Generating marketing ideas: Why brainstorming does not work

The imminent return of the Apprentice to our TV screens has reminded me of few things. The characterisation of ‘business people’ and ‘entrepreneurs’ in popular culture. The reductionist way in which ‘leadership’ is characterised … and the indisputable fact that brainstorming does not work.

The ‘brainstorming’ part is particularly worth consideration due to its prevalence in real world business.

Every week on such ‘reality’ shows we see the disastrous results of the teams involved. But it’s never for a lack of brainstorming, is it?

Why then does brainstorming not work?

It assumes validity

A major reason brainstorming does not work is that it tends to treat all of the different ideas that are generated as if they are equally valid. They definitely will not be.

Of course there is an argument for getting all of the ideas out there and filtering later, but there is a major inherent risk that ideas can be generated and then given more credence than is warranted.

Some ideas will be relevant to your brand and your market and some will not be and may never be. It’s vital to distinguish between the two.

It’s too open ended

Brainstorming as it is typically done rewards idea generation only. The people who speak the most are seen to be the most ‘creative’ or even ‘innovative’. Initially there is often insufficient agreement around the basis upon which the ideas are being generated. It may well be wiser to explore these things first.

The objectives of the people in the room may be different. The assumptions under which they are operating may be different (and may or may not be valid). Surely it is worth establishing the rules of the game prior to kick-off. If you’ve ever sat in a meeting in which time was spent dismissing unsuitable ideas only to then run out of time, you will know what I mean.

Marketing for large companies is one situation in which this is not uncommon.

It’s too individualistic

In the extreme case (as seen on TV), the ‘leader’ goes around the table one by one and asks each individual to pitch a fully formed idea straight off the bat. This is never likely to generate really good ideas because there is no room for proper consideration. It’s far better to come up with a concept and then go through the process of adding in the detail. Hey, you could even get other people to work with you on this process, rather than competing against each other. Imagine that!

For all of these reasons, brainstorming tends to be a distraction rather than a solution to an issue. Simply put, it entirely lacks a focus on objectives. And if you are not focussed on business objectives then you are probably wasting your time.

Ultimately I would suggest that you need to get the balance right between ideas generation and selection of the right ideas for your business and your brand.

So, what to do instead? What you need is a different process. The process looks something like this: Agree the objective. Work together on achieving it; first in concept form and then in detail.

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