Look! Up in the Sky! It’s Your Next Big Idea…

It’s peak stargazing week, with the Perseid Meteor Shower set for its best show in 20 years. Which is the perfect time to imagine what’s out there, and brush up on your brainstorming abilities. After all, finding bright ideas that stand out from others can make you a star, too.

Perseids 2012
Perseid Shower Radiant: Image shows several Perseid meteors — eight in all if you look closely for faint ones. Image courtesy of Paul Beskeen Astrophotography

It’s peak stargazing week. The Perseid Meteor Shower set for its best show in 20 years, which is the perfect time to imagine what’s out there, and brush up on your brainstorming abilities. After all, finding bright ideas that stand out from others can make you a star, too.

So where do you look? How can spot them, or spark a few of your own?

Break Out Your Telescopes

By that, I mean look at problems with a different lens. Ideally, one with a long-range view. Too often when faced with a marketing challenge, we only see what’s right in front of us. Many will fixate on small details, forgetting that most customers aren’t so focused on BRCs, Pantone Matching System (PMS) colors or the metrics of SEO. (All of which are important, but first things first! Think bigger.)

Example: A creative director colleague — Jon Harcharek — was developing a campaign for Café Bustelo. Popular among Latino Americans, the brand wanted to attract a broader audience but worried they’d compromise its “authenticity” by advertising on English-speaking stations.

Cafe Bustelo adHarcharek’s solution: Air the same ad on all networks, Hispanic or otherwise. Those watching Telemundo saw promotions in their native tongue. Anglo viewers were surprised to see a Spanish-speaking commercial break during Breaking Bad, but early adopters were curious and sought out the “new” coffee at supermarkets.

See The Possibilities

Our ancestors saw bulls, rams and scorpions in the sky. One of them probably said, “This may sound crazy, but that looks like a lion to me.”

There may have also been a department manager who said “No, they’re just dots. Get back to work.” The point is to make indirect connections, not just straight-line conclusions. Look beyond the first right answer. And during the idea-generation stage, avoid “no-it-alls” — those who say no to every imaginative thought.

Think like Aristotle: As one of the world’s first astronomers, he believed “When you ask a dumb question, you get a smart answer.” Which inspired more great thinkers to ask “Why have we always done it that way?” It’s the elementary questions followed up by a dozen more penetrating ones that often yield results.

Whether you’re asking clients “Is this really the smartest way to spend your marketing budget” or “Why can’t this mailing look like it came from the government?” it’s okay to be dumb sometimes. Like a fox.

Kansas Tree SurveySeek other intelligent life: Give your initial idea to someone else and see where it goes. At my agency, we call that “brain-chaining” where another creative person takes ownership of a concept and builds on it. Then another “trained brain” might twist it, rearranging headlines or graphic design.

Try This Exercise

At the beginning of a brainstorm meeting, have everyone write down their first thoughts on a 3”x 5” index card. Just a sentence or simple sketch. Then collect the cards, shuffle and hand them out again. Whatever you get, your job is to make them better. Improvise. Suggest a different way to execute it.  There are NO bad ideas. Yet you’ll be surprised how many good ones happen.

The heavens are limitless, but your timeframe shouldn’t be: Like this week’s meteor showers, you only have a small moment when the stars and moons align. Brainstorms are the same way. They’re actually more productive when you give yourself a deadline.

So look up. Keep your eyes wide open, and explore while you can. Your wishes just might come true!

If You Speak, Will They Listen?

Yesterday, I was one of two speakers at a webinar hosted by Target Marketing. During our prep call earlier in the week, the host advised us that over 1,000 people had signed up to attend this free event. Now I know from past experience that only 50 percent will likely attend, but another 10 percent to 20 percent will listen to the podcast after the fact. But despite providing case studies, facts and figures based on industry best practices, the disappointing reality is that very few “attendees” will ever try to implement the lessons that I shared

Yesterday, I was one of two speakers at a webinar hosted by Target Marketing. During our prep call earlier in the week, the host advised us that over 1,000 people had signed up to attend this free event.

Now I know from past experience that only 50 percent will likely attend, but another 10 percent to 20 percent will listen to the podcast after the fact. But despite providing case studies, facts and figures based on industry best practices, the disappointing reality is that very few “attendees” will ever try to implement the lessons that I shared.

How do I know this? Because I’ve worked with hundreds of clients and have spoken at dozens of conferences and am continued to be amazed at how many companies feel the need to reinvent the wheel.

For example, when presented with a prospect’s particular marketing challenge and we recommend a fully integrated campaign solution that includes online and offline initiatives, the client says “let’s test to learn what will work best.”

Really?

I’ve been involved in testing for my entire 30+ year marketing career. And I’ve tested offers, colors, premiums, even signature lines, and those can yield very different results client to client. But here’s the one thing I don’t need to test: A fully integrated marketing campaign will outperform a single medium campaign every time. Why? Because different people consume information differently.

Some spend time online and click through banners, buttons or SEM results. Others gather information at conferences and webinars. Still others open and read email and direct mail.

Net-net, at some point, if they have a need, they will raise their hands in some way, whether they accept an inbound call from your sales rep or make a call into your call center. Perhaps they’ll visit your website and download something? Or visit your booth at a tradeshow?

The source of the “lead” will be misleading if you’re trying to measure and prove ROI, because they were exposed to your message in a number of ways and just because they finally raised their hands, you assign them to one channel and credit it with being the driver of leads. The next thing you know, you’re shifting marketing dollars to that one channel, and yet a year later you’re wondering why lead volume is down.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ll meet new prospects who say their last (single channel) marketing campaign didn’t work. Therefore the (single channel) is a waste of money.

After digging a little deeper, the prospect didn’t really know where the “list” came from, or what the “offer” was or whether the campaign ran during a hurricane which meant that no one was online searching for their particular product during that particular week.

Here’s the key takeaway: Well planned, fully integrated campaigns usually yield the highest number of leads at the lowest cost. And the key to real sales success is the follow up.

Follow up those leads with an intelligent combination of emails and phone calls based on lead value (oh yeah, don’t forget to ask two or three questions when acquiring that lead so you can score its value to the organization), and—here’s the most important part—actually follow up with emails and phone calls that demonstrate to that prospect that you understand his or her pain and have the experience and solutions that can help solve the problem. In other words, talk to them in a language they can understand.

When prospects complete an online form and complete the box that asks “Industry” by choosing “Manufacturing,” don’t contact them as if they are in healthcare. If the forms asks for “Company Size” and the respondent chooses “1 to 10,” then treat that respondent like the small business it is. Demonstrate that you understand the challenges facing small businesses in manufacturing and you’ll gain far more credibility and brand engagement.

The next time management asks you to reinvent the wheel to solve the marketing challenge, tell them you already know what to do, because you’ve done your homework.