This month I organized and ran the first marketing brainstorm session at Sharethebus.
As a young guy on a small marketing team, I have a lot to learn. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the first thing I did was Google “running a brainstorming session.” This meeting was important, but it wasn’t I’m-redesigning-our-customer-facing-marketing-website important (more on that later) so I didn’t go past the first page of results. The first link was alright but written in 2004 and didn’t focus exclusively on marketing. The second link looked like a Geocities website. That’s where this comes in.
These are the 6 main things that I learned (for those of you who like your lists) about running a marketing brainstorm:
1. Make sure you have an objective
An objective can be anything you want, but there needs to be a definition attached to it. One cannot simply have a brainstorming session for the sake of throwing around ideas. Ideas are good and great, but they need to be centered around a specific subject. There can be multiple objectives, as well, but the biggest takeaway is there needs to be at least one. Your objectives can be as specific or general as you want. Some example objectives are:
- How can we grow our readership 30% month over month?
- What can we do to improve the quality of our leads?
- What type of content should we strive to create?
For our team, it was important to create more synergy between our sales and marketing teams. We did this by exploring the tools and assets that our sales team needs from marketing to be more productive, as well as diving into and exploring their specific verticals.
2. Ensure an open and transparent environment
This one’s tough because you want to be inclusive in a brainstorming session. However, for our session I limited participation to everyone besides our co-founders. While they’re amazing individuals, they can occasionally steal the conversation and that’s not what I wanted from this session. Instead, I wanted to ensure that others were able to express their ideas rather than hearing the ones we’re most used to. In this case excluding the two most important people to our business actually allowed us to have a more open environment.
On top of that, I wanted to make sure our new employees (and there were a few as we’re currently hiring) were able to ask any question without worrying their question was “stupid”. Asking questions can be somewhat intimidating, even if the team is incredibly nice, when you’re new and your CEO is standing right there.
3. Have a leader for the discussion. And stay on track.
A few times a week I meditate, and there’s something to learn from there. Mindfulness meditation teaches you to focus on your breathing and to rid your mind of thoughts. However, when your mind starts to wander, acknowledge this new thought, briefly explore it, and then refocus.
This is similar to a brainstorming session because there will be times when you go off subject. These times are okay, they’re fun and friendly, and they can ignite conversation that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. However when it’s going the wrong way, it’s important to bring the team back to focus. Remind everyone “we’re here to discuss [insert objective], and earlier we were talking about [previous subject].”
Staying on track goes beyond the topic of conversation. Staying within a certain time frame for the brainstorm is key. I told everyone the day before that the meeting would run maximum one hour. Personally, I tend to dislike meetings. They drag on and lose their purpose quickly. Our team was diligent and we were able to finish with a few minutes to spare, which let everyone take a few minutes to chill out. This was excellent.
4. Invite everyone in the session to participate
Be gentle and aware of everyone’s comfort levels. Some people may not be as eager to participate simply because they’re a bit more shy and intimidated of large groups. It’s important to be inviting in your conversation by asking positive and reaffirming questions.
At Sharethebus, we encouraged everyone to participate by discussing each sales person’s needs in general (aka selling to a salesperson). I asked them, “What asset would allow you to close 100% of your opportunities?” The results varied because our sales people focus on different verticals, but these results were exactly what our marketing team was looking for.
You never know when someone will have a great idea, and if they simply don’t speak up in a meeting, you may miss something very valuable.
5. Open up one-on-one dialogues post-meeting.
At the end of the meeting, pose a question to everyone involved in a one-on-one conversation.
My question was pretty simple, “What are the 3 things you’re most frequently asked about Sharethebus?”
Many were very general, and they point to a simple problem: our website does not clearly explain what it is we do. That’s an issue that we’ve been aware of for a little while and are actively working on fixing.
But other answers helped understand the language that was being used by our sales team and our customers. This is key. It helps guide the language that you should be using on all your customer facing assets.
A marketing brainstorm is important as it helps the team prioritize their objectives for their foreseeable future. After the brainstorm, the marketing team should meet and set objectives based on the brainstorm.
After the meeting, I was told by a few colleagues that they found the session informative and well run. This feedback is essentially what led me to write this post and, as Ian Jeffery recently wrote, it’s important for the Montreal startup community to become more collaborative and helpful. This is, in sort, my initiative to do just that.
I’d like to close by saying that I am by no means a marketing expert, just a marketer who’s passionate about the field. I invite you to share your experiences running a marketing brainstorm with me on Twitter (@dlasto).