How to Generate Great Ideas
Few people can accurately define what an idea is. Yet just about everybody knows when they have one. An idea is simply a thought that results in a new opinion, suggestion, impression, plan, or objective. It doesn't have to be original. It doesn't even have to be new. In the copywriting field, an idea just has to be something that makes you think, “Hey, this might work!”
Don't confuse ideas with being creative. The two are not always the same. A great idea for a brochure, for example, might simply be to convey the information in a clear, straightforward manner. Now that may not sound all that exciting or creative, but it sure is a great idea.
There is no mystery to generating ideas. You get them all the time. Your brain is hard-wired as a powerful idea factory that is generating these wonders continuously. All you have to do is feed that factory with the right raw materials and be sure to capture those ideas so you don't forget them.
The raw materials come from your background research on the product and the audience, the objective of the promotional piece you're attempting to create, and your current understanding of what works and what doesn't. Raw materials — or inspiration — for great ideas can also come from the creative brief (if there is one), your swipe file (which is a collection of particularly effective marketing pieces for other products and services), competitor's materials, and even information that is not associated with the project at all, like the last great novel you read.
Ideas Are Fleeting
Fortunately, copywriters usually have no shortage of good ideas. The problem is in capturing them. If you're working on the lead paragraph for a sales letter, you might get a great idea for a different part of the promotion, such as the brochure, reply card, or envelope. You might even get ideas for an entirely different project! When you do, don't rely on your memory. Write it down! Keep a separate page open on your computer or notepad where you can jot down ideas as they arise. That way an idea will never fall through the cracks of your memory.
One of the toughest challenges in generating ideas is doing so on demand. You may be working on a headline, a difficult paragraph, or creative concepts for an advertisement and just can't wait for inspiration to strike. You need a darn good idea. And you need it now!
What do you do? Following are some tips for shifting the idea factory in your head into high gear.
Get Away from the Computer
Staring at a blank screen or confronting a difficult passage for too long can make things worse. What you may need is a new place to work on the problem. So get out a pencil and notepad and go somewhere quiet. Often a change of scenery is all you need to get those ideas flowing again.
Don't Judge Too Quickly
Ever get an idea and then disqualify it almost immediately? It's like having an idea guy on one shoulder and a pessimist on the other. Well, flick that pessimist off your shoulder! Write down any idea, no matter how bad it may seem, and see where it takes you.
Take a Break
Go for a walk. Make yourself a cup of coffee. Play a game of tennis. Or switch gears completely and work on an entirely different project. Get your mind off the problem so your subconscious can work on it for awhile. When you get back to writing your promotion, you'll be surprised how quickly the ideas will come.
This is a process of pouring all your ideas onto the screen or page, no matter how absurd they may first seem. Some copywriters like to brainstorm by jotting ideas onto sticky notes on a wall and then standing back and seeing how some ideas fit with others. Often a combination of poor ideas can add up to a great one.
Try a Mind Map
This is a great technique for generating ideas very quickly. Put the product name in the middle of a page. Then draw lines connecting words that are associated with it. For example, if you are writing a promotion for a scheduling software for home-improvement contractors, the words and phrases you might connect with that product are “time management,” “truck,” “mobile,” “time wasted picking up parts,” “job estimations,” “dealing with the trades,” and “time is money.” This map of related words can be a great source of ideas.
If all else fails, go back to the well. Revisit all the background materials, interview notes, and other research you have done on the project, as well as any strategic documents such as the creative brief. Doing this will often get you looking at the same information in a new way, which could be just the idea you were looking for.