Businesses, their agencies and internal marketing departments are always searching for the next big idea. The holy grail is the great concept that will draw the public to their brand like a magnet and customers eager to buy.

In truth, really great ideas are few and far between and most of us have to be content with just ‘good’ ideas and executing them very well. But is there a strategy for coming up with the truly ‘big’ idea? Let’s explore this jungle.

Start with people

People come up with ideas. The paradox is that great ideas come from having diverse teams working on them – but it is individuals who have the ideas. The reason we say ‘diverse’ teams is that ideas are not the preserve of so-called creatives in an organisation. If you want to break the mould get people from different disciplines, ages, genders and ethnicities.

The problem with the ‘creatives’ is that ideas are their business – is that bad? Yes. The issue lies in their brains. You see, humans are very good at spotting patterns. This is very efficient because we are programmed to repeat successful patterns rather than ‘re-invent the wheel’.

The downside is that ‘creative’ people tend to subconsciously approach problems in ways that have worked in the past – this leads to very good results. However, big ideas tend to be disruptive and discontinuous so are more likely to come from different perspectives. Penny from accounts or Frank from dispatch are more likely to contribute ground breaking approaches because they work on different types of problems.

Research or planning?

Really great ideas come from really great insight into problems and identifying great solutions. You might think that research is the foundation. Well, yes and no.

The problem with traditional research is that is survey based. That means it starts with a hypothesis, something that needs an answer. Already we are pre-disposed to a route.

Planning, a related discipline, deals with the business and social environment. Typical approaches are ethnographic as in ‘grounded theory’. Semioticians tend to take similar techniques, assembling as much varied data from the environment as possible, with no pre-conceived objective.

The theory is that patterns and relationships then present themselves and ideas spring out spontaneously. All that is needed is perceptive people to spot them.

Big ideas are simple ideas

You only have to think about all the big ideas that have captured your imagination to realise that the thing they have in common is simplicity.  In advertising or corporate communications it’s critical that the idea should be capable of being presented and explained quickly with great clarity.

If the big idea is fundamentally complex, it’s important that it’s presentation is not.

Three essentials for big ideas


Identifying an issue or problem is the first step. This requires soaking in as much of the environment information as possible. Try to get into the mind-view of users or those who will benefit. Understand the processes involved because the problem which needs solving may not be the obvious one. For example, the reason people are not buying a particular product may not be because they don’t like it but because perhaps they don’t understand it, or it’s hard to find.


There needs to be an engagement between the problem and the solution – and the solution is the product or brand, Make this engagement compelling and unique.


The proposition needs crystallising in simple and uncompromising statement. It may be words or pictures, perhaps demonstration is needed. This where the circle is closed – from the insight into a real benefit to the user to its communication.

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