One of the first pieces of advice I share with new clients is, “You can’t be a thought leader if you don’t want to think.” Too many companies believe they have a strong, unique, and provocative point of view when, in fact, they repeat the same messages and ideas as their competitors. If you want to stand apart and establish yourself or your executives as true thought leaders, you need to be thinking outside of the box and sharing trends and proprietary wisdom. This can be quite challenging to sustain over time, so it may be beneficial to get more people on your staff involved. Here’s how to do it effectively with productive brainstorming sessions:
Open up a brainstorming session by letting everyone know that you’re gathering more ideas than you need and will be looking for innovation and ideas from many different corners. Choose one or all of the following tactics to keep the sessions flowing in a positive and reaffirming manner:
- Don’t negate ideas. Listen and see where you can take them.
Every idea that’s offered has the potential to lead to something novel or exciting. Even if you don’t agree with their initial statement, let them explain their reasoning and allow everyone to build off of the idea and see where it goes. One way to include all members of your team is to go around the room, like speed dating, and have everyone contribute an idea or just say something, even a word, via free association.
- Looking for opinion, attitude, and philosophy on certain issues.
Keep control and focus by narrowing down the topics that you’re discussing. This will allow the brainstorming session to stay focused and ultimately lead to an idea that aligns with your goals. For example, identify what kinds of trends have changed the game for your clients and build a point of view from those. You can also focus on things you’ve heard clients complain or get angry about. The issues that they are grappling with are most likely similar to ones that others in the industry are working through. By addressing their concerns, you will ensure that your topics are relevant and meeting the right objectives.
- Probe and prompt for article ideas with the following techniques:
One way to generate ideas is to ask, “What are clients looking for that they may not have in the past?” This will give you a forward looking approach rather than a retread of old ideas. Or, was there an idea that you presented to a client that got knocked down? What aspect can be leveraged and turned into a good idea?
Finally, to get your arms around how you can articulate your unique point of view, think about and discuss what you would focus on if you were creating an advertising campaign for yourself. What qualities would you stress? Which actor or character would star in this campaign? Rather than being the shoemaker’s children, use your talent and expertise to look inward and develop a way to promote your values, image and, above all, your special sauce.