How to use brainstorming to generate new ideas for your brand

Brainstorming should be a regular part of running your brand. To stay in a healthy creative space, I would suggest that each brand team should be having some brainstorm (big or small) once a month. They give you a constant influx of ideas–promotions, advertising, social media, naming, new products, events, PR, saving money and of course as part of your brand planning, 

Brainstorms can be a quick 30 minutes as part of a weekly meeting to get some smart ideas or a whole afternoon to solve a problem that’s been nagging at the group. Or a team-building offsite meeting that goes all day.


Marketing teams should have regular brainstorm sessions

The team will stay fresh and open. Brand jobs can eat you up, forecasting, deadlines, reports can all make you stale.  Having regular intervals of ideation helps to disrupt the workflow to motivate and engage the team.

Keep the best ideas near the surface.

At the end of a good brainstorm, you have some great ideas that bubble up, not all of which you can immediately use. These ideas tend to keep coming up, and that’s OK. Sometimes they are rejected because they are higher risk or resource-dependent. But after a few sessions of getting comfortable with these ideas, you might start to see new ways to make them do-able instead of focusing on why they can’t happen.

As the leader of the team, it sends the message that while we are strategic, we win by being more creative, faster, and better on execution. 

It’s so easy to get stiffer as you move up the career ladder and be the one on the team finding fault with every idea. Just because you are starting to know right from wrong, doesn’t mean you need to crush every idea. 

Having the brainstorming forum allows the newly experienced brand people the chance to bring ideas forward, and it sends the signal that you are an open leader, and you value the opinions of your junior staff.

Use a warm-up exercise to open people up

Every session should have a warm-up, to gets people out of the rut of the day-to-day, and opens up the brains. One that I’ve used is this innocent photo of the kids selling Lemonade (see photo below) and ask them to come up with as many ideas as they can to the question of “What ways can these two make more money?” 

I offer a reward of cookies to the team with the most ideas and the best idea. In 5 minutes, teams should be able to list 50 or 100 ideas. Gets out of a lot of crap ideas, but it gets rid of them rejecting ideas before saying them. To get to 100, you have to listen to the group and build on someone’s idea. Eliminate the “yeah, but….” I get them to circle the top 3 ideas for each group, which forces them to get used to making decisions. 

The best ideas are not your first ideas

One observation I’ll usually make is that the best ideas are typically found in the list beyond 20 or even beyond the 50 mark, emphasizing that you need 100 useful ideas to get to 5 great ideas.

Draw out the rule that “AVOID THE YEAH BUT…” because we have a process for ideation and one for making decisions. With a bunch of leaders in the room, you usually have to reassure them that they should trust the process. The alternative to the “yeah but” is building on the idea with “here’s a different take.”

Diverge, converge, diverge converge

Diverge #1

Divide the room up into groups of 5-7 people. I prefer to assign one leader who will be writing the ideas, pushing the group for more, throwing in some ideas of their own. A great way for the leader is to say, “here’s a crazy idea, who can build on this or make it better.” But if you catch the leader stalling, debating the ideas, then you should push that leader. 

At this stage, you are pushing for the quantity, not quality. If you have multiple groups in the room, do a rotation where the leader stays put, and the group changes. I like having stations where each station has a unique problem to solve.

Possible stations for new product ideas

Product Extensions

  • Identifies new consumer need states, occasions where your brand can easily handle.
  • Broader portfolio helps neutralize competitive advantages or use to gain share of shelf.
  • Continuous news keeps brand momentum going with new benefits, flavors, sizes.

Product Improvements

  • Use the “leaky bucket” analysis to identify where you are losing consumers, helping isolate flaws and gaps in your brand that need fixing.
  • Either moves ahead or catches up to competitors.

New Formats

  • Stretches the brand into new subcategories/adjacencies or parts of the value chain. 
  • Helps drive added usage frequency or new usage occasions with consumers.
  • Gets brand into new parts of the store, new distribution channels or new usage points with consumers.

Brand Stretching

  • Take the assets of the brand and move them into other categories—bringing your loyal user base and brand reputation.

Game Changing Technology 

  • R&D driven invention needs to be matched up a consumer driven need and re-presented back to the consumer in a consumer centric idea.

Blue Ocean Exploratory Areas

  • Completely exploratory ideas that combine your open technical capabilities, matched to pure un-explored consumer need states to create game changing launches that move into fully protected Island type competitive positions. 

Converge #1

There are a few ways you can do this.

You can use voting dots where each person gets 5 or 10 dots. And they can use them any way they want. For random executional ideas, this is a great simple way.

If there are agreed-upon criteria, you can do some scoring against each criterion. High, medium, low.

If you are brainstorming product concepts or positioning statements, you might want to hold them up to the lens of how unique they are.

For naming, positioning, or promotions, the leader can look at all the ideas and begin grouping them into themes. They might start to discuss which themes seem to fit or are working the best, and use those themes for a second diverge.

For tactics to an annual plan, you can use a straightforward grid of Big vs. Small and Easy vs. Difficult. In this case, you want to find ways to land in THE BIG EASY. The reason you wish to easy is to ensure it has a good return on effort, believing effort and investment have a direct link.

To illustrate, click on the diagram to zoom in. 

Diverge #2

The second diverge is where the magic happens. You’ve got the group in a good zone. They have seen which ideas are meeting the criteria. Take the list from Converge #1 and push it one more time. Make it competitive among the groups, with a $25 prize, so that people will push even harder.

  • If you narrowed it to themes, then take each theme and push for more and better ideas under each of the themes
  • When you looked at concepts or tactics, then choose the best 8-10 ideas and have groups work on them and flush them out entirely with a written concept, and come back and present them to the group.
  • And, if using the grid above, then take the ideas in the big/difficult and brainstorm ways to make it easier. And if it’s small and easy, brainstorm ways to make it bigger.

Converge #2: Decisions

Once you’ve done the second diverge, you’ll be starting to see the ideas getting better and more focused. Now comes decision time. 

Narrow down to a list of ideas to take forward into testing or discussion with senior management. 

Rank the ideas based on a 12 or 24-month calendar. 

You can vote using some of the techniques above using voting dots, or you can assign a panel of those who will vote. But you want to walk away from the meeting with a decision.

To read our post on the marketer’s role in driving innovation

Product innovation strategy for your brand

To illustrate, click on the diagram to zoom in. 

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Turn the ideas into projects

Trust that the process gets you into the right zone and make these ideas now a project. Once you have a decision on the best ideas, you want to use the energy and momentum in the room to make the ideas  a reality:

  • Assign an owner and support team.
  • Get the team to agree upon goals, issues to resolve.
  • Map out a timeline (milestones).
  • Outline potential resource needs (budget, people, outside agencies).

To illustrate, click on the diagram to zoom in. 

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