The old axiom claims that there are no bad ideas… but anyone who’s been in a brainstorming session knows that’s just not true. Since cavemen first sketched on walls, humans have been capturing concepts and exploring possibilities on vertical surfaces.
Certainly in creative agencies, brainstorming is a time-tested way to generate new solutions to thorny problems. Yet as a discipline, it’s typically undisciplined at best.
“Brainstorming is Worthless,” provocatively proclaims a recent article in Inc. “What a brainstorm session should be is a place to challenge the ideas that have already been vetted,” rants author Nicolas Cole. “Not a free-for-all breakout session where anything and everything goes.” Cole thinks it’s a waste of time to have a group noodling together and tossing out whatever ideas happen to flow. Instead he advocates a process whereby each team member has done their own generative thinking and comes to the table with winnowed-down directions they are ready to defend.
Meanwhile, over in the Harvard Business Review, Hal Gregersen takes a thoughtful (long) view on different protocols and processes and advocates a “better brainstorming” approach that he claims yields the most fruitful futures. Interestingly, over 20 years of practice, he has observed that “the people least likely to engage in the exercise and follow the rules are the folks with the highest positions or greatest technical expertise… who cripple the truth-seeking capability of the entire group.” He emphasizes the importance of organizational culture in creating environments conducive to truly meaningful brainstorming. “Leaders must show humility, vulnerability and trust, and they must empower others and treat them equitably.” Sounds like a recipe for all kinds of transformation and growth!
Here at Spyglass, we’re evolving our collaborative creative process (see our Be the Change post) and have experienced the direct benefits of using a more structured, inclusive and nimble approach. We’d love to show you.
FOR SMALL-BUSINESS OWNERS, figuring out how to differentiate your company is likely one of many tasks on your to-do list. But it’s a crucial one.
It can be harder than it seems. Often, owners are too close to their companies, which can make it daunting to approach their business from their customers’ point of view. Think about it: How many total people hours have you and your team spent talking about your brand and marketing over the past year in various meetings? Now multiply that by the average hourly value of your time.
When we have our clients do this exercise, the average of what they have spent talking about this with little or no real output is $75,000 in one calendar year. That’s time and money that could be better spent elsewhere, actually getting results.
So, how do you stand out from the crowd without wasting money and time? I can tell you from working with more than 140 companies during the past decade, it doesn’t take a million bucks and endless months to get your story straight and out into the marketplace. It simply takes the right approach.
‘Because we have to’
As a branding agency, we often receive inquiries from business owners asking us to redesign their website, update their sales materials, create a logo or develop an ad. These are all valid tactics—but only if they are working in concert to help you accomplish your strategic business goals. Many business owners initially tell us they spend money on branding or marketing “because we have to,” and then they’re often frustrated or disappointed with the results.
There’s an underlying culprit at work here: many companies have yet to uncover a simple and compelling way to express who they are, what they do and why someone should do business with them.
So what’s the secret to being happy with your marketing because it’s having a positive impact on your bottom line? I recommend following four proven steps we use to get the job done in a timely manner and at a cost that won’t give you sticker shock.
1. Define your space.
A good marketing foundation starts with a one-pager that we call a brand map. It clearly states who you want to be (not your mission, but your vision for your company), and includes: the single and precise reason why people should do business with you; who you want to do business with and the key messages that will resonate with those people; where and how you fit into the competitive landscape; what position you need to take in order to differentiate yourself; and, last but not least, what you want people to think, feel and say after they have done business with you.
2. Bring your story to life.
Once you have internal alignment and agreement on your brand map, it’s time to bring your story to life. We recommend developing three strategically on point and differentiated marketing concepts that bring the story (based on the brand map) to life in a powerful, proprietary and compelling way.
How do you know which concept is the right one? Ask yourself questions such as: Will this position resonate with my customers? Does it address a very specific customer need or want? Will it give us a competitive advantage? Is it believable? Is it doable?
If you hit a wall or if you’re working with other partners or investors who have differing opinions, simply return to the brand map for guidance and validation. Above all, always remember: Your marketing approach is not about you; it’s about connecting with your customer.
3. Get your story ready for market.
Congratulations – you’re off and running. You’ve chosen the concept that best brings your story to life and represents what makes you different.
Now, take a look at all of your customer touch points, and ensure they’re in alignment with and ready to support your new story. Check out your customer space, whether it’s an office, warehouse, retail space or other location; review your sales and service processes for enhancements—even simple things like how you answer the phone can have a major impact on what your customers think of you.
We recently helped a professional group of board-certified emergency physicians in the Twin Cities brand and launch their new retail medical concept, The Urgency Room. To help ensure the UR delivered on its promise of being “The Fast, Affordable ER ue along with the estimated wait time.
And the bottom line is benefiting: The first Urgency Room opened last fall and is currently tracking at 350 percent ahead of goal. The takeaway: Defining and delivering a positive, consistent customer experience at every turn is essential to success.
4. Spread the word.
Even the best strategic approach needs a boost of support to get some traction. Work with your internal and external resources to make sure your brand is introduced flawlessly within time and budget constraints while successfully accommodating the changes inherent in any marketing program.
And don’t forget your employees. Even if you only have a handful of staff, it’s really important for them to be included in the communication process, at least at some level. That way, they’ll be energized and engaged in the new story – and help you tell it in a consistent way.
Now is your opportunity to tell the world about your company and build your brand through channels that may include advertising, public relations, pay-per-click, targeted marketing, special events or social networking.
If you keep your eye on your business objectives alongside your brand map as you continue to tell your story, you’ll save time, money and maybe even smile when you sign those checks for your marketing investment.