Meet the little voices inside your head - Principles of BLISS #5

"There's nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come." So said Voltaire. Or was it Saul Williams? Either way, it is a great statement to begin any blog entry with. We are always toying with ideas here at BLISS. So Tiru, our Customer Experience Manager, went over to talk to the lovely folks at NeoMam to find out more about how they tailor and refine their approach to brainstorming. There's also an unexpected shout-out to the Pixar film, 'Inside Out', which you should really see.

After talking myself to death last time, I have decided to let Danny Ashton, from the ace and decidely local agency NeoMam, take the spotlight this time. When I first moved to Manchester, I did a bit of work for the visual marketing gurus there. I decided to touch base with them again as I kept hearing good things about how they generate strong ideas for clients regularly. 

(The concept of idea generation always makes me think of Pixar for some reason. That company seems to have a brand monopoly on creativity. Incidentally, I really hope Inside Out wins Best Film at the Oscars. It'd be the first animated movie to do so.)

Anyway, Danny had a lot of interesting things to say on the matter, so here he is:

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So Danny, could you tell us a little about your business?

Yes so we are a visual content marketing agency. We’ve been going for about 4 years and probably our core products are infographics, video infographics and interactive experiences. But our ultimate goal for all our clients is to get that content shared. So we have an approach called ‘influencer marketing’, where we reach out to influencers, journalists, and experts in the space and we share our content with them for them to take it further.

I know you are into your processes here at NeoMam and you are proud of your ideation process in particular. Can you talk more about that?

Many people start their ideation process by getting people round the table to brainstorm. I honestly think that is the worst way to do it. I can maybe do that once a month and get ideas but long-term it is very hard. At our agency, we aren’t coming up with ideas once a month, we are coming up with ideas every day, so we need a process that is long-term. 

So the big challenge with ideas is that you are blocking them with your own ideas of the world. That’d be good if your client’s audience was you. We have clients who have audiences like that, but we also have clients whose audiences are older, for example, or from completely different walks of life. 

We need to have some data and insights that lead it, so that’s where our first step is, jumping into audiences and who they are. We then use a process called Chunking, which is quite an in-depth process. So for example, if we are working with a company who is making motorcycle engines, if we chunk up from that, we are looking at concepts from a greater whole, like ‘getting around’, ‘movement’. Chunking down from that is looking at the parts of the engines, ‘cylinder heads’. That can be applied to any industry or any product. 

The client though, pretty much wants to do it on the product they want to sell, which can prove difficult, because not everyone is sitting around thinking about things like, say payday loans. But you can chunk around an industry like that and look at budgeting or cost-saving tips or how to win a pay-rise, for example. You can then uncover online groups, forums and websites, that all talk about these different subjects.

We then break those communities up and evaluate them using a tool called BuzzSumo.com, which is something we use a lot. We can use these groups as sounding boards, looking at their emotions, whether they are anxious about certain things or excited about certain things. We also go in-depth to see the kinds of things they are sharing. We uncover what kind of discussions are being had in that space and using that, we then brainstorm! 

Everyone in the room now has an understanding of the audience and we can see the world in their eyes. Once you do that, you not only have ideas that are great and people in the room enjoy, but also relevant to the client and we can place a strong possibility in that the content we create will be shared. Which is why at NeoMam we guarantee results which is unheard of in our space. 

But we know that if we follow our process from start-to-finish, it will work. So if a client says ‘No, we don’t want that idea, we want you to try our own’, we kindly decline because if we do that, we wouldn’t be able to achieve the guaranteed results and our reputation will be on the line, not just with clients but with publishers who will wonder why we created a uninformed piece of content.

Where did you get this from? Where did you nick it from? Come on, own up.

It comes from NLP and coaching. But to my mind it has never been applied to content. It appeals to ideas and content and is a powerful way of seeing the world, in breaking it down. 

The challenge with creativity is that you go down the same paths. If a travel client goes to a number of different agencies for ideas, I promise you that I could name top five of those ideas, because we’re all the same in a lot of ways and have similar ideas. It’s like Family Fortunes, like ‘Name the weirdest things found in an X-ray machine.’  If we come up with the same ideas as everyone else, it won’t work. 

Other people have used chunking within digital marketing, like Paul May from BuzzStream. I have just seen it and stole it...four years later. 

I am a big client based in London and I have looked you guys up. I feel that infographics might be an interesting way to engage my audiences so I drop you an email. At what point do your creative juices start flowing; is it from the first contact, the first meeting, or the brief?

So for us we are quite different. We are not like a design agency where a client comes with a brief and is quite clear on what they want to achieve. For us it is looking at their business, their audience, and defining an idea that works for their marketplace. Every client is different. Obviously we have experiences in certain sectors that we can apply. We look at what they sell and why they sell it to you and from there we then develop out process to identity online audiences and communities of those who share content. We use those communities to get the client out there, to get the features and the brand mentions and all the good things that good content provides.

On your whiteboard behind you, you have written the words ‘How much is your vagina costing you?’ on there. Are you free to talk about that?

Yeah, absolutely. That’s an idea we are doing for one of our retainer clients who are very open to trying potentially contentious ideas. They are in a very competitive space, they are in the finance space, and they want to cover topics that go as viral as possible. We like these kind of clients because there isn’t any restrictions on what we want to do really. So this idea is very much looking at what it is to be a woman and the costs associated with that. The discussion between male and female rights is a powerful topic on the internet and we are wanting to add fire to that discussion. We are looking at research done into things like the cost of contraception, abortions and wage discrepancies. There is a whole gamut of information and data and we are just bringing that information to the fore to allow people to make their own decisions and have discussions around it as well.

Have there been any ideas that you thought were particularly incredible but didn’t get to see the light of day because of a lack of client buy-in? What happened to those ideas?

We were quite lucky because when we first started I was just working freelance. I had a small number of direct clients. So a lot of ideas that shouldn’t have seen the light of day and were a bit too edgy. I used to believe that it is about being edgy and being wild but to get results it is not about that. It is about finding what works with publishers. Publishers aren’t featuring wacky stuff every day. 

Our brands want to be a thought-leader in a sector. So if they are a big travel brand, an idea like the vagina idea won’t support them in their business. With travel, we often target the fascination with food and experience. If we can build that brand in that space and have the same reaction, that’s a good thing. It will get them placements and support their brand in the long-term. We want to support brand equity and not risk that.

Final question. Now that you’ve done all this research, would you rather now have a penis or a vagina?

I’ll stick with what I know, thanks. Maybe temporarily I’d switch over, but only temporarily.