The linguistic history of “brainstorm” is brief but worth noting. A noun (brainstorm), an adjective (of or related to brainstorming), and a verb (to conduct or practice brainstorming”), “brainstorm” originated in the 1890s and was defined as “a transitory disturbance of cerebral activity,” and, “a sudden mental aberration.”
Since brainstorming has evolved to mean “a conference technique of solving specific problems, amassing information, stimulating creative thinking, developing new ideas, etc., by unrestrained and spontaneous participation in discussion.”
If you’ve ever participated in a creative brainstorming session, you may believe the original definition of brainstorming is more accurate than our more modern one. Having a storm in your brain does not sound like a good thing and our reflex to apply the scientific method to every subjective endeavor is not unlike trying to lasso a tornado.
Brainstorming is our attempt to structure what was once considered mental aberrations but is now considered great ideas that could go viral.
Step 1: The Pitch Sheet
The first step to take an idea from concept to reality is to write a logline. The material goal of your brainstorming sessions is to produce a pitch sheet that guides the entire production of your company video.
A logline is a sentence that tells your entire story. Writing a logline is difficult, but the process of writing and re-writing it serves a critical purpose. A well-conceived logline provides a common starting point for the creative team and, to continue with the storm motif, is the lasso you use to reign in an otherwise uncontrollable force.
It seems counterintuitive to brainstorm about a single sentence, but once you have the perfect logline, the result is more creative space for your team to operate. Here are three examples of loglines from classic feature films:
- “The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.” (The Godfather)
- “During the early days of World War II, a cynical American expatriate struggles to decide whether or not he should help his former lover and her fugitive husband escape unoccupied French Morocco before the NAZIs capture them.” (Casablanca)
- “A young man is transported to the past, where he must reunite his parents before he and his future cease to exist.” (Back to the Future)
Here is a logline for Apple’s “1984” Super Bowl commercial:
- “An individualist free-thinking Olympic athlete runs through a dystopic, conformist, state-controlled future of George Orwell’s iconic novel “1984” and liberates the world’s creative forces with the introduction of the Macintosh personal computer.”
Here is a digital marketing logline for an animated “explainer video” that highlights a brand’s charitable foundation that promotes a set of values, not a product.
- “A suburban husband and wife make a wrong turn in their car and take a journey through underserved parts of their town, learning empathy for their neighbors and collective responsibility for lifting struggling local communities.”
It may take an entire brainstorming session or two to hone your logline. Be patient. Everything that follows is dependent on getting your logline right.
Step 2: The Facilitator
Someone must organize and steer the chaos. Brainstorming sessions are a free-flow exchange of ideas, but it is much more difficult to capture and transform those ideas without a team leader to chair the meeting and facilitate the creative process.
The Facilitator should be the person with the temperament most suited to the task, not necessarily whoever is the highest on the org chart. The Facilitator is not making decisions about the creative content. They keep a cumbersome collaborative process moving. It is easy to spend too much time on bad ideas that end up a waste of time. Keep the creative juices flowing and avoid awkward silence.
The Facilitator may also have the common brainstorming challenge of leading virtual brainstorming sessions with virtual teams. A virtual brainstorming session flows differently than teams that brainstorm in person.
The Facilitator needs to be adept at a range of disciplines to pull it off. It is difficult to gauge whether a remote team is communicating the right way to produce actionable ideas. Mitigate issues with a greater focus on team bonding and research any virtual brainstorming tools that may be right for your circumstances.
Step 3: Recorder
The most skilled communicator on your marketing team should be assigned the role of Recorder. Documenting what occurs during a brainstorming session is more complex than taking minutes at a quarterly board meeting. To track and connect creative ideas takes diligence and three-dimensional thinking.
Ideas that gain momentum early on may be scrapped by the end of the day. A word or phrase tossed out and dismissed may return and become the cornerstone of your video. If you aren’t tracking a list of ideas with notes (e.g., wild ideas, brilliant ideas, unusual ideas, etc.), you may not have the most successful brainstorming session you can.
Along with the Facilitator, the Recorder keeps things moving. Visibility is the best way to keep team members connected. If the Recorder writes the big ideas with the most traction on whiteboards or giant post-its, the creative team sees concepts and themes take shape, or conversely, why a particular line of thinking does not accomplish the desired messaging.
If your team has access to a smartboard, there are many creative brainstorming tools online to help document creative ideas.
Step 4: Check Your Ego at the Door
If you want to decide everything and make everything the way you want, make a billion dollars. If you’re going to make a compelling marketing video that exceeds client expectations, you must work inside a collaborative framework. Not every idea is going to work, and some of those non-starter ideas may be yours.
The benefits of team brainstorming outweigh the results when one person brainstorms. Your average person may have innovative ideas and creative solutions that only a group setting that fosters effective brainstorming techniques can draw out. Creative video ideas – fresh ideas – come from a storm, yes, a storm of ideas.
Do not skim over this step with a perfunctory “yeah, yeah, yeah.” Interpersonal conflict during the brainstorming process can be a poisonous pill and doom your end product. When people argue about ideas, some may take criticism personally, and the creative process balkanizes.
Or two competing ideas have strong support. In which direction should the campaign go? In the best interests of the group’s mission, the Facilitator should establish rules of civility and ensure that the creative team works in harmony toward a shared vision.
Step 5: Equal time
Video production is top-down like a military dictatorship. Brainstorming activities should be the opposite. Give equal time and measured consideration to each team member’s ideas. Lightning strikes when you least expect it. When your entire team floats and considers a wide range of opinions, your story will be better.
You want your creative team to share ideas and to focus on the quality of ideas, not the quantity of ideas. A range of viewpoints will improve your message and the story you tell to deliver it.
There are many ways to structure equal time, and no brainstorming exercise is better than the other. Team members can show up with an idea to present. The Facilitator can periodically go around the conference table and allow each person to say what they are thinking (Round-Robin Brainstorming).
Summaries generated and distributed to each team member allotted time to offer their suggestions. It does not matter how you democratize the process, effective brainstorming benefits from enthusiastic participation.
Step 6: Institute a “magic wand” policy
There are so many obstacles and changes any creative campaign will undergo during its life cycle; strive to make initial brainstorming sessions free of restrictions. Ideas should be offered and discussed on the merits of the concept only, not potential limitations in the future like budget or the sudden undiscovered creative genius of your advertising partners.
Save the “You can’t do that because…” for later. There will be plenty of them. Brainstorming sessions are not the time for making bottom-line business decisions. The Muses cannot be caged.
Step 7: Periodically revisit your logline
As creative campaigns evolve, you may need to institute some good old-fashioned corporate change management. Remember, the material goal is to have a pitch sheet with a dynamite logline and synopsis. Once you have the perfect pitch sheet, your campaign can enter the production phase by hiring a professional screenwriter. Until then, continue to revisit and revise your logline and synopsis.
Step 8: Learn to let go
As a collaborative creative team member, you most likely let go of at least one of your favorite ideas during brainstorming. Your co-workers did too. When the brainstorming sessions are over, and you’ve decided upon a direction, the marketing team must turn the reins over to other skilled professionals who will put their creative stamp on the project.
Any artist will tell you their work is like a child. Sending that child off into the world isn’t easy. You must believe that the next wave of artisans will love your story as much as you do and take good care of it. A simple leap of faith sounds easy until you hear the universally loved funny moment your team spent a week crafting, ended up on the editing room floor. Let it go.
Digital video advertising is the crown jewel in the marketing crown, providing outstanding and measurable ROI. Video email marketing and explainer videos are two examples of how digital video reinvents itself to take advantage of the medium’s excellent results.
The video process starts with your creative team tackling the basic building blocks of storytelling – a compelling logline and synopsis. Through effective brainstorming, a brand’s message can begin its remarkable creative journey from concept to going live.