Brainstorming seems like a no-brainer, but that is definitely not the case. A big misconception is that brainstorming is simply jotting down some ideas on paper and choosing the best one. Good brainstorming — the type that leads to good results — is done in a very methodical manner.
In this blog, I want to not only break down what brainstorming is and how important it is to marketing, but how you can do it better and get better ideas that your team can actually execute.
First up, what is brainstorming?
Brainstorming is the art of solving problems or generating ideas through group discussion and collaboration. Your group may have advocates and naysayers of ideas, but that’s an important part of the process. Brainstorming is normally the quickest and easiest way to collect opinions, ideas, and solutions — and can often be incredibly inspiring.
The reality is, very few people are perpetually walking around with good, creative ideas in their heads. Brainstorming offers the opportunity to break out of traditional mindsets and think creatively. However, it’s important to note that everything in an effective brainstorming session is carefully choreographed. There are four basic rules to organizing a results-driven session:
- No Negative Feedback (yet): Eliminating criticism creates an environment to freely share thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment or being wrong. Once you get the ball rolling, you can start to analyze your results of the sessions, and discard what won’t work moving forward. Here at 1 Bold Step, we like to drop ideas into the “Disney Drawer” to revisit later.
- Quantity over Quality: You’ve likely heard the phrase “quality over quantity” but when it comes to brainstorming, the exact opposite is true. Instead of thinking of one big idea, you’ll want to come up with as many ideas as possible. The more ideas shared, the more likely there will be useful ideas to work from.
- Use Ideas as Launching Points: Combine concepts to create new solutions and build on ideas that are received well. Evaluate each idea to determine which is feasible and best suited to find the best solution to the goal, problem, or plan.
- Encourage Unconventional Thinking: Welcome “out-of-the-box” ideas. Let your team get creative and talk through ideas that wouldn’t normally work. You never know what part will stand out as a possible solution.
Brainstorming can be used in a multitude of ways including for new product ideas, campaigns, internal procedures, company structure, written work, and more. It really depends on the type of business, the goals or plans ahead, and the approach that the business takes when collaborating.
Why is brainstorming important to marketing?
We may not “do pretty,” but we often still need to be creative. And getting creative means you need to brainstorm ideas and think critically about them.
Brainstorming allows teams to assess or reassess an idea without bias and challenge assumptions. It gives everyone the license to be honest and inquisitive, which encourages debate on different viewpoints and conclusions.
For example, consistently coming up with strong content marketing ideas can be challenging. Between deadlines and performance goals — putting together creative ideas can be difficult. They don’t always appear out of thin air. This is where an established brainstorming process is the best and most reliable way to never run out of ideas.
Brainstorming will force you to consciously consider what your audience wants from your content, get the gears churning to produce ideas you may not have otherwise thought of, and leverages the power of your team to generate more ideas than a single person.
How To Brainstorm Better
Most attempts at brainstorming are doomed. Thoughts can be disorganized and off track, and most ideas don’t end up translating into tactics. To generate better ideas — and boost the odds that your team will execute them — is to start brainstorming better. Here’s my list of top 10 tips you should do to brainstorm like a pro:
- Invite the Right People
Inviting the right people is critical to an effective brainstorming session. Not only do you not want to waste anyone’s time, but you also want results. This might mean looping in people that you don’t work with day-to-day. Enlisting people from other teams and departments will bring fresh perspectives, knowledge, and experience — which helps to create a more diverse range of feasible ideas.
- Establish Your Goal
Before you start brainstorming, set a focus for the session. Preparation ensures that everyone is on the same wavelength, so consider what is the ultimate objective of the session. When you establish your goal at the start, you’ll be able to track and measure the results afterward. Did you reach your goal? Did you accomplish what you set out to do?
- Start With Some Warm-Ups
A productive brainstorming session should start with a warm-up exercise. Warming up either alone or in a group can help to put yourself and your team into a creative mindset and get people comfortable to share ideas with each other. Ideal warm-ups should provide the opportunity to try improvising and generating ideas in a lower-stakes context, like word association.
- Divide and Conquer
Depending on your team and goals, it might be helpful to split the brainstorming group into smaller subgroups. One continuous and often rambling discussion among a large group may not drive results. However, multiple highly-focused groups of three to five people could generate fruitful discussions. Why three to five people? The social norm in groups of this size tends to speak up (you want that), whereas the norm in a larger group is to stay quiet, and it may take more time to coax ideas out the larger the group gets.
- Document the Discussion
Organize the thoughts of the session and combine them to add structure. This could mean creating charts, color-coding, and grouping information into themes. We find that spreadsheets work well for this as you can later sort ideas by focus area, owner, due date, etc... As you document the discussion, you’ll make it easier to understand the intention of each other and how they can be utilized to reach your established goals, and what can be set aside for future planning.
- Think Aloud
Saying your thoughts aloud makes the brainstorming process feel more natural and conversational. Thinking aloud can help to make participants feel more comfortable sharing before ideas are fully developed, which can inspire others to naturally build on the ideas. Even if you’re brainstorming independently, verbalizing your thoughts can make it easier to recognize good ideas and talk through challenges.
- Emphasize Variety
This is where the quantity over quality discussion comes back around. Focus on listing as many thoughts and ideas as possible, instead of thinking of a few in-depth ideas. This is the time to produce a variety of ideas that can be fleshed out later. It’s also important to have a large number of ideas to create the foundation for a useful outline for future projects.
- Ask the Right Questions
Asking questions encourages open-ended discussion, but the trick is to identify what the right questions are — the kind that allows participants to consider the topic from multiple angles. The questions asked should force participants to take new and unfamiliar perspectives. Why? Because whenever you look for new ways to attack an old problem, it’s easy to gravitate to thinking patterns and ideas that worked in the past. Over time, you’ll come up with fewer good ideas, despite the increased effort. Changing perspective shakes up thinking.
- Stay on Task (and Don’t Be Afraid to Say No)
Brainstorming can quickly fall off track and away from the main topic. If you feel the session isn’t going the way you’d envisioned, steer it back in the right direction by addressing unfeasible ideas. While participants should feel they can voice left-field ideas, you may need to intervene to ensure things don’t stray too far from the goal of the session. Don’t be afraid to say “no” or “not right now” — that’s why you should have a Disney Drawer where ideas can live until your team has time to revisit and reconsider.
- Schedule Multiple Sessions
Rome wasn’t built in a day and your best ideas won’t be either. You’ll get the most out of your brainstorming by scheduling multiple sessions. This will give you and your team time between meetings to do additional research and planning, which helps to foster ideas for future sessions that will make them more productive. Scheduling multiple brainstorming sessions can also help to prevent creative burnout and allow participants to return to ideas with a fresh perspective.
As marketers, we need to be creative every single day to get the results our clients need. But creativity doesn’t always just happen, it is more often the result of hard work, planning, and a reliable, repeatable process. And when people think of brainstorming, none of those words come to mind. Traditional brainstorming is fast, furious, and shallow. It’s time to scrap traditional techniques for a more focused, results-driven approach to consistently coax better ideas from your team.
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