Recognizing ideas made to stick vs. ideas made to stink

As a bookend to my other post this week on who doesn’t belong in the brainstorm room, your mission isn’t done when you have a collection of people who could generate great ideas. You also need to be able to recognize a great idea. I wouldn’t begin to suggest that this is easy nor would I suggest every idea I ever had was great. But I can say that by now, I’ve found there are a certain factors at play that help enhance the chances of building a better idea as well as factors that almost doom ideas from the start.

So let’s talk how to better understand what it is when it’s an idea made to stick and an idea made to stink.

Idea made to stick:
It’s got a whole lot of brother-and-sister concepts in a giant concept family. 

In another agency life, a truly great former (and sometimes current) mentor of mine would have me pump out one concept after another to hang on the wall of his office. The ideas would begin to pile up until what was under the wall faded. It became concept wallpaper. And that was a very good thing. If he only had one idea to look at at the end of the day, I imagine John wouldn’t have been too pleased at all. But because he pushed us to deliver higher quantity in order to discover and unearth those nuggets of higher quality, our collective work as a team was considerable. I’m still proud of that work today.

Idea made to stink:
The “let’s throw it against the wall and see what they say” idea. 

Sometimes really talented people on paper don’t have the stamina to push themselves beyond something they’re satisfied with. Or they fall in love with their own idea and put the brakes on any more thinking. “Can we just show them this and see what they say?” No. We can’t. Because deep down, you’re not sold on this idea. It’s good but you know it isn’t great. But you don’t want to push for great and that’s too bad. Great involves digging deeper beyond what was easy to come up with. As a college professor once told me about generating better ideas beyond the first ones, “You never worked so hard to tell them something so simple.” You have one or two ideas that you think are good? Maybe they are. Now let’s see more. A lot more. The concept that high quantity and high quality can’t live on the same page is a total bunch of BS. You show me a high quantity of ideas and I’ll bet there are some winners I get pumped about in that mix.

Idea made to stick:
You feel nervous about it. And that’s a good thing.

There’s something about it that gives you at least a little twinge of nervousness – perhaps not on the level of drinking Maalox, but it definitely feels less certain than something that feels safe and comfortable. Why? Because if you’re going to present an idea that someone feels no emotion for, it’s probably a fairly lousy idea. Wait – let me get this straight – you want people to buy into your goods or services with an emotional response but you don’t expect the person in the room approving the work to have an emotional response? Of course you do. Some people aren’t comfortable presenting the one idea that makes them the most nervous by itself and surround it with others that might be “safer.” I understand that thinking because nobody wants to be shot down and have nothing left in reserves. But maybe, just maybe, that idea that makes you nervous yet excitable can be the first one out of the bag to be presented – and if the response is so good, the others might not even need to come out. Personally, I go one step further. My opinion is if I’m rooting against one of my ideas to not be chosen because it doesn’t get me as excited, I shouldn’t be presenting it in the first place.

Idea made to stink:
Crafted primarily for the person approving the work instead of the person buying the end product or service.
You do a preliminary presentation to someone underneath the top person approving the work, because they requested it. They see the idea, their eyes get big and they say, “I just know Carl doesn’t like the font Lucida Grande or feminine colors or shots of people smiling directly into the camera, so we can’t have ideas that involve that.”

Oh boy. Ideas that are created for Carl instead of the 300,000 people buying Carl’s product are not starting off on the right foot. Look, I get politics. I really do. I get that certain things have to be sold persuasively and at times delicately to those approving parties. But I have found in my experience this is where audience research can be solid ammo. It’s not smoke-and-mirrors to get your way. It’s factual stuff that shows you’ve done your homework on the customer. “We know the new brand we’re talking about appears more feminine in design than where we’ve been in the past but our research shows that 86% of our audience are young women between the ages of 18 and 24 years old, so it makes sense to ween ourselves away from those dark greens and greys.”

Think farther than the person putting the rubber stamp of approval on the idea. Their opinion matters, of course. But even beyond any ego involved, most marketers would have to reasonably agree that their customer’s opinion matters even more.

How else can you give your ideas a better chance of rising to the top as an idea made to stick? Try reading The Do-It-Yourself Lobotomy by Tom Monahan. A former agency owner who has crafted many a great idea, I’ve heard this gentleman speak on creative idea generation and his “100mph” way of thinking might be of great benefit for your next brainstorm.

More praise for State Farm Next Door before the doors open

As the State Farm Next Door launch here in Chicago nears, I’ll post other thoughts from around the web here that are relevant. In fact, I thought I’d share this recent blog post from Brains On Fire, a South Carolina-based agency, on Next Door (they were also nice enough to throw some kudos our way here at Chicago Brander in the process). From a strategical standpoint, their post gives some reinforcement to what I’ve heard in many of your comments on my earlier post that the “selling without selling” approach is not just a feel-good method but a sensible and realistic one for this audience when it comes to planning their futures. Enjoy.

The 3 People Who Never Belong In A Brainstorm Room

“OK, everybody. Come on into the brainstorm room/conference room and let’s talk about (Insert Initiative Here). We’re going to need to generate some ideas.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s take that a step back. As it turns out, the process of cultivating ideas isn’t for everybody. It’s not an automatic right based on title. I think what we forget about brainstorms is that we’re so focused on getting to the quality of the idea that we forget that in getting there, there needs to be quantity (this is a separate post in itself). The minute you brainstorm, you’re turning on a faucet at one speed: Fast. When you have these 3 types of people in the room, you’ll slow the pace to a trickle, if not shut it off completely. Let’s meet them, shall we?

Negative Nancy
“No, that’s not going to work.”
“No, they won’t like it because they don’t like the color blue.”
“No, we tried something like that before and they didn’t like it.”

The problem with Negative Nancy is that her presence is like tossing a grenade into the room. Her motivation for saying “no” is in all likelihood the fact that she has no or very few original ideas of her own but she wants to appear relevant to others. It’s not about her title, it’s about a deeper issue. “No” is her insecurity talking. It’s not that she isn’t necessarily a valuable employee, it’s just that brainstorming isn’t her forte. So all you’re doing by having her in the room is inviting the rejection of ideas like Dwight Howard swatting away a basketball. Ideas? Not in your house. Negative Nancy will not only shut down the idea presented but the ensuing effect of her presence will be to shut down a steady stream of ideas.

The “we tried that before” is a particular feature of this person I take issue with because there are many variables that may have worked poorly before that can be corrected now. Maybe it wasn’t the right time or place before. Maybe the idea before didn’t have the right audience to accept it. Maybe the idea before just wasn’t that creative compared to its better looking sibling idea now.

Overthinking Oscar
“Well, if we were to do that, how exactly would that work?”
That’s not important right now. Really. You’re putting the brakes on a phase that is geared to be purely conceptual. And when you do that, the brainstorming process goes from 120 mph to 20 mph and declining fast. It’s amazing how quickly the wind changes in the room. Dwelling on the “how’s it going to actually work” is important at a later point. When? When the brainstorm is pretty much over and you have a collection of concepts, scribbles, ideas, seeds, etc. to study more closely for deeper evaluation.

“Me First” Mel
“Well, I can’t relate to that idea in my own life so it must not be relevant.”
Mel probably isn’t trying to appear this self-centered, he just doesn’t know how to step outside of his own skin to identify what the true audience is facing in their lives. It’s not about YOU. The chances of someone in the brainstorming room actually matching the profile of the audience you’re trying to target is rare. So if you’re a 40-something female in middle management who lives in the western suburbs of Chicago who drives a Mercedes, you need to have more of an open mind if your audience is a 20-something who graduated a couple years ago, unmarried and lives in L.A. The behaviors, tastes and preferences are not going to be the same. And even if you are, no offense, but you’re just one person.

“Oh, horse crud. I think I’m one of these 3 people. Should I not be brainstorming?”
Not yet and don’t despair. There’s an easy way to right the ship. It just requires some self-discipline on your part. When someone comes up with an idea, let it get out there without immediate judgment. Yes, the idea may be stupid, but everyone has them. Stupid ideas can be great springboards to better ideas. You don’t know what small seed of something good may lie within that thought. And if it’s truly that awful, trust the judgment of others in the room to let it pass like a ship in the night. Remember, you still have the phase after the brainstorming is over to reserve judgment on ideas – just not right there in the moment. If you can train yourself to think positively and concentrate on keeping the flow of concepts going without shutting them down, overthinking or asking yourself What Would I Do, I think you’ll be on the path to being a valuable asset that others will enjoy inviting into the brainstorm room every time.

Final thought – if the person who meets one of these criteria above is a manager that you can’t tell to sit it out, all is not lost. What I like to do in these situations is have a designated person announce some brief ground rules (“no bad ideas”) of no more than 2 minutes long EVERY time you brainstorm just to reinforce what should and shouldn’t be said. You’ll better your chances of ensuring the faucet of ideas flows mightily rather than trickles to a few drips.

Every social media cocktail needs a beer chaser.

By now you’ve probably been bombarded with enough posts elsewhere on Google Plus, so you’ll be glad to know this isn’t one more of them. Because what I’m writing about has wider implications than just one tool. It has to do where your entire brand lives in the social media realm.

I’ve come to the conclusion that clearly in terms of social media we should all be on TumblrGoogTwitBookTube.

Sorry for the confusion, but I think others with their behaviors and proclamations of late are just as confusing.

I’ve had it with those who feel another social media tool has to die so that another may live. Maybe it’s the rush to be proclaimed as a prophet of some sort, but it’s bogus. Actually, to be more accurate, it’s dangerous brand strategy and it risks burning the relationships you’ve cultivated.

I really have to marvel at people who are writing about how they are leaving their current outposts because something else has come along that’s far superior.

“We were on Facebook but we’re moving everything to Tumblr.”
“We were on WordPress but we’re going over to GooglePlus. Follow us there!”

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

They’re missing the point of how their own fans and followers use social media, which is to say that we almost never put all our energy toward one channel.

We have a hub and then, many times, we have at least a secondary channel. The most common example I’ve witnessed of this is Facebook for personal relationships, LinkedIn for business relationships. Or LinkedIn/Facebook as primary hub, Twitter as a 2nd, lesser visited destination.

It’s kind of like a favorite of restaurant of mine that serves a Bloody Mary with a beer chaser of Miller Lite during Sunday brunch – every good primary hub deserves a secondary accompaniment. Much like the primary and secondary ways we consume social media. Or “Hubs” and “Outposts.”

It’s downright rare for us to spend 100% of our time in one place and that’s more than OK. Yet, every single time a new tool comes along like Google Plus, it has to be the Killer of something else. It was the Facebook Killer, the Twitter Killer and the LinkedIn Killer.

Nope. I’m not buying it.

Why can’t we research, experiment and explore? I spend the majority of my time on WordPress, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Not only because it’s what I’m comfortable with at the moment but more importantly, it’s where the people I have relationships with and potential clients are spending their time online. With Google Plus being new, I’ve done my due diligence to check it out because like many other people, I was curious. If enough of my audience is there – and stays there – I’ll deepen my commitment (I wouldn’t get hung up on the 10 million people who signed up for it until we see the staying power months from now).

I remember a much simpler time when we only debated in absolutes between “digital” media and “traditional” media. 

Which was seriously only a couple years ago.

Now, just as social media is gaining credibility in the boardroom as a viable option for marketing budgets – yes, I believe we’re moving past that point – we’re going to complicate matters and confuse them by saying, “No, don’t go here anymore, you want to put all your energy over here.”

“But I thought you said Facebook was equivalent to the 3rd or 4th largest country in the world.”

“Yeah, I did, but it’s on its way out. You want to be on Tumblr. You can do so much more with it.”

“But our audience is in their 40’s. Isn’t that a tool more popular with Gen Y right now?”

“It’s OK. They’ll come around to it.”

Sure. But they’re not all there right now. So it’s more sensible to dip my toes in that water before jumping in with reckless abandon.

This may sound like you shouldn’t be flexible, but I’m actually championing for greater mobility.

Far before this thing called the Internet and social media came along, advertising agencies who had intelligent planners knew that their audience probably watched TV, listened to the radio and read certain magazines. They didn’t tell companies to put 100% of their marketing budgets in one medium.

We shouldn’t be telling people that now.

What I’m hearing is the equivalent of someone not only telling a marketer to put all their money in TV, but all their money in one channel like ABC. That doesn’t sound like good advice, right?

Well, telling a brand to go “all in” on one social media channel is probably along the same lines of competence.

We should be telling people to diversify and plan based on what we have gathered about the way their audience has, is and will behave. If social media is a component of their brand strategy – which it is – we should be treating it as such by diversifying our percentages of time spent on various channels rather than flipping off the light switch while people are still in the room talking.

I’m not suggesting that you should spend time on a dying channel or a channel that’s not reflective of your audience. That would be silly. What I am suggesting is that you should add social media channels rather than burn bridges. We can still be pioneers and sherpas of social media while being true to how our brand’s followers are living today. Then, if and when it appears that either the channel is on its way down for the count or that your audience is steadily trickling away from that channel, you make a move to change your commitment to it. From “primary” to “secondary” to “non-existent” if you have to.

So it’s OK to suggest when appropriate that we should take a hard look at spending time on a new channel because that’s where we believe based on research and conversations that this is where our audience will be headed. We’d be doing a disservice not to communicate this.

It’s just that when you build up a following on any medium, it’s something that’s not only taken time on your part but is a serious investment made on the people who have chosen to follow you that should never be taken for granted.

Sometimes I wonder if brands and gurus remember that before they torch the old place.

6 ways your personal brand can inject a Darren Clarke-ness to it

I can recall viewing Darren Clarke on the cover of a now-defunct golf magazine a few years back, with a stogie in his mouth, smiling and speaking inside the interior of the mag of his love of Guinness. And when Clarke won the British Open today, it got me thinking about why this man is so beloved, certainly in Europe and really much further than those boundaries. We can learn a lot about personal branding in his triumph and journey to this point.

#1: He is relatable to the people who are his Fans, who see bits of themselves in him.
More than once, commentators over the last few days asked that very question to Clarke himself and his reply was essentially that he was the “Everyman.” Clarke drinks. He smokes. He drives fast cars. He loves his family and is intensely loyal to them.

So many of us who smack sticks at a tiny little white ball on the weekend aren’t going to join the Tour anytime soon. We’re doing the best we can but we’re not always in the perfect shape. We like to partake of a beer or two on the course or at least in the clubhouse. Some of us curse at the stupid ball. Some of us puff away at a cigar. We’re Darren Clarke but our scores are much worse.

Why are we afraid to show this side of our personal brands? Because it wouldn’t be “professional?” Give me a break. That’s fear talking. Fear of what other people will think of us. Fear that we can’t command respect.

One professional just went out into the world today with his personal brand on full display, against the best players in the world…and won. Don’t tell me you can’t do the same. I’m not telling you to wear t-shirts into a meeting – that’s silly. I’m telling you that authenticity and success are same page material, not polar opposites.

#2: He is not afraid to show emotion. 
When Clarke’s first wife passed away from breast cancer, he did what any human with a pulse would do. He grieved, he stepped away from the game for a little while, he allowed himself to mentally regroup and in time, he got back into playing with the support of others around him. But when he triumphed on the course upon his return, he broke down and let us in to show us he was not a robot but a human being with feelings.

When he was in the thick of competition on the last day of the most important tournament of his life, he allowed himself to smile a little more than everyone else around him. How many times do we say that branding is an “emotional connection?”

#3: You are not defined by what you “do.”
You are not your title.
You are not your department.
You are not your function or area of expertise.
You are not who you work for.

If you think this is your personal brand, you aren’t digging hard enough.

Because someday, someone else will have your title, your job and your function. That’s all replaceable stuff. What else have you got? Plenty, I assure you. What pieces of you come together to form an identifiable, admirable, talked-about personal brand?

It’s about beliefs and choices that stir emotions deep within you that you will proudly wear and go to battle for.
Do not mistake the “personal” aspects for being “private” aspects that aren’t worth expressing.

Richard Branson’s appeal is not that he is the CEO of Virgin. That’s boring. You know it and I know it. Richard Branson’s appeal is that he’s a risk-taker and adventurer who does certain things in business that cause people to watch with anticipation on what he’s doing now and what he will do next. He could fall on his face doing it, but so what? He can do it because that’s HIM. It comes naturally to him.

Among other things, you are defined by what you believe, how you treat others, how others view you and the relationships that matter in your life, both personally and professionally. We’re talking the things in life you don’t apologize for because, for better or worse, that’s YOU.

#4: Define your personal brand more by what you are and enjoy –  rather than what you aren’t and hate.
I just don’t think there’s a lot of appeal in being the “anti-” person because you’re only saying what you aren’t. Not what you stand for. It may clarify a bit but it doesn’t cause people to gravitate to you in itself. When you begin thinking about your personal brand development, it’s OK if you have thoughts of people, companies and ideas that don’t mesh with your belief system. But don’t stop there. Think about why that is. Why you think and feel that way.

#5: Embrace the “work in progress” of your personal brand.
Having it all figured out is dull. Life is about adding aspects of your development, figuring out the context of how they fit into your personal brand, deciding to accept them or not, then understanding how to express them. Your personal brand will evolve over time and that’s quite natural. In fact, it’s fun. Just make sure to keep it evolving.

#6: Never apologize.
If it feels like something that you’re going to be so passionate about that you’re going to wear it on your sleeve, consequences be damned, you’re on the right track. Winners never have to. Sharing what you love can be to the benefit of you personally if not professionally. It is not about the quantity of people who follow you on Twitter. It is about the quality of relationships and commanded respect as a result of that personal brand. Someone who is a “social media expert” who blathers on 100% about social media is boring. When that person injects a little personality in his or her communication, even if it’s 10% or less of his content, the spectrum of who you connect with expands. This can come from mixing it up with pictures shared on Flickr, funny videos on YouTube, sports opinions, you get the idea.

Again, it’s not merely about your job. It’s about putting your passions on display – some of that may involve what you do for a living, but it won’t be ALL of it.

Gary Vaynerchuck is a guy who, if he only talked about wine reviews, would be a boring guy. His personal brand would blend in. But this guy is someone who is an unabashed Jets fan who curses liberally as he gives reviews on Cabernet through online videos. He’s not your typical sommelier at a fancy restaurant or a food critic with your typical newspaper column. He swishes the liquid around and spits into a football helmet for all the world to see. And that’s what is great about him. He is qualified and credible to be sure, but he also injects personality into the message without apology. A guy you’d like to hang out with and listen to who also happens to know a lot about wine.

Just like Darren Clarke is a guy you’d like to hang out with who also happened to win one of the toughest tournaments in the world.