The Austin Technology Council had tapped me to do brand development and guerrilla marketing presentations a couple times a year and I always obliged.
Then one day they had a cancellation. And a very last minute cancellation at that. I get a call that the meeting was in an hour and could I run over and take over the session. No problem, I grab a big pad of paper and get there a few minutes before things start.
The auditorium was pretty full. Maybe 150 people or more and I got nothing. Literally, I have a pad of paper and a felt pen.
They introduce me and as I’m walking down the very long aisle, it hits me. Let’s turn this into a real brainstorming session.
I tell the audience that we’re going to create a problem, a solution and a brand marketing platform… All in one hour.
I tell them that this is a very condensed version of what startups go through to first find a hole in the universe, figure out a way to fill it and then build out the company brand from scratch and create all the messaging. In reality, this can take months or years and we’re going to it in one hour.
I start out asking about that hole in the universe. A problem that nobody has solved yet but there could be a great market for a solution. Hands shot up, things shouted out. I take notes. We come up with a half dozen problems and I take a vote.
Then I ask, what does the solution look like. More hands and great ideas. We decide on the problem and the solution.
OK, great. Now we have a startup concept… Let’s give it some life.
I tell the left side of the room that they’re the business people and it’s their obligation to make sure the creative solution is right. I tell the right side that they’re the agency creatives and they have to come up with the right ideas to brand the upstart and sell it.
This is where the fun started.
The creative side first came up with company names and the business side threw out reasons why the names wont work.
Welcome to my world.
“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
The law of the universe. For every great idea there is a reason why it’s a terrible idea. The goal for a creative type is to have skin thick enough to let it run off your back and keep going.
Personally, I always invite push-back in my presentations. If I can’t defend an idea, it deserves to go away.
So the room battles back and forth until we come up with a name everyone can agree with. Just like in real life.
Then we start with the marketing language and concepts. Some are great. Some are terrible. Some are just bland and I divide them up without anyone noticing how they’re divided. I’m writing them on big sheets of paper and taping them up on the wall behind me.
When I do my brainstorming sessions with clients, I use a lot of paper and put everything up on the walls so you can see it all at once. PowerPoint can’t do that.
And there will always be terrible ideas thrown out but I don’t kill anything right away. I let it die away behind the better stuff.
So as we came to the end of the hour, we’d developed a new company, built out a basic brand messaging system and full advertising campaign, complete with basic marketing plan aimed at our market personas.
Everyone involved loved it. I actually got several new clients from that day and people who’d swear they don’t have a creative bone in their body realized they have great ideas hiding in their heads.
What I learned was you can take any random room full of people and given the right guidance, they can solve big problems and have fun at the same time.
Brainstorming can be wonderful or terrible, depending on how it’ managed. I was in a brainstorming session recently and one person brought nothing to the table other than how bad he thought every idea was. I called for a break and talked to him privately. The goal of the meeting was to come up with ideas and not kill them instantly. I don’t know if he really understood that but he didn’t say much after that and things went smoothly.
A good brainstorming session requires a mediator that understands the process. As a Creative Director in my own and other’s agencies, I had to run this process hundreds of times. Bringing business people, creatives and the like into a room to make something out of nothing.
The secret? There are no bad ideas… RIGHT NOW. We’ll put everything up on the wall and then go back through and pull down the things that don’t fit. The bad ideas will fade away, but everyone will have a say and ownership.