6 Ways to Find the “Big Idea” that Propels Your Product or Service to Startling Success

image of david ogilvy's hathaway ad

To market your product or service successfully, you’ve got to have a unique positioning concept. A “big idea” that sets you apart in a world drowning in me, too.

There are world-class examples of successful concepts, like FedEx’s iconic slogan, “When your package absolutely, positively has to get there overnight.”

Or Nyquil’s long-standing tagline, “The nighttime, coughing, achy, sniffling, stuffy head, fever, so-you-can-rest medicine.”

When you come up with the perfect concept for your product — the best angle from which to sell it — everything else falls into place.

Your headlines, subheads, and even your attention-getting opening sentence all become easier to write.

Combine a great concept with the right offer and a decent call to action, and you’re starting to get somewhere.

The importance of insight

But how do you get that brilliant flash of insight that allows you to discover the best angle from which to sell your product? Most of the time when we sit down to figure out new marketing ideas, it’s anything but a magical experience.

It feels more like we’re pack mules, carrying heavy loads on our backs, plodding up a very steep mountain trail.

But every now and then — if we’re really, really lucky — we experience a day when we feel like we’re reaching up to the sky and placing our hand in a rushing current of creativity that’s always flowing in the clouds.

We feel like we can just plug in and let the ideas flow from our hands to the page. Those are the really spectacular days.

And to do successful copywriting — to figure out a perfect concept for every blog post you write and every product you sell — you need more of those spectacular days.

So, when you’re trying to figure out the best positioning for your new product, how do you get that all-important flash of insight?

The creative process for finding big ideas

Your first step in figuring out the best angle for selling your product is to always thoughtfully and exhaustively study your topic. Take your research seriously, and learn everything you can about your subject.

Legendary “mad man” David Ogilvy began every one of his campaigns with intensive research into exactly who he was trying to reach. He then took that insight and came up with the BIG IDEA that fueled many a homerun advertisement, such as The Man in the Hathaway Shirt.

(You might be more familiar with the modern knock off, The Most Interesting Man in the World for Dos Equis).

When you feel like you’re finished with your research, write down some possible big ideas. If you’re feeling ambitious, write out a basic outline, perhaps in the form of a manifesto of how you’re going to shake up the status quo.

If the inspiration isn’t quite there yet, jot down a couple of general ideas — or some thoughts on your target market — and how they could benefit from the product.

Next, give yourself room to have a flash of insight that leads to the big idea. Here are six suggestions on how to invite more breakthroughs …

1. Allow yourself an incubation period

Set aside your notes and go do something fun. Walk your dog, watch a movie, have coffee with a friend, or go dancing. And don’t think about your copywriting project.

Our brains are still working on our copy, even when we’re taking a break and doing something completely unrelated. An incubation period gives you distance from your work, and allows you to make connections that would have been impossible if you were just staring at your notes and chewing on the end of your pen.

When you’re stuck for a brilliant concept for your product, take a break and then come back to it. A flash of insight will likely come in the middle of your break.

2. Collaborate with a diverse team

Some of the world’s best creative work is coming from companies that consciously cross-pollinate their teams.

3M, the Scotch Tape and Post-It wizards, periodically rotate all their engineers to different teams, so they regularly get new (and fresh) eyes looking at a project.

The 3M management team noticed that this practice regularly increases invention and innovation. The technique is called “conceptual blending,” and it’s been shown to work in a variety of situations.

Conceptual blending is so important to the movie-making geniuses at Pixar that they built it right into the layout plan for their main office in Emeryville, California.

The only restrooms in the massive Pixar building are in the very center of the building — and since everyone has to visit the bathroom, different people from Pixar’s various teams run into each other all the time.

Why does conceptual blending work? It works because “outsiders” typically have a higher willingness to mull over information and ideas that don’t initially seem worthy of consideration. Project newcomers will look at distantly related analogies and anecdotes, and make unusual connections that people immersed in the problem typically cannot.

So hang out in groups of people who are different from you, and discuss your questions with them. Ask them how you might market your product or service, and what unusual and remarkable angle you might use.

3. Move your body

Swimming, running, yoga, weight lifting, or any practice that regularly challenges you physically will also help you gain insight and make new connections.

Cynthia Morris of Original Impulse, creativity coach and facilitator, says, “The break from work gives valuable mental space,” and encourages her clients to add exercise as an important component of their creative process.

4. Don’t rush it

Give yourself some time to think about your product, your audience, and your ideas. If you only give yourself a day to come up with your Big Idea, you will likely fail. Give yourself the space to play around, to incubate, to percolate, and to round up your team to discuss things.

5. On the flip side — apply a little pressure

Creativity does work better under a little pressure. Don’t give yourself months (or years) to come up with a concept — long lead times will tempt you into procrastination.

6. Travel

If you can travel — get out of your house, your city, or even your country — your creativity will soar. Cynthia Morris says this about the link between travel and insight:

My favorite style of exploring is to wander with little or no plan … I almost always encounter something remarkable that sparks a new idea for my work. Random or unplanned occurrences are gold for the creative process.

So push back that chair and take a little trip — by foot, car, train, ship or plane. You’ll be amazed at what bubbles up to the surface.

Letting Inspiration In

Your big idea — the unique story of your product or service — is one of the most important things to create when you’re starting a new online marketing campaign or general content marketing approach.

It’s so important that it is worth putting regular, conscious effort into inviting your muse to visit you on a regular basis. If you consistently create a welcoming environment for insight and innovation, your big ideas will get better and your business will soar.

So roll out the red carpet for those BIG ideas. They’re out there, just waiting for the right moment to knock on your door.

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Reader Comments (34)

  1. says

    As a creative thinkers we tend to compensate for the “Big Idea” with many little ones, but the “Big One” is what’s ultimately going to make an impact on the world. Your 6 tips are in line with (although presented differently) what I recently read in John C. Maxwell’s “How Successful People Think”.

    Awesome post Beth! Thanks for the actionable advice!

  2. says

    Great post, Beth, thanks for sharing these ideas. I’ve done some level of all of them at one time or another, but it’s great having them all rounded up into one actionable list.

    So often when we are trying to come up with the next big thing we want to launch or create, we try to force ourselves into it (I’ve been guilty of this more times than I want to admit!), which just exacerbates the problem. Something I’ve been doing alot lately is just sitting still after I do my morning meditation while focusing on whatever the thing is I’m trying to figure out in that day or week. Lately it’s been what minimum viable product I want to create. The meditation/focus really helps, as does getting out in nature, having lunch with a friend, hanging out in the bookstore, or getting exercise, etc.

    Love your Incubation idea — I’m thinking building a consistent incubation practice into my week — one that actually gets writtendown in the day planner — would be an excellent idea, thanks for the inspiration!

    • says

      Hi Kimberly – I agree, I try to “force” myself into good ideas, too. Never works. :) I think sometimes that if I just sit and stare at my notes for long enough, something will come to me, but more often than not, it’s when I step away from it that I get that flash of insight. And yes – building incubation times into your schedule is a great idea!

      • says

        I like the term incubation period… and it’s really true that your mind works better after taking some time off from work. Most people force themselves to think but that is not really a good idea after all. Thanks for the tip!

  3. says

    Love your example of The Man in the Hathaway Shirt/Most Interesting Man in the World. I was in the shower a few weeks ago and got an idea for a parody called “The Most Interesting Entrepreneur in the World.” (see YouTube for the video)…my point isn’t that the parody was a big idea (at least not yet), but that I got the idea in the shower. For some reason, doing something physical — even if it’s not strenuous, like showering — helps our brains “rest” so that the subconscious can take over. I get most of my best ideas while in the shower or doing dishes. (Stay clean, my friends.)

  4. says

    Traveling helps me with fresh outlooks and big ideas. Heading off to Australia in a few weeks (my first time) and I just know I’m going to get some big ideas from that trip. But even heading off to a different part of town for a lunch and walk a few times a month is great too. Add an interesting friend or colleague into the mix, and you never know what can happen.

  5. says

    Great piece,

    Thank you for pointing out the famous Hathaway guy in comparison to the Dos Equis guy. I never put two and two together on that one.

    The only thing that I would add would be to look for successes in OTHER industries and try to incorporate them into your own.

    -Joshua Black

  6. says

    Some of these tips are just plain good for a healthy lifestyle and healthy mental state, regardless of finding a big idea. I think overall happiness will help you think better, yes? And these tips really are about being happy.

    • says

      There’s definitely a tight relationship between creativity and happiness. I wouldn’t say there’s a complete overlap, but taking care of your creative mind does seem to spill over into satisfaction more generally.

    • says

      I agree with you for the most part, except perhaps the point about mixing up your teams and doing conceptual blending. I think sometimes bringing in new blood like that can actually be a little uncomfortable at first, because we might be used to working with people who are our friends or close colleagues….pulling in someone new can throw us off our game a little bit. But I think it’s better in the long run!

  7. says

    It seems people often overlook one and three. The “thinking” part is deemed easy and the “moving” piece is considered playing. But, often thinking is the most difficult and moving is when those thoughts come together. Beyond working out, I often find showers are a really good place to think. Most of my best ideas have come while getting clean. Driving is another good change of scenery, thought provoking activity. I like to drive with a dictaphone or use Siri to capture my thoughts.

  8. says

    I loved this post. A good reminder to consciously do the things that will bring creative ideas. All of the comments about the ideas in the shower – so true! A friend of mine keeps a dry erase marker in his shower, in case he gets a brilliant idea or wants to sketch out a concept. I guess with the driving and showering, everything else that blocks the flow of ideas is tuned out, so that’s when the a-ha moment happens.
    I was stuck in a creative rut the other day and went outside to throw a tennis ball to my energetic puppy. Had a new outlook in 10 minutes. It works!

  9. says

    On #4 and 5 — On one hand, you want to get moving on an idea, but on the other, you don’t want to rush things too quickly. I do think that striking a balance between “not rushing” and applying pressure can be tricky, but once you achieve it, you’re IN. :)

  10. says

    You are absolutely right about travel being a spark for creativity. A few years ago I had an internship with an environmental organization in Hawaii. I spent three months in the mountains of Kauai, hiking through the forest every day and exploring the mountains. To this day, those were the 3 most creative months of my life. Even now, 4 years later, I have ideas from that summer that I haven’t gotten around to. Getting out and experiencing activities and cultures you don’t normally see gets you in touch with problems faced by other people. And as we all know, where there is a problem, there is an opportunity.

    Great post.

  11. says

    Amazing insight. I usually get the best ideas when I am running or working out. I usually have my iPhone or iPad nearby and quickly jot them down and Evernote and continue to stew over them as I work out.

  12. says

    This is a very nice list! It kinda gave me permission to take a break from work to get the creativity juice flowing. I just came back from the boxing gym and I’m ready to go again :)

    It also made me go back to a classic , The man in the hathaway shirt and to the most interesting man in the world. Man…now I REALLY feel like having a Dos Equis!

    • says

      Antoine – I think the Hathaway shirt guy and The Most Interesting Man in the World also influenced the Old Spice guy – and I love all three of them! :)

  13. says

    To get my creative juice flowing I do two things mainly, I study and then I relax. To elaborate further I basically study all the materials I can find on the subject I’m working on and then I give myself a few days to just relax and allow my mind to put the pieces together without forcing my mind to come up with an answer within a set time. It has worked well for me over the years, but you can always make improvements and I see a lot of good points you make about finding the ‘Big Idea’. I’ll definitely try out your tips to try to see if I can find a better way to work on my projects. Thanks for sharing.

  14. says

    Excellent post Beth! and I agree with you some time when you doing outing from outside your home town gets lots new ideas and that could be the big idea that you are looking for. I think creativity depends how passionate you are about what you are going to create and that’s how the best comes out of you.

    Thanks for sharing great information :-)

  15. says

    Awesome post.

    It’s something that seems so simple, and comes fairly naturally if you’re in advertising. But so many people let their own brand get left behind, I certainly did for a while.

    It took me a long time to find my ‘big idea’ but it’s been so important to giving my business more direction.

  16. says

    Great article, Beth! Thanks for mentioning my work and thoughts on the topic.

    I’ve been playing with the idea of a correlation to our physical health and our creative health. We know that exercise gives us the space to come up with new connections and ideas. But what if the level of our health is directly correlative to the extent that we’re able to not only have the ideas, but to execute on them?

    On another note, I think that your point about exhaustive research poses one of the biggest challenges to our fresh insights. Maybe it’s just me, but when I spend a lot, or too much time looking at what others are doing, it doesn’t add to my creativity, it drains it.

    I have a sense of when I’ve consumed enough of others’ work and when it’s time to stop and let my own ideas surface. I just fear that too many of us spend so much time researching and don’t then turn to our own creative well.

    SO much to say on this topic; thanks for writing about it and including me!

    • says

      I agree, Cynthia – and research overload is something I personally really have to be careful of. There’s a Copyblogger post coming out next week about the Jonah Lehrer issue, and while I was writing it I was researching journalists who plagiarized, lied, etc. and before I knew it, two hours had gone by.

      I think many bloggers are very curious people by nature, but you are absolutely correct – we gotta be able to turn off the computer or put away the books and create our own work, instead of just consuming, consuming, consuming. Thanks again for your great thoughts on this issue!

  17. says

    Wonderful tips! Actually, I live by taking things one at a time. If you pressure yourself too much, you’ll end up doing a lot of changes later on. It’s best to take your time in understanding every aspect of your endeavor since it will make way for more ideas and strategies. We all get to the point that we’re run out of things to do but it’s also good to take a peek on what the others are doing. If you look for ideas for a marketing strategy, do you have companies you check on?

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