Marketing: Making Creativity a Group Activity
If you hope to get a group to actually be creative when designing marketing strategies, use structured group processes. That means you need to talk the group into going along with an activity such as brainstorming.
When confined to a conference room for a morning, most groups of people do little more than argue about stale old ideas. Or even worse, somebody suggests an absolutely terrible new idea, and the rest of the group jumps on it and insists that the suggestion is great … thus eliminating the need for them to think.
Here are some of the best group creativity techniques. Note that these techniques generally produce a list of ideas. Ideally, it’s a long and varied list, but it’s still just a list. So be sure to schedule some time for analyzing the list to identify the most promising ideas and then develop those ideas into full-blown action plans.
Brainstorming for marketing
The goal of brainstorming is to generate a long list of crazy ideas, some of which may be surprisingly helpful. Brainstorming gets people to do out-of-the-box thinking in which they generate unusual ideas beyond their normal thought patterns.
Don’t let your group just go through the motions of brainstorming. To really get into the spirit of it, people must free associate — that is, allow their minds to wander from current ideas to whatever new ideas first pop up, no matter what the association between the old and new idea may be.
You may need to encourage your group by example. If you’ve stated the problem as “Think of new ideas for our trade show booth,” you can brainstorm a half dozen ideas to start with, just to illustrate what you’re asking the group to do: a booth like a circus fun-house, a booth shaped like a giant cave, a booth in the form of one of your products, a booth decorated on the inside to look like an outdoor space complete with blue sky and white clouds overhead, a booth like the Space Shuttle Launchpad featuring hourly launches of a scale-model of the Shuttle, a booth that revolves, or a booth that offers free fresh-popped popcorn and fresh-baked cookies to visitors.
These ideas aren’t likely to be adopted by the average company, but they do illustrate the spirit of brainstorming, which is to set aside your criticisms and have some fun generating ideas. The rules (which you must tell the group beforehand) are as follows:
Quantity, not quality: Generate as many ideas as possible.
No criticism of another member’s suggestion: No idea is too wild to not write down.
No ownership of ideas: Everyone builds off of each other’s ideas.
After you share the rules, set up a flip chart and start listing everyone’s crazy ideas for the next trade show booth, catalog mailing, web-based promotion, or whatever else you want your brainstorming session to focus on.
If you need to narrow down a long list, give participants three votes and let them pick their favorites, and then tally the votes to find the top-rated ideas. Looking at the ideas one at a time, ask the group to try to build on each of them.
Question brainstorming for marketing
Question brainstorming involves generating novel questions that can provoke your group into thinking more creatively. This technique follows the same rules as brainstorming, but you instruct the group to think of questions rather than ideas.
So if you need to develop a new trade show booth that draws more prospects, then the group may think of the following kinds of questions:
Do bigger booths draw much better than smaller ones?
Which booths drew the most people at the last trade show?
Are all visitors equal, or do we want to draw only certain types of visitors?
Will the offer of a resting place and free coffee do the trick?
These questions stimulate good research and thinking, and their answers may help you create a new and successful trade show booth.
Wishful thinking for marketing
Wishful thinking is a technique suggested by Hanley Norins of ad agency Young & Rubicam and one that he has used to train employees in his Traveling Creative Workshop. The technique follows the basic rules of brainstorming, but with the requirement that all statements start with the words I wish.
The sorts of statements you get from this activity often prove useful for developing advertising or other marketing communications. If you need to bring some focus to the list to make it more relevant to your marketing, just state a topic for people to make wishes about.
For example, you can say, “Imagine that the Website Fairy told you that all your wishes can come true — as long as they have to do with the company’s website.”
Analogies for marketing
Analogies are a great creativity-inspiring device. Many experts define creativity as making non-obvious combinations of ideas. A good analogy is just that.
A great example of an analogy once appeared in a drug company’s print ad. The ad showed a painting of a person about to put a huge, old-fashioned key into a keyhole in the wall. The caption next to this illustration read: “Imagine ‘intelligent’ drugs that could tell sick cells from healthy ones, and then selectively destroy the targeted ones.” Illustrations often use metaphors or analogies when trying to communicate a complex topic such as selective drug therapies.
To put analogies to work for you, ask your group to think of things similar to the subject or problem you’re thinking about. At first, group members come up with conventional ideas. But they soon run out of these obvious answers and must create fresh analogies to continue. For example, you may ask a group to brainstorm analogies for your product as a source of inspiration for creating new advertisements about that product.
But analogies can also miss their mark, so be careful. For example, a classic ad from the 1950s introduced DuPont’s then-new miracle plastic, cellophane, by showing a stork delivering a baby wrapped up in a clear plastic bag. Apparently, nobody at the ad agency noticed that it looked like the baby was about to suffocate.
Pass-along game for marketing
Pass-along is a simple game that helps a group break through its mental barriers to reach free association and collaborative thinking. You can read the instructions here, in case you’ve never heard of the game:
One person writes something about the topic in question on the top line of a sheet of paper and passes it to the next person, who writes a second line beneath the first.
Go around the table or group as many times as you think necessary.
This game can be done with any number of people, from 3 to 20. In general, you’re trying to fill up a full page of lined paper, so bigger groups need fewer cycles. If people get into the spirit of the game, a line of thought emerges and dances on the page.
Each previous phrase suggests something new until you have a lot of good ideas and many ways of thinking about your problem. Players keep revealing new aspects of the subject as they build on or add new dimensions to the preceding lines.
Subject: How can we make our customers’ personal finances run better?
Help them win the lottery.
Help them save money by putting aside 1 percent each month.
Help them save for their children’s college tuition.
Help them keep track of their finances.
Give them a checkbook that balances itself.
Notify them in advance of financial problems, like bouncing checks, so they can prevent those problems.
One idea leads to another. So even if the first idea isn’t helpful, associating new ideas from the first one can produce useful thoughts. But after the members of this group thought along those lines, they came up with some practical ways of increasing their customers’ wealth, like plans that can transfer money to savings whenever there’s a surplus after regular bills have been paid.