all posts tagged brainstorming

Free your mind…and ideas will follow.

Creativity flows more easily from an unstressed mind.

Creativity flows more easily from an unstressed mind.

Has this ever happened to you: You’re about to say something, but you get interrupted and seconds later you forget what you were going to say.

No matter how hard you try to remember, it’s gone.

So you quit trying…and a few seconds later you suddenly remember what you were going to say.

How does that happen?

Simple: The thought didn’t actually vanish; it was just hiding in your subconscious mind. Once you stopped straining to pry it out, it floated to the surface on its own. Funny how that works.

That same principle applies when you’re trying to come up with an idea for an ad, a product name, a visual, or the answer to a problem. Sometimes the best way to have an idea is to simply stop trying for a bit.

When you’ve been brainstorming for a while, the law of diminishing returns often kicks in. The mind turns to clay; the ideas dry up.

What then?

You stop consciously trying. Your mind has all the information it needs. It’s time to let it do its thing.

So you go do something else. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it doesn’t involve thinking about the project. Here are some suggestions:

Take a nap. Ideas will often emerge as you’re falling asleep or just waking up. Somehow that “twilight” region between sleeping and waking provides a natural conduit for ideas to flow from the subconscious into the conscious.

Take a walk. There’s nothing like getting outside and into the fresh air to give you a fresh perspective. The openness of the outdoors lifts that claustrophobic sense of feeling boxed-in by a project. Getting out and seeing some blue sky lets your imagination soar.

Exercise. It’s not just good for your body, it’s good for your brain. Rigorous exercise puts you in a different mental state and causes your brain to release chemicals that give you a sense of well-being.

Take a long, hot shower or bath. Don’t feel guilty about pampering yourself; it’s work-related. Standing in a steamy shower or letting Calgon take you away puts you in a mode of pure relaxation where your thoughts can freely drift. Those wanderings will often bring back useful solutions.

By no means are these the only methods for freeing your mind to do its best work. You can certainly try your own. Whatever you can do to stop consciously thinking about a project for a while enables your mind to work behind the scenes and to unlock all those ideas you have waiting to get out.

Try it for yourself and let us know how you do.

(Note: You can’t predict when an idea will emerge, so be prepared. Make sure you have a pen and notebook handy to jot down or sketch out the idea before it disappears into the ether. Don’t make the mistake of trying to recall it later on; write it down! Most ideas, particularly complex ones, quickly become cloudy unless captured immediately in written form. The mind is always active; ideas start undergoing alterations the moment you conceive them. Five minutes later, your original flash of insight may have morphed into something less useful. Write it down in its pure form the first moment you imagine it, and you’ll capture its essence.)

5 Steps to Having a Great Idea

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The “creative process” is indeed a process.

Some folks think ad agency people “sit around and think up ideas all day.”

This makes the creative process sound random and effortless, neither of which is true.

Agencies would quickly go out of business if they just “sat around” waiting for inspiration to strike.
They need a way to regularly and consistently create interesting ideas for the ads (and other stuff) they produce.

So…here it is, broken down into five simple steps:

1. Preparation

Getting ready to have an idea requires immersing yourself in the product or service you want to promote, learning everything you can about it, asking lots of questions. (Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”)

This may involve talking to engineers about a design, visiting a factory to see how a product is made or interviewing users of a service. It’s a lot of work, but without this necessary step you won’t have sufficient information from which to draw forth a great idea.

2. Incubation

After you’ve loaded your brain with information, it’s time let your mind work its magic. This step is equal parts work and fun, active and passive, conscious and unconscious.

The “work” part is brainstorming different solutions. The “fun” part is doing something completely unrelated, which frees up your subconscious mind to do its thing.

Creative folks have different methods for this: going somewhere quiet and thinking, heading out for a walk, napping, taking a drive, jogging, etc. You’ll need to find what works best for you. But the alternating pattern of working and taking a break seems to do the trick.

3. Illumination

This is where you go, “A-ha!” (or “Eureka!” or whatever it is you say when brilliance strikes). The idea comes to you and you’re ecstatic. You jump up and give yourself a mental high-five, congratulating yourself on your cleverness.

4. Evaluation

This step isn’t nearly as fun as Step 3. (In fact, it can be pretty painful.) It’s time to stand back and throw stones at the brand new, shiny idea you’ve just created.

This is no time to be proud or protective. Take a step back and examine the idea objectively. Look for flaws. Is it strong enough to stand up to scrutiny?

If if isn’t, swallow your pride, kick that idea to the curb and get to work on a better one.

Don’t worry; lightning struck once. If you’ve done your homework it will strike again.

5. Elaboration

If, on the other hand, your idea can withstand the slings and arrows you shot at it in Step 4, it’s ready to be turned into an actual ad.

That means writing the copy, designing the layout, creating the artwork. (In other words, a lot of hard work and effort.) But when it all comes together it’s a thing of beauty.

There’s no more rewarding professional experience than being part of a creative team transforming a single “big idea” into a campaign that impacts thousands or even millions of people.

Acknowledgment: Chapter Four of The Copy Workshop Workbook by Bruce Bendinger provided source material for this post.

Naming, Part II: To create a name that’s on target, get ready and aim before you fire.

Firing Squad

Before you can develop an effective name for a brand or product, you need to do some homework. Rush headlong into the brainstorming process without asking some questions and setting some parameters, and you’re almost certain to be wasting your time. (We discussed the challenges of creating brand and product names in Part I of this series.)

Here is some information we request from our clients before we begin work on a name:

  1. Complete product description: what it does, how it works, what makes it different/superior, etc.
  2. Description of the person buying or using the product. What is important to them?
  3. Product attributes the name should convey (e.g., ease of use, speed, durability, the results it produces, etc.)
  4. Are there any client-imposed prohibitions (e.g., name can’t have the letter “X” or the word “green” in it, can’t have any military connotations, etc.)?
  5. Does the competition have a similar product? What is it called?
  6. What kind of tone should the name convey (e.g., aggressive, relaxing, friendly, reliable, etc.)?
  7. Does the parent brand have an established and recognizable image that the name should relate to?
  8. Does the name need to relate to other names in the product line (e.g., are all the products named after an animal)?
  9. Does it matter if the name is literal (Quarter-Pounder, Shop-Vac) or metaphorical (Whopper, Dirt Devil)?
  10. Are you open to having a coined name created, providing it conveys the appropriate attitude and imagery?

Asking these questions – and getting as many clear, definitive answers as possible – is crucial to creating a memorable, likable name that makes a positive connection to the customers.

Want to see 50 examples of great names?

 

It doesn’t take a genius to see the obvious. (Then why don’t we notice more stuff?)

A  friend of mine has a gripe about the CBS show “The Mentalist.”

He says, “The guy’s not a mentalist, he just observes stuff – like Sherlock Holmes. They should call it ‘The Observer’ or something.”

He’s got a point. The character isn’t clairvoyant, he just notices things. Everything, in fact.

Most of us don’t do that. With images and information constantly buzzing around us, we’ve conditioned ourselves to “grazing,” to picking out only the bits that are most interesting and ignoring the rest.

That’s true whether we’re on the computer, watching a TV show or just living our lives.

I realized how non-observant I’d become when I tried my hand at an online “choose the correct logo” game.

I failed miserably.

I’m a writer, not a designer, so I tend to think verbally more than visually. But that’s no excuse. I realized I need to put more effort into retaining more of the information my eyes feed my brain every day.

After all, us agency folks work in a “creative” field. Ideas don’t spring from an information vacuum but from our accumulated knowledge and experiences. If we don’t actively gather that data and catalog it in our minds, we’ll have much less to call upon when we need to brainstorm an idea.

If we do load up our palette, however, we have that much more information from which to pull solutions.

Of course, being observant also has “real world” applications too:

• It’s a useful skill if you ever need to tell police about something you witnessed.

• It can help you remember a new acquaintance’s face so you’ll recognize them later.

• It can help you talk someone through a procedure over the phone without having any visual reference in front of you.

• In extreme cases it may even save your life.

But how do you become an observer, rather than a viewer?

You just have to do it. Take in your surroundings. In your mind, describe to yourself what you’re seeing.

For example, the next time you’re standing in line at a fast food restaurant, make a point of observing:

• The color and pattern of the floor tile

• The number of cash registers

• What the counter is made of

• If the lights are fluorescent or incandescent

• The number and location of the exits (This ties into the “may even save your life” statement above.)

That’s just one example of opportunities for observing. Any time you’re standing in line, waiting in the doctor’s waiting room, surfing the Internet, or if you’re just out and about, stop and force yourself to observe.

It’s a great mental exercise, and the things you remember will most likely be useful to you down the road.

________________________________________________

“You have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”

“Frequently.”

“How often?”

“Well, some hundreds of times.”

“Then how many are there?”

“How many? I don’t know.”

“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”

—Sherlock Holmes and Watson, from “A Scandal in Bohemia”

Naming, Part I: It’s hard and all the easy ones are taken.

Occasionally our agency is asked to craft a name for a new brand or product.

It can be a fun project.

It’s also hard as heck.

That’s because most of the simple one-word names are already taken. If it’s a single, cool-sounding word, someone is probably using it.

Here’s a little brainstorming exercise that proves the point: Imagine an automaker in Detroit has asked you to come up with a name for a new car.

(Although in reality cars are marketed towards specific demographic groups, for the purposes of this discussion just imagine a “generic” vehicle and consumer.)

Where do you start?

You could run through a list of animals. You’d come up with Jaguar, Cougar, Eagle, Falcon, Skylark, Viper, Ram, Barracuda, Impala, Bronco and Mustang to name a few. (All kept shiny with Turtle Wax, no doubt.) Those names have all been used. Tiger? Lion? Panda?

Those just won’t work, will they?

So you try, let’s see…how about Zodiac signs? Taurus, Aries…crap, those are taken and the rest are kind of…out there.

Speaking of stars, does the universe offer a solution? Ford has a Galaxy, Mitsubishi an Eclipse. Mercury and Saturn are in use. Milky Way is fine for a candy bar, but not a car. Andromeda is too feminine. (And please don’t suggest Uranus.)

How about mythical names? Well, you’d think there’d be a lot there too, but other than Saturn, Mercury, Aurora and Thunderbird the pickings are pretty slim. You can’t exactly call a car Zeus or Thor.

And Puck is right out.

That leads us to Greek terms. Let’s see, there’s Delta (taken) and…um, not much else.

You move on to names of places: Several sound really great and conjure up cool imagery – Aspen, Daytona, Malibu, Sierra, Milan, Capri – but of course they’re taken. You try picking other cities – Pittsburgh, Flint, Kalamazoo – and quickly realize you should just keep moving on.

What about music? Hyundai has the Sonata. What else could we try? Melody and Harmony would be great if the car were a girl. Octave? Nocturne? A bit technical. Most of the other terms are incomprehensible to anyone who doesn’t speak Italian.

Becoming slightly desperate, you throw caution and political correctness to the wind and begin exploring the hunting grounds of Native American tribal names. Unfortunately, Jeep has beaten you to the punch and grabbed up Cherokee, Apache and Comanche. Dodge took Dakota, and GM has owned Pontiac since General Custer’s time (not to mentioned the misspelled Aztek). Mazda even took the Navajo. You’re left with Cree, Sioux and Hopi, and there’s not much you can do with those.

A-ha! Why not something with just letters and numbers, like Mazda RX-7, Audi A4, Pontiac GTO or Ford F-150? Trouble is, letters and numbers don’t mean much on their own (although some, such as A, V, X, Z and the number 1 have more personality than others). It usually takes a massive marketing campaign to imbue an alpha-numeric name with meaning.

It’s at this point that you realize that coming up with a name, while perhaps still fun, will not be easy.

Barring the use of an existing single word that’s exactly right for your product and audience (Pontiac nailed it with Vibe, Kia with Soul, Nissan with Cube), what we’re left with is essentially three options:

  1. Putting two words together: Grand Prix, Grand Am, Town & Country, Town Car, Fifth Avenue, Ramcharger, Sunfire, Range Rover, Crown Victoria, PT Cruiser (PT isn’t a word, but…)
  2. Putting a prefix in front of a word: Ford Econoline, Pontiac Trans Sport. (This is actually a better option for car parts than for an actual car. Think of Duralast batteries, ThermoQuiet brakes, AutoLite spark plugs.)
  3. Coining a new word.

Option 3 has become particularly popular these days. We’ll talk about the challenges of coining a new name in an upcoming post.

NEXT: Naming, Part II: To create a name that’s on target, get ready and aim before you fire.