When we come together to brainstorm on new ideas, it is human nature to think it’s best to start with a blank slate – to feel like the only limit to our creativity is our intelligence. The problem with such an open ended approach is that we don’t always know where to start, often turning a blank slate into an empty canvas that seems daunting and hard to fill up.

The biggest problem everyone faces when coming up with ideas is not in the throwing of ideas at the wall, but in having a good place to start from. A concrete position that helps everyone in the room start from the same point.

These five questions are ones that we use at Agnostic and Environics every day to help clarify and add some laser focus to our thinking - we hope they’ll help you too.

1. What Do We Want Our Audience To Do?

This may sound simple - but more often than not - this question actually leads to standalone ideation sessions on this topic exclusively.

In communications it’s an easy trap to worry about what will create the most noise in the market, but the biggest challenge we all face as marketers is in defining the purpose of our actions. What type of change are we aiming for?

Here are some thought starters that we tend to use:

  • Change a purchase decision and give a consumer their “reason to believe”
  • Change a government policy (or create one)
  • Change an opinion about a view or personal stance

Knowing what we’re trying to change helps us think about the audiences around us, and what could realistically make them consider acting differently.

2. Who Are We Talking To?

Have you ever been told that your target audience is Males and Females between the ages of 18 - 55? We have too, and that’s ok. Not everything will have a clearly defined target. Regardless of the definition of the audience though, it’s important to visualize a person that you know who would be the target of your marketing efforts. Here are some helpful psychographic elements to consider while you’re thinking about them:

  • What’s most likely to convince them to change their behaviour, or take on a new idea? Is it friends, and family? Or do they need the facts first?
  • Where do they need to find their facts?
  • Which influencers do they trust and how do they engage with them?
  • What types of content are most helpful to them?
  • What languages does our audience speak? Will English be enough? Or do we need to cater to multiple languages and cultures?

3. What’s The Budget / Timeline?

I know, this isn’t always a fun question, but before we dive into an infinite number of really great ideas, filtering our ideas into the realm of what’s possible can save a lot of time. The money we have to invest in the idea (even a range) as well as the time required to get it to market is a real factor. Our favourite way to approach this question is by using something called the Time / Money / Quality delta. It’s a simple mental model that helps teams think about the careful balancing act that has to take place between resources, timelines and the expectations of quality from your audience.

Here are two basic examples:

Client: Our competitive landscape is getting fierce and we need your help in finding an edge that will help us stand out.

Agency: Well in that case we recommend doing some research into your landscape to ensure that whatever we do, will outpace and outsmart your competitors.

Client: That sounds like a good way to start. Let us know what you’ll need from us.

This scenario is a example of how Quality is of the utmost importance and Time and Money become more flexible.

Here’s another example that’s flipped the other way around:

Client: We need to get a large amount of information online quickly, we don’t have a lot of money and our window is shrinking. What can we do?

Agency: Well if you’re OK with us using a pre-built out of the box solution, we can keep costs low and timelines tight. The caveat is that it might not be as bleeding edge as you might like.

Client: That’s ok - we just need to get it done and out the door before we lose our window of opportunity.

This scenario is a perfect example of how Time and Money trump the Quality on a project. And that’s perfectly fine if that’s what the project requires.

The importance of knowing Time, Money and Quality parameters are therefore critical as you think about ideas, before going into territories that you can’t get approval on.

4. What’s the Background or History of the Ask?

How did we get to the point we’re at? Why are we being asked to come up with a solution to this particular problem?

Sometimes we focus so much on an ask without thinking about the layers that surround the issue - and we quickly skip over solutions that were staring us in the face.

For example, the ask might look like this:

“We’ve been using Facebook and Twitter for a while now - but we’re not seeing the results we’ve been hoping for. Can you recommend some new platforms that might perform better for us?”

Diving into past efforts on the platforms that have already been used - we might find that the problem wasn’t the platform at all, but maybe there are opportunities to fine tune the content that we were putting on them, or finding new audiences to talk to.

Asking about why things were done in the past, or why they weren’t effective, can lead to some nice “low hanging fruit” options that allow you to improve upon existing programs more cost effectively rather than start from scratch.

5. What Are the Expected Outcomes?

Coming up with good ideas also means delivering good results, but if the results you’re hoping for don’t align with the results of the ask, then everyone will be in for an uncomfortable meeting later down the road.

Aligning on what’s realistic and achievable with the time, money and quality equation in Question 3 allows you to think about how your ideas will actually deliver against the ask. In fact - many times we’ll use the expected outcomes as a finishing point and reverse engineer solutions from there.  It can be as broad as “what does success look like for you in 2017?”, or we can go more narrow.

As an example, if the expected result is an increase of purchases - we can look at the point of purchase and then work backwards from there to identify all the points of interaction that we can impact as marketers to realistically make that increase happen.

If you’re interested in learning more about better planning meetings, by all means just let us know. Additionally, here are some additional links:

 Inc.com | 5 Steps to Great Meetings

Fast Company | 11 Simple Tips for Having Great Meetings 

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