, family, etc.) I can’t tell you how many times words or phrases related to a specific industry have sparked an idea for a creative concept, but that’s just the beginning. They’ve also come from strolling down a hallway in the client’s place of business, from listening to shoppers in a store, flipping through photos or hearing a news story. Ideas really do come from a variety of places.
3. Use your life experience to generate ideas.
When it comes to ideas, there’s almost no greater resource than your own life experience. Need some proof? Look at the plethora of posts, blogs and videos on social media that show people who are sharing their personal or professional stories and creating entire brands based on doing it. Now, I don’t mean you should run right out and start a lifestyle blog or share every story from your last family reunion. But when it comes to generating ideas that will help to sell your product or service, think about what you know. Why did you start offering the service in the first place? What’s the last time you used your own product and what was the result? What are some of the things (funny, serious or otherwise) your customers have told you about why they choose that product or service? Any and all of these things can help to generate ideas that can help you promote them in a whole new way.
4. Get in the car, take a shower or go for a walk to find your next idea.
Although he would never have thought of it in these terms, my father was an entrepreneur most of his life. He was a farmer, a welder, and owned a dirt moving company—simultaneously. It wasn’t unusual, then, for him to have a decision to make or a problem to solve in at least one of them at any given time. More often than not, the solution failed to come as he drew it out on paper, talked it out with my uncle or rolled it over in his mind. It would come to him when he was asleep. He would suddenly wake up in the middle of the night knowing precisely what needed to be done. For me, the “big idea” will pop up when I’m shampooing my hair or doing an errand—times when my mind is focused on something else (or seemingly nothing at all.) For others, inspiration strikes during a morning run, an hour-long drive or just walking to the mailbox. Once you’ve thought about whatever project or campaign you need to deal with, walk away from it for awhile. The idea you need is likely to come.
As these four examples illustrate, creative ideas can come from a host of people, a variety of places and at almost any time. I can’t wait to see (and hopefully come up with) some of the next great ones.
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