Brainwriting: the secret to great ideas

Working for an agency, it is absolutely essential that everything we do is creative, original and engaging. If it isn’t, it will get lost in the diverse world of digital media, meaning no objectives or KPIs are met for our clients.

Not only this, but creativity wins awards and awards help us win new clients, retain existing ones and remain ahead of competitors.

Being creative is just as important if you are working as part of an in-house marketing team; creative content marketing is what will set you apart from competitors in your field and as a result (alongside many other things) drive more revenue.

Saying that, no matter how creative your team is, there are bound to be days when they feel less creative; days where inspiration lacks and creativity needs more encouragement. The problem with this is that we don’t have the time to sit around waiting for inspiration to start flowing again. ‘

We have run out of good ideas’ or ‘we’re not feeling that creative today’ is simply not an option when talking to clients – so we have to find ways to keep going. For tips on encouraging creativity, check out my previous blog post.

Ideation sessions are a constant factor and for myself as a content strategist, I must lead or participate in at least four a week on average, often more. Sometimes, a good way to keep those creative juices flowing is to add variation to the way we create ideas – and this is where ‘Brainwriting’ comes in.

What is Brainwriting?

Brainwriting is an alternative to traditional brainstorming – a written exercise which results in a long list of creative titles, themes, topics and content types – every content strategist’s dream!

At the start of a Brainwriting session, the lead will brief the team on client, project, KPIs, personas and any other additional information that will ensure the output of the session is on point. Brainwriting sheets – A4 paper, split into six boxes – are passed around and the creativity begins.

Brainwriting

The idea is that each person writes three ideas in the first box on their sheet, before passing it round to their left. What is written doesn’t have to be a fully thought out content campaign, but perhaps a working title, topic, headline or theme that can later be built upon.

When this sheet is then passed to the left, the next person will look at these ideas and (hopefully) be inspired by them. Then, they write three different ideas in the next box and so on and so forth.

When the six boxes are complete, or you run out of creative juice (whichever comes first) it is then a good idea to pass the sheets around one more time before asking everyone to feed back their favourite ideas from the sheet in front of them.

This part of the session isn’t dissimilar to a more traditional brainstorm. The favourite/ strongest ideas are then discussed, elaborated on – but also torn apart. Is the idea new? Is it engaging? What’s the PR hook? Which persona will it appeal to?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, or you can’t answer the question at all, then the idea isn’t right. Often it can be tweaked to make it work but, if not, it shouldn’t make the final list – brutal, we know.

After this, you will be left with a solid list of content ideas which fit the brief in every sense and that members of staff from all teams across the business have bought into.

These ideas should be typed up in a way that is easy to understand and that clearly points out, for both the client (in agency life) and your internal team, how the piece will contribute to reaching KPIs, which persona it will be targeting and what the PR hook is – basically the answers to the questions from the Brainwriting session.

Once this follow up work has been completed, it is always a good idea to circulate this document around the relevant teams one final time to make sure you have captured everything that they intended for the content ideas and are happy for them to be sent for approval. Once this has been done – the Brainwriting process is complete.

brain

Why Brainwrite?

It’s pretty simple really, but so effective and often the best way to come up with a wide variety of amazing creative ideas.

The traditional brainstorming method still has its place and is one that we continue to rely on a lot, but Brainwriting does have its advantages.

Often, during a brainstorm in which all ideas are voiced aloud it is hard not to become so invested in the first good idea and how we could make it work, that it stunts our creativity as a group from that point forward. This doesn’t happen so much with the Brainwriting process.

Brainwriting also allows for the quieter and less creatively confident members of our team to contribute to these ideation sessions comfortably and without feeling under pressure to voice their ideas in a group. We have really seen this build the confidence of some of the newer members of our team here; it is great to see their confidence grow and their ideas are great to hear.

With Brainwriting no idea is lost because the conversation topic is quickly changed or because someone hasn’t spoken loudly enough. All ideas are written down and if they aren’t right for that particular project, they can be banked for a later date.

Although you have more ideas this way than the traditional brainstorm, due to the discussion at the end of the meet you can rule out any that are dead in the water – so the post-ideation work does not have to be any more extensive than after a traditionally run brainstorm.

Aside from the ideas themselves, introducing the Brainwriting process into the constant flow of ideation sessions we have in our calendar every week, keeps us on our toes. It breaks up the way we do things, keeping us engaged and enthusiastic, which is essential if we are to think up the most creative idea for our clients.

It also provides us with a short break from the ‘buzz’ of the office. Just to sit and refocus in a room of colleagues doing the same Brainwriting exercise, is refreshing every once in a while!

When is it best not to Brainwrite?

My colleagues and I are big advocates of Brainwriting for more than one reason, but we do appreciate that it isn’t always the right way to come up with ideas.

If we need an idea for some content marketing that needs to achieve a specific KPI, appeal to a very detailed persona or is for client that is very niche and particular, then often talking ideas through in the traditional brainstorm style is more effective than Brainwriting.

It means that everyone can stay focussed on the very specific task ahead and that questions can be asked, on the brief or relevance of a content idea, as you work.

Sometimes all ideas need to be discussed and questioned and, as made clear earlier, this is not what Brainwriting is about.

Sometimes clients, especially new or local clients, like to visit the office to join in our ideation sessions. In this instance, Brainwriting may not be the best way to orchestrate the session. When you are getting to know a client it is great to have live feedback on ideas as and when you come up with them.

This is beneficial for both parties and gives us, as an agency, real insight into the types of things the client is open to creating. If you were Brainwriting, this level of discussion for each idea wouldn’t be as productive.

Conclusion

So in a nutshell, we love Brainwriting, and it’s a good job as we have a constant need to be creative.

It is a great way of keeping things fresh for the team, getting all staff members involved and participating on an equal scale, coming up with a great list of content ideas to go alongside a content strategy or campaign plan, and for banking ideas for future projects.

No, it isn’t always the best way to do things so use your initiative with that one, but when you think it will work, give it a go and let us know how you get on. We are curious to know if you will love Brainwriting as much as we do!

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