There’re many specialised skills that are important to a business corporation’s communication needs. Skills like business marketing, corporate communications, web design, social media marketing, graphic design, copy writing, so on and so forth. Would you have guessed that idea generation is the most important skill of all?… Probably not…
What’s Idea Generation, And Why Is It So Important?
Business communications, like developing a brand, or advertising your corporate message, is essentially nothing more than just conveying a message. It’s like telling a story, your story to the masses. Now there are many ways to tell your story. You can word out your tagline or promotional message nicely with creative copy writing. You can use a mascot (e.g. Ronald McDonald, Michelin Man, Tony the Tiger, etc.) to associate with your product or corporate identity. You can even associate a specific colour to your corporate identity (e.g. Ferrari’s red, Pepsi’s blue, American Express’ green, etc.). There are countless methods of expressing your corporate message. But the problem is what message do you express in the first place?…
All the communication skills mentioned above are highly specialised skills on their own. Graphic designers can come up with exciting visual arts to attract the attention of the viewers. Copy writers can compose word plays that touches hearts of the readers. Web designers can create interesting corporate websites that encourage interactions with the audience. All these skills, any many more, are highly specialised that colleges and universities actually offer courses to qualify these specialists. Yes, all these skills are very important but… (yes, there’s always a “but”)… These skills are indeed very important, but they don’t exist independently on their own.
What’s missing here is the binding factor, a lynchpin, to hold them all together. Graphic arts and photo images do not exist on their own. Corporate taglines and story passages do not appear out of thin air. These elements ultimately tell a story that reflects on your corporate identity. So what’s this lynchpin that we’re talking about? What important factor binds the results of these specialised skills to their host, the corporate or product identity? Well, this lynchpin, is idea.
So What Exactly Is This “Idea” That You’re Selling?
Developing creative messages without any ideas is a pretty common practice. Not a very smart practice if you ask me, but yes, it’s much more common than you think. Let’s take a look at some of these real world not-so-strategic business practices :-
(1) Design And Print Business Cards With Printers Or Printing Agents
Many businesses simply engage printers or printing agents for their business card design and printing. Why?… Well, the simple reason is because many of these printers throw in the “design” services for free… And we all know how much value these “free” design services hold.
The more comprehensive reason is because these printers are competing for your printing jobs. They sweeten the deal by offering you “free” design if you send your printing jobs to them. Then there’s also “value blindness” on the part of the printing clients. They assume that only tangible items (e.g. 100 pieces of printed cards) hold “value”. Intangible property (e.g. business card design itself) hold no “value”.
What you’ll end up with is multiple designs of the same business cards for different employees. Heck, sometimes you’ll end up with different designs for the same employee too if they were printed by different printers.
(2) Corporate Practice Of Awarding Different Agencies Every Year
Some businesses have this strange practice of appointing a new agency for their advertising needs every year. The understanding is that no single agency will monopolise the client’s business completely. They seem to think that this practice will prevent apparent cronyism, keeping their business reputations clean.
On its own, there’s nothing wrong with this practice. But the problem will arise if you depend on the appointed advertising agency for your branding needs as well. And that is a very common practice indeed. Just like the printing industry, advertising agencies bundle “free branding services” with their advertising jobs. So what actually happens is that the client will have very different branding direction every year. This actually reflects on the different advertising agencies engaged for that particular year.
In the end, you’ll never get a proper foothold in establishing your corporate branding identity. With every new year, you get a new branding identity, and lot’s of confused audience. So instead of a compounding growth of your brand identity every year, you go back to square-one every year.
(3) Self Organising And Delegation Of Specialised Jobs
There are business owners who, for some reason, keep the cards close to their chests. They prefer to manage their own branding needs, delegating the specialised jobs to the experts independently. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, except that you can’t realistically run your business and your branding activities simultaneously. Well, theoretically you can do it, but juggling these two important responsibilities are practically impossible.
Some typical examples are clients who outsource specialised jobs like photography, graphic arts, web design, etc. to their respective specialists. They then personally coordinate these independent service providers, and assembling the result of their work themselves. This method may sound credible, and will prevent any single party from having full control of the whole job. This method is actually rather similar to not hiring a renovation contractor to do the renovation works on your new home. Instead, you independently hire carpenters, wiremen, plumbers, bricklayers, painters, etc., and coordinate them all yourself. In theory, this sounds really practical, not to mention economical. But in practice, each of these specialists will run into each other’s way. And the overall renovation job will no doubt be a total organisational mess… your mess, not theirs’…
While you can hire independent specialists to do what they’re best at, you can hardly organise all their work yourself. Especially if you’re also busy running your business at the same time. It’s like having the ship’s captain also being involved in organising and executing the ship’s banquet at the same time… Bad idea!…
So How Exactly Does Idea Generation Work?
From the examples above, idea generation is where the objective of your communications is formed. Without a proper objective, all your hard work will be in vain. You can pay a very good graphic designer to come up with a beautiful looking corporate logo. You can also pay a very good copy writer to come up with a catchy corporate tagline. But if these two jobs are done independently, without a common objective, they’ll end up telling very different stories.
Ideas are formed when you bring together all the ways that you can trigger your audience’s emotional hotspots. And armed with this knowledge, together with some technical skills in the creative industry, you can then develop a strategic plan. With this strategic plan clearly lined out, you can finally create the outlines for the various executable objectives. With this, all your graphic arts, photographic work, corporate tagline, corporate logo, and all identifying messages will finally tell the same story.
If you can develop your unique strategic ideas, you can always outsource the executable jobs (e.g. graphic design, web design, photography, etc.). But you can never outsource the development of your strategic corporate message. So never allow any of your vendors to lead you by your nose by handling your strategic ideas job. Remember, if the design is “free”, then it won’t be of much value for you.
Enough About Idea Generations Already, Where Can I Find One?
In the next article, we’ll discuss more about how to identify who this idea generator is, and how to find one. We’ll also touch on whether you should hire this person as a full-time employee, or simply engage an independent consultant. And most important of all, how do you make the best of the information that you obtain with such an asset.