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Ten Ways to Find Inspiration

Your next marketing strategy should be a creative team effort from start to finish.

By David Newman

For most advisors, marketing innovation doesn’t just happen. Here are 10 strategies you can use to pinpoint what helps nudge a good marketing idea into becoming a great marketing idea—and what puts roadblocks and obstacles in the way. What follows is my Top 10 list of ways to take your marketing from where it is today to where you want it to be.

1. Forget about traditional brainstorming.
There are so many poor excuses for brainstorming techniques that it’s no wonder there’s a rolling brownout of creativity in marketing. Brainstorming is a process with a lot of faces, and I must tell you that most of them are as ugly as a maggot under a microscope. What’s wrong? You might have too many people in the room, or too few people in the room. Sometimes, processes that are billed as creative thinking sessions may look more like youth camps for a dictatorial regime. Many methods are better suited to tarring and feathering new marketing ideas than discovering and nurturing them.

2. Try “mind sparking” instead.
Mind sparking is a creative alternative to brainstorming that is based on four simple rules:

  • Withhold judgment, filtering and editing of ideas until later.
  • Encourage unusual, wild and—yes—even crazy ideas.
  • Emphasize “the more ideas the better” concept. It really IS about the quantity of sparks, not their brightness!
  • Combine and build on the ideas of others. Mind sparking is a team sport, and when it comes to generating great marketing, 1+1=3.

3. Don’t get sidetracked.
Once an idea comes into focus, stick with it. There are thousands of reasons NOT to proceed with an idea, and only one that will get it done. Don’t try to
find the perfect idea right away—it encourages too much critical judgment too soon. Rather than get sidetracked, build in creative pit stops where you can edit as you go. In other words, once the team has 30 to 40 ideas, stop, review, distill and organize. Then go for another round.

4. Collaborate.
The lone, misunderstood “inventor/genius” is a myth. Most innovation occurs in groups. But only if you foster a genuinely inclusive environment, free of ego and marketing innovation-killers, such as “We’ve never done anything like that before” or “We tried that before; it didn’t work” or “That’s not the way we do things around here.” Face it, if you’ve had any marketing success at all, that simply means that you know what used to work. What got you here won’t get you there, and that’s why continually recreating your marketing function is so critically important.

5. Look outside.
Can’t get any new ideas going? Maybe you’re spending too much time with other financial advisors and people who share the same “group think” as you. Bring in an outside expert. Often a fresh viewpoint is all that’s needed to get a project or marketing initiative back on track. And you don’t need to hire a so-called creativity expert or a high-priced consultant either. Free experts would include people from outside the advisor world [your receptionist, your next-door neighbor, someone in your networking group] or—even better—bring in some real live clients and have them play with your new ideas and shape them into what they need and want—and would be eager to buy!

6. Encourage an innovative climate.
Encourage an innovative climate throughout your organization. A workplace that squashes fresh thinking is stuck in the past. After all, it’s new ideas that charge up the marketing juice and bring in new clients, more accounts and fatter profits. According to strategy+business magazine, “Creativity has replaced fixed assets as the primary generator of corporate and entrepreneurial growth.” The bottom line is that increasingly, where marketing is concerned, your competitive advantage is between your ears!

7. Separate the wheat from the chaff.
I hate to tell you this, but every idea does not have the makings of the next Starbucks, iPod or Post-it Note. Most raw ideas are so off base or inappropriate that it’s important to quickly put them aside and focus on the good ones. But keep good notes and save them, because times and tastes change. What was a crazy, “no way” idea back in 2004 might be the breakthrough product, service or marketing idea for 2008!

8. You can sell more with a sketch than a painting.
Anytime you come up with a breakthrough marketing idea, the temptation will be to create a lengthy memo detailing the idea, or even worse, create a 50-slide PowerPoint presentation laying out all the brilliant aspects and benefits of your freshly invented plan for everyone on your staff. This is a mistake. Don’t do it! Your team will reject it—or resent it. Remember, truly creative people collaborate. Do it with them, not to them! If you parade in your “finished product” of an idea, there is nothing for them to do. They don’t feel involved, committed, or even included. Instead, show them a sketch. Leave room for collaboration, co-creation, customization, adaptation, interpretation, and lots of input. Let them put their thumbprint on it, and then your idea becomes our idea.

9. Don’t hammer down the nail that sticks out.
Oddballs are the lifeblood of innovation in your marketing. Oddballs are also the source of many of the best ideas. Respect diverse views and reward forward thinking, even if it doesn’t result in a finished idea, product, service, or campaign right away. Use the oddball ideas as fuel for further exploration, tweaking, tuning and “what-if” scenario-building. Sometimes an oddball idea is a stepping-stone to a breakthrough idea that would not have surfaced if it was not prompted by the creative play you generated.

10. Try everything.
Leave no stone unturned, and be sure to have plenty of patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your next big marketing idea. It will take hard work, late nights and countless cold pizzas, but it will be worth the effort. I guarantee it.

©2007 David Newman. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission

David Newman is vice president of product development at Business 21 Publishing (make link to:, a leading producer of industry newsletters, audio conferences and training resources. Contact him at



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