How Strategy and Ideas Happen: It Ain’t Easy

The Generative Process

MAY 18, 2018



I’ve been in the idea-generating business for about 40 years now.  By idea generating, I mean coming up with ideas for marketing strategies and the creative execution of those strategies.  You know…product positioning, promise, personality, brand image, core message…that sort of stuff. It can be the stuff of nightmares and torture for us marketing and communications folks.  And yet it’s the stuff that drives us.  Over and over again.

(Hmmm, why is that?)

After all of these years, I’ve come to realize there’s essentially the same pattern that occurs time after time.  Think of it as the stages of progress…and the emotions that invariably accompany each stage.

Here are what I perceive to be the seven basic stages of the generative process and their prevailing emotions:

1 | Preparation/Excitement:

this is when we’re just getting started. We’ve been given initial information by the client and we’re excited about getting the project and the opportunity to tackle it.

2 | Exploration/Anticipation:

this is when we immerse ourselves into getting to know and understand everything we can about the company, product, market, competitors, and customers.

3 | Intellection/Anxiety:

this is when reality thoroughly sinks in and the panic starts. Because we don’t have any answers yet.  We need to make sense of everything we’ve learned.  We need to figure out the best way to market this product so that it’s differentiated from the competition, so it can be as successful as possible.

4 | Incubation/Frustration: (sometimes stage 3 and 4 are interchangeable or happening simultaneously. All I can say is that it’s all uncomfortable–for us and the client)

This is when ideas are emerging and we’re trying to figure out if they make sense. What’s better or worse? Will this work or not? Who are we going to take our message to and how? Key themes are bubbling to the surface. Strategy gets developed here as everything we’ve learned starts to coalesce.

5 | Inspiration/Elation:

This is the “eureka” stage. We’ve honed the strategy and the key verbal and visual creative concepts begin to blossom.

6 | Execution/Relief:

Those blessed creative inspirations now flow into tactical translations, and the campaign is created and delivered to the public.

7 | Success/Celebration:

This and the prior two stages explain why it is we go through all of this over and over. The emotional ride we experience in going from nothing to something wonderful is decidedly exhilarating…each and every time it happens. Especially if we’re uncertain at the beginning. Because we never really are certain.  And that’s truly scary. 

So clients, have mercy on your marketing and communications people!  We promise to empathize with the fear, anxiety and frustration you too are experiencing.