When you’re a creative person, there’s one sentence that strikes more fear in your heart than any other: “What’s the big idea?”
Not because someone is accusing you of doing something wrong (that would almost be a relief). In this context, that sentence means, “what’s the concept behind the ad/video/website/miscellaneous marketing material you’re creating right now? What makes it interesting? Why will anyone care?”
And it’s terrifying because you don’t always know. Especially if the deadline isn’t yet close enough to be inspiring. Worse, you’re afraid you’ll never know. You worry inspiration will never strike, your muse will never appear, and you’ll never have a good idea ever again.
Luckily, there are strategies you can use to get your brain moving in the right direction.
Strategy #1: uncover the real truth
Whether you’re marketing an academic program, university service, or, well, laundry detergent, there’s something that is inherently true about it. Something that won’t be in your creative brief. Something that people just know on a gut-deep level.
Need some examples?
There’s a copywriting book I love called Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. In it, Luke Sullivan talks about the central truth behind Crocs. The client insisted it was that their shoes were crazy comfy. But the creative team couldn’t crack the problem until they realized that the real truth about Crocs is that they’re crazy ugly.
With that insight, they were able to create an incredible campaign.
When I asked my copywriting class what the central human truth is about sunscreen, they came up with a couple of good ones: It’s annoying to have to put it on again and again and again. It keeps you pale. And it protects your skin.
We’d all agree those things are true, right? Even better, we could come up with a concept that supports those truths.
What’s the one thing everyone would agree is true about the thing you’re marketing?
Strategy #2: find the emotion
The question you’re asking yourself here is, “what do I want my audience to feel about the thing I’m marketing?” What’s the emotion at the center of this product?
For instance, what do you think about when I say diamond? Love and commitment, right?
College degrees signify pride and accomplishment. Vacuum cleaners bring to mind relief and satisfaction. Everything has an emotional connection if you look hard enough.
So get in touch with your feelings and you’ll be off to a good start.
Strategy #3: identify the bad guy
Everyone, every product, every thing has a nemesis. An enemy. Figure out who or what is the villain in your story and use that as a starting point.
MoneySmarts is a great example of how we use this tactic within the university.
MoneySmarts is, of course, the financial literacy program here at IU. They want students to live happy, healthy, financially smart lives. As such, they have a natural enemy—debt.
Knowing that, we created the Debt Monster. This evil dude chases our MoneySmarts pig—and the pig fights back. We’ve been using him for a couple of years now—and we’re still not out of ideas.
Who’s the enemy you’re fighting?
Strategy #4: when all else fails, walk away
That might sound counterintuitive, but sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing at all.
If you give your subconscious a chance to work on the problem, you might be surprised at how soon you come up with a brilliant solution.
So put your feet up. Check out some more cat videos. Go hang out in the IMU. Think about something, anything else (and try not to feel guilty about it). And be ready for inspiration to strike.
One last thing…
Remember, not every idea you have is going to be good. In fact, most of them are going to be terrible. And that’s okay.
Go ahead and share them with another creative person if you can. Listen to their terrible ideas.Talk about what else you can do with them. When you do, those terrible awful no good ideas have a habit of morphing into something amazing.