magnifying-glassI’ve spoken long and often over the years about “the big idea”, and with everyone fighting for survival right now we all need a big idea more than ever.  So how do we recognise one when it pops up?

The popular marketers’ interpretation of  “the big idea” focuses on communication – the creative solution that cuts through the noise of the marketplace and carries your message, to the willing ears of a grateful marketplace.  A big idea in this context can enhance a great product, service or brand and even put a less than great one in the frame.  Big communications ideas come in the shape of Lowe’s “You’ve Been Tangoed” or the old Allen Brandy and Marsh campaign “Milk Has Got a Lotta Bottle” or Cokes “Real Thing”.  You’ll have a few favourites of your own I am sure.

Level two is about the tactical offer.  I had the latest US campaign for Hyundai brought to my attention by Kathy Sharpe at Sharpe Partners.  This is a brilliant example of the big idea in action – talk about a bold response to consumer need!  This it my kind of marketing.  It uses a short term tactical offer as evidence of the brand promise.  Apart from providing a very compelling reason to buy, it says, “you are understood and protected when you are part of the Hyundai community”.  Exactly as it should be done!

On another level entirely the big idea is about the product itself.  We’ve been getting sloppy over the last few years and awarding the big ideas rosette to things that were far to low down on the “really necessary” scale, but all that is changing.  Today’s evidence points to the emergence of a new more critical consumer with a clearly more practical and rational agenda.  I’m not sure that X-box and Wii would be the success they have been if they arrived on the scene in the next couple of years, but a device that allows you to travel further on a litre of fuel or a means of prolonging the life of fresh food (without chemicals of course) now, there’s a big idea.

Then there’s the level where the big idea is the one upon which a brand culture is based.  My belief is that if you get this one right, all the rest just happens.  One of my personal favourites in this respect is SouthWest Airlines,  but you could add FaceBook, Google, Apple and many more.

The fact is that the BIG IDEA has to be big on all of these levels, but whichever level you are focusing on, there is a judgement criteria that I was introduced to by a colleague at the start of my career and which has stayed with me to this day.  Its based, not by accident,  on the acronym SIMPLE because, of course, all the best ideas are just that.  As well as interrogating your briefs and concepts with your Brand Model criteria try asking these questions to decide whether your idea is worth pursuing.

Is it Striking? The big idea always stands out.  You can’t walk past one, it sort of smacks you in the face its so outstanding.

Is it Ingenious? Its always a really neat solution.  One of those things that leave you asking “why didn’t I think of that?”

Is it going to be Memorable?  If people aren’t going to be talking about it long after you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, forget it now.

Is it Pertinent? Is it an idea looking for a reason or a genuine solution to a need?

Is it Long-lasting? Especially now that nobody wants credit, who will part with hard-earned cash for something that they’ll have to replace soon? And you can definitely knock it on the head if its influenced by fashion. 

Finally, it just has to be Envied by the competition.  I mean the CEO of your competitor is going to be so green that he’ll fire his marketers and product development people and sent them off with a flea in their ear and a picture of your big idea to remind them what one looks like!

Sadly I’m seeing evidence that the current economic climate is causing some businesses to cut back on the development of new ideas and concepts.  Its a pity, because if you study your history, you’ll quickly realise that this is just when the development of new ideas plays biggest dividends.  Ideas don’t have to cost a fortune to develop and every business has hundreds of  ideas and concepts that it doesn’t even tap into.  My advice to any organisations is launch an internal campaign right now to unlock the potential that already exists within your workforce.  You might finds ways of increasing efficiency that will save you from the bankruptcy courts and you are bound to come up with something that you can spend this fallow period preparing for launch when the economy improves.  Ralph Halpern who brought the Burton Group from within days of bankruptcy to become one of Europe’s most successful retailers, made a policy of always having twenty or so pilot concepts on test.  The philosophy is that if only one is successful it pays many times over for the cost of those that fail.  Business is about ideas.  Striving for new, bigger and better products, processes, concepts and offers. 

I have worked with organisations around the world, helping them to leverage their brand communities, by adopting new ideas and a different perspective on their business.  It works.  I’ve seen organisations in the depths of  recession, create new business units that have become businesses in their own right, in some cases out-lasting the original trading concept.  So I know it can be done.  And the starting point is understanding what  big idea looks like and not wasting time on ideas that don’t measure up. 

So, make sure you have your Brand Model up-to-date and in shape, create your own equivalent to the SIMPLE judgement criteria and go to work on building your business, even during recession.

Michael Weaver
February 9, 2009

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