The Showcase Workshop Blog

Better Brainstorming for Better Marketing

Note from Millie:

This is post #5 — my last post! — in the CTA Series, a recap of my biggest takeaways from the 2017 Unbounce CTA Conference. Links to the previous four posts in the series are at the bottom of this page.

Thanks for following along with me. I’ve been freshly inspired as I’ve reviewed my notes from the conference to write these articles for you.

With this last post, I want to inspire you, too …

Brainstorming Lessons from Influencer Marketing Expert Tyler Farnsworth

Tyler Farnsworth, managing director at August United, is on a crusade to rid the world of boring marketing.

Or so says his LinkedIn bio.

We marketers know him as a leading voice in influencer marketing.

This recap of his “Roadmap to Remarkable Influencer Marketing” talk at CTA Conf isn’t going to be about influencer marketing, however.

It’s going to be about better brainstorming.

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I was taking notes like crazy the whole time Tyler was onstage — but it was his insights about brainstorming that made me think “I’ve got to write a blog post about this for the marketers who read the Showcase blog!”

Brainstorming is a powerful tool for teams of any kind, but I think it’s especially effective for marketing teams. We marketers are challenged more than ever to cut through the noise and come up with messages that get our target customers’ attention. Done right, brainstorming is incredibly helpful for stimulating creativity and generating attention-grabbing ideas.

Yet many of us are brainstorming wrong.

Here’s how to do it right …

Shake Things Up to Shift Your Perspective

Having the same old meetings in the same old spaces with the same old people is a recipe for … sameness.

Change things up to get ideas flowing more freely.

  • Start your meeting with a game that pulls people out of their workday doldrums. A brain teaser can be great for this, or an empathy exercise. Here are some fast and easy team building activities to consider.
  • Bring an example of out-of-the-box, non-boring marketing to spark ideas.
  • Invite people from outside your team or department to your brainstorming meeting for a fresh new viewpoint.
  • Choose a new meeting space. Meet in another part of the office — or better yet, meet outside the office.

Simply changing up the status quo of your brainstorming meetings can help eliminate status quo from your marketing campaigns.

Zero in on the Topic of Focus to Set the Stage

Where many meetings go wrong is they lose focus. Brainstorming sessions are no exception. Before you begin, state a very clear intention for the brainstorming session to anchor the conversation and keep people focused on the topic at hand.

  • What specific product or service is up for discussion?
  • What is the main challenge you’re facing?
  • How can you leverage the success of previous marketing campaigns?

Write the topic of your brainstorming sessions in big, bold letters on a whiteboard if you can. If you can’t, write it on sticky notes that you hand out to each person in the room. Keep everyone focused on that one subject and the session will be much more productive!

Lay Down Rules That Support and Encourage Free Thinking

You may think that establishing rules from the outset would be counterproductive to creativity and free thinking. Oh ye of little faith.

We human beings thrive on rules, boundaries and clearly set expectations. Those guidelines make us feel safe and sound, letting us know where we’re going and what’s expected of us along the way.

Plus, in a brainstorming session, firm rules like these can eliminate those dreaded idea-killers like negativity and judgment.

  • Brainstorm on paper first. Have a 5-10 minute silent brainstorming round where everyone in the room writes down their ideas. Here’s a great article on “brainwriting.”
  • No talking when someone is sharing their idea.
  • No letting one person (especially a senior person) dominate.
  • Every person in the room gets a chance to share.
  • Don’t judge any ideas yet. Not your own, and not others’. No killing ideas. No saying things like “That won’t work.”
  • Build upon the last idea. Think in improv terms and use “Yes and” statements.

The objective here is to create an environment for the whole team to share their ideas. Ideas are delicate little things. They’re easily killed by negativity and judgment — so don’t allow those beasts in the room.

Turn on the Idea Faucet

“The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” – Linus Pauling

Once the rules are established, let ideas flow freely. Tyler called this “faucet thinking.”

Reassure the team that there are no dumb ideas. Just let the ideas flow like water.

Studies have shown that the more ideas you generate, the more creative those ideas become.

The first few ideas that come to mind will always be influenced by what we already know — our assumptions. Once we’ve got those ideas and assumptions out of our system, the real out-of-the-box thinking begins.

To sum it up – to generate better ideas, encourage your team to generate more ideas.

Then you’ll end up with a whole slew of original ideas to choose from.

But don’t start making decisions yet! First …

Step Away Before You Funnel

Tyler called this step “funnel thinking.” This is where you’ll go through your list of ideas from the brainstorming session and pare them down until you get to the most feasible options.

BUT!

Take a break before you do this.

Have a second meeting the next day, if you can, so everyone can rest their brains and come back refreshed. If you can’t wait an entire day, at least give your team a lengthy lunchbreak before you gather them together again to sort through the ideas.

Only after your team has had a break should you start narrowing down your ideas using convergent thinking.

Convergent thinking is where we bring judgment in — strategically and affirmatively — to evaluate and prioritize the ideas. Introduced too early, convergent thinking will kill the brainstorming process and make future brainstorming sessions that much harder. Save this for last!

Now You’re Thinking!

Using this strategy, you’ll have more successful brainstorming sessions. And just as importantly, it will keep your team feeling encouraged and positive about sharing their most creative ideas. Who knows? Your team may just come up with the next “dunk in the dark” marketing moment

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  • Read Part 1, How Popeye Single-handedly Saved the Spinach Industry
  • Read Part 2, Speaking Your Customer’s Language in Your Marketing Campaigns
  • Read Part 3, When Your Prospects Win, Your Marketing Wins
  • Read Part 4, Solving the Right Problems for Your Customers
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Wellington, New Zealand
Millie is President and Co-Founder of Showcase Workshop. She rides a Pashley, knits on aeroplanes and boasts an unenviable typing speed of 48 words per minute.