What to Do in the Event of a Brainstorm

By Megan Vogel

There’s no such thing as guaranteed safety inside a brainstorm. Accidents can happen, and brainstorm victims may end up with outrageously creative ideas.

But then again, you’re the adventurous sort.

Small businesses must brainstorm in order to survive.
Small businesses tend to be just that – small. In the United States, 89.7% of the 5.8 million employer firms have less than 20 employees (Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, 2014). In many of those businesses, there are a handful of “idea people”. Those individuals have more to do than come up with new ideas for the company. For example, they may also be the company’s owner, treasurer, operations manager, etc.

These are busy people.

Ideas, specifically smart marketing ideas, are indispensable for small businesses to sell products. Solutions needed can vary drastically from week to week. This week’s crisis may be the need for a new promotional incentive for a product line that has been lingering on the shelves at your retailers’ stores. Next month you may realize that you need to come up with a tantalizing name for your soon-to-launch software.

No matter the exact need, the theme is often unchanged – new, fresh, outside-the-box thinking is required. Brainstorming is a fantastic method of using spontaneous idea generation to find mind-blowing solutions to marketing or other challenges.

The three stages of brainstorming are:
1. Generating initial concepts
2. Pairing down
3. Developing your top idea

No one is saying that following these steps could save your life… but they will change it.

GENERATING INITIAL CONCEPTS
The first step is the most important. This is your opportunity to squeeze out all the ideas that have been floating around in your conscious (and subconscious) mind.

Make a list.

Write down EVERY idea that pops into your head. Ridiculous to boring, documenting every single notion is important. Here’s an example:
Possible Marketing Blog Names
Marketing Virtuoso
Marketing Whiz
Marketing Smarts
Marketing Knack
Marketing Flair
Marketing Zealot
Admiring Marketing
Marketing Maniac
Eccentric Marketing Talk
There is no rhyme or reason to the list, and it is by no means exhaustive at this point.

Pen and paper work for this stage, but using a word processor allows you to easily add to your long list of ideas, move them into categories later, and copy and paste the ones that you want to build from. This brings you to the next point…

Review your ideas and build on the ones you already love.

At some point during the process, the fire hose that has been gushing jumbled inspiration will slow to a trickle. Review the list (even if you have already been peeking at it). There are a few items that make you cringe, but there is definite potential. With any luck, something on your list will seem kind of dazzling and almost perfect, and will get your juices flowing again. Continue writing down more ideas, to build off the ones on your list that you love. Don’t limit yourself – go for a giant list, rather than quality.

Be hilarious. Be daring. Be fearless.

When that runs out, use these resources to continue to build
• Thesaurus – A thesaurus is the epitome of genius writing tools. Use the thesaurus to enhance your existing ideas, especially if you’re brainstorming word-related notions, like company names, book titles, or dubbing a special event. Since your brain is probably not already bursting with perfect vocabulary words, this tool can really help with the heavy lifting.
• Image search engine – Google is like everyone’s favorite uncle; it knows something about everything. Google Images™ search service can boost your brainstorm if you are a visual person. Type in a couple of the key words you are working with, for example “tradeshow display crazy” and voilà, more ideas invade your page.

PAIRING DOWN
Now it’s time to review your massive list of ideas and highlight the ones that give you goose bumps.

Once you have the good guys easy to spot, it’s time to think beyond your gut feeling. How usable are they?

For example, when naming new products, you should contemplate factors such as:
• Longevity of the name’s use – If you are thinking of naming your new shoe line Twerking, the brand’s shelf life is probably already over. Unless it’s a retro fad line, or the other shoes that your company sells are also named after poor celebrity decisions. (Très avant-garde!)
• Relevance to the target market – Consider your audience. Does the name appeal to and interest them?
You may also give thought to whether it’s already in use by another company, fits with your overall brand image, is a concept easily understood by the average person, and so on. This will help you narrow your list; your goal is to end up with 3 to 5 top contenders.

Now bring in another set of eyes… and voices.

Ask others which of your finalists should be given the gold.   You may have your own feelings on this already, but try to get unbiased opinions.

Select people whose thoughts truly matter in this area. Why? Feedback from someone that shouldn’t count – perhaps because they are not familiar with your target market or your brand goals – may influence you against the best choice. Sure you can poll your entire circle of Facebook friends, but it’s better to consult only the other successful writers you know and respect, when naming your next short story. Potential customers can also be a good resource, but take their feedback with a grain of salt – what they say they like does not always correspond with their actions.

Collect the feedback. Weigh the options. Pick the best candidate.

DEVELOPING YOUR TOP IDEA
Take your winning idea and build.

You aren’t completely out of the woods, and may still run into technical difficulties. Check every angle of usability. This can include the legal side, like whether the name of your professional bowling league is already trademarked by someone else, or if giving away bottles of wine for a promotion is legal in the state of Georgia. It can also include things like web domains and more. Flesh out your ideas into concrete concepts and, well… use them. If you hit a brick wall, no worries. Use your other top ideas as back ups.

Remember to hold on to those other finalists. The top ideas were “top” because they were brilliant, and you may be able to recycle those gems for future use.

Here are a couple more thoughts to take away with you…

The zombies have it right, go for more brains.
The next time you find yourself shambling through a brainstorm, half-dead and mindless, look for fresh brains. Not to feast on, but to ask other people to be a part of the initial brainstorming step. This is a great way to remove the block where you are hitting your head. You don’t even need to fill them in on the full context of what you are working on, just enough to let their borrowed creativity run amok. Seriously, your 6 year-old niece and pizza delivery guy are both viable candidates. It’s guaranteed they will think of ideas you’ve never considered.

Shorten the process, as needed.
You don’t have to use every single piece of the brainstorming process outlined above in every single instance. For example, you may not really need to check on the legal liability of naming your next party, “Doritos® and Xbox® : The All Nighter” unless you are planning to charge an entry fee or sell merchandise with the name on it.

In closing, to kick off your next brainstorming session, first generate your initial concepts with quantity and not quality in mind. Then pair down to the top 3 to 5 based on usability. After gathering feedback from some folks who matter, develop your top idea, and hang on to the runners up for future use.

No one is saying that following these steps could save your life… but they will change it.

References
Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. (2014). Small business facts & data. Retrieved from http://www.sbecouncil.org/about-us/facts-and-data.

Notes
Google Images search service is a registered trademark of Google Inc.
Doritos is a registered trademark of Frito-Lay North America, Inc.
Xbox is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.

Author
Megan Vogel is a bubbly marketing professional, living in Atlanta, GA. She launched The Marketing Lush to share basic marketing concepts with small businesses. An entrepreneur herself, she deeply respects the difficulties small business owners face when launching and sustaining their companies. Megan is available for consulting opportunities and speaking engagements.

For more information, visit www.meganvogel.com.

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