6 Brainstorming Techniques that Help Create Awesome Ideas

an illustration of an outline of a person's head with the galaxy coming out of the brain

Audiences expect a high volume of content that balances novelty, innovation and excitement. Hence the need for effective brainstorming techniques.

To meet this high bar, content marketers are constantly generating ideas around products, services, holidays, and major life events and stages—all centered on their audiences. And if this weren’t a big enough challenge, audiences are now engaging with such content in less linear ways, with an expectation that brands will accommodate their complex content consumption journeys.

It’s going to take thinking and creativity to stay ahead of the competition, and brainstorming sessions need to be efficient and productive. Here are a few key things to consider before you begin an ideation session:

  1. Brainstorming techniques are about generating as many ideas as possible. Save the analysis and decision-making around which ideas to pursue for after the brainstorm.
  2. Clearly define the objective and intended results of the brainstorm to the group.
  3. Choose a facilitator and a scribe. The facilitator upholds the rules and keeps everyone on task and on time. The scribe records the ideas and disseminates them to the group.
  4. Explain the rules to everyone. For example, one rule might be that people should say “Yes, and” instead of “No, but” to make sure feelings don’t get hurt and all ideas have equal weight. Another rule might be to not allow smartphones and laptops in the session.

Different Brainstorming Techniques

Brainstorming technique: Speedstorming

Aim: Depth
Great for: Small groups; people who have a small number of brainstormers and a small window of time in which to work
How it works: Give six people the prompt and a piece of paper. Those six people each generate four ideas in five minutes—the 6-4-5 Speedstorm. At the end of five minutes, each person passes their paper to the right, and the next person builds on the first person’s ideas for five minutes. Continue for four more rounds (for a total of six rounds) until everyone has spent 30 minutes fleshing out the 24 ideas.

Get more ideas by increasing the number of ideas each person generates in the initial round. For instance, implement the 6-5-5 method (six people each generate five ideas in the first five minutes, and then build on those) to get 30 fleshed-out ideas in 30 minutes. Writing down ideas makes it easier for everyone to contribute, rather than just the very vocal person who doesn’t mind sharing ideas openly in verbal brainstorming sessions.

Brainstorming technique: Brain writing

Aim: Breadth
Great for: Small groups; people who need a large quantity of ideas in a short amount of time
How it works: To start a session of brainwriting, give six people sticky notes, give them the prompt and ask them to jot down as many ideas on the sticky notes as possible in five minutes. Then each person passes their ideas to the next person. In the next five minutes, the next person reads the first person’s ideas and generates three additional ideas, still using the original prompt. Complete six rounds in 30 minutes.

If you have more time, go a step further and read the ideas aloud. Place the sticky notes on a wall or board, and group similar ideas together. As a team, vote on the top categories or top ideas to pursue.

Brainstorming technique: Reverse brainstorming

Aim: Depth
Great for: Small or large groups; people who find it difficult to create ideas or identify solutions to a problem directly, or people who already have an asset but want to optimize it
How it works: Though this sounds counterintuitive, reverse brainstorms find ways to prevent what you are trying to achieve. Then you reverse those actions to help reveal solutions. First, identify the problem. Then, reverse the problem.

For example, if you’re trying to create an awesome piece of branded content to increase conversions and brand recognition, you might ask, “How can we get one million people to read this content?” But in reverse brainstorming, you ask the opposite question: “How can we make sure no one engages with this content?” If you want to optimize an existing piece of content, then ask, “How can I make this asset worse?”

Brainstorm the problem and generate ideas. Don’t reject anything at this stage. Now, reverse those ideas into solutions for the original problem. You might end up with a table like this:

Reverse Brainstorming IdeasConverted Ideas
Discuss a topic that no one cares about.Choose a hot topic and use a catchy headline.
Make it hard to find the products mentioned in the content.Include hyperlinks to products and a product grid.
Use only text.Include engaging high-resolution images or graphics.
Include language that is hard for people to understand.Speak conversationally and make it simple to understand.
Make it hard for people to share the content via social media.Add social share buttons to the content.
Brainstorming technique: Content brainstorming key

Aim: Depth
Great for: Small or large groups; facilitators and brainstorm participants who thrive on structure
How it works: A content brainstorming key or matrix is a visual used to organize and frame your ideas. Your matrix could define the topic, audience, content structure (e.g., list, how-to, Q&A, etc.), content medium or format (e.g., blog post, graphic, video), or just the overall marketing purpose of the content.

Starting your brainstorming session from a new place—such as a set of criteria you don’t typically use—will often lead you to unique ways of thinking. The key or matrix structure also creates a clear record of the prompt and the content suggestions. Change the criteria to get even more ideas.

Brainstorming technique: Focus group

Aim: Breadth
Great for: Small groups; people looking to target a specific demographic or subset
How it works: This technique may seem like a no-brainer, but companies and agencies sometimes forget that they can find a lot of material within their own buildings. If you have a project for which you’re trying to reach moms, runners or cooking enthusiasts, for example, ask people in your organization who fit those descriptions to convene for ideation. Get people from different departments. Use notecards, sticky notes or whiteboards to jot down ideas.

Brainstorming technique: Team brainstorming

Aim: Breadth
Great for: Large groups; people with competitive spirits, or a facilitator with a large number of brainstormers
How it works: Break the team into small groups or pairs to meet for a few minutes and generate as many ideas as possible within a certain time frame. The teams can each have their own dry-erase board, piece of poster board or large sheet of paper. The small groups will usually try to come up with the best ideas or the largest number of ideas. When time is up, each team presents its ideas, also within an allotted time frame.

Collaboration Is Key to These Brainstorming Techniques

Whether you’re working on an integrated marketing campaign, brand strategy or a rudimentary content calendar, brainstorm techniques like these work best when you have myriad perspectives. Ask yourself regularly if there is anyone or a mindset that is missing from the table.

Need some quick tactics to foster better collaboration among a diverse group of perspectives? “3 Tactics for Better Agency Collaboration” can help you and your team optimize your next brainstorming session.

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