Sometimes it’s possible to come up with a seemingly great idea, but not be able to bolt it down to anything – certainly not in a business context – in a way that would make it relevant to the message you’re trying to convey.
Sometimes these ideas are so mad, so leftfield, that you wish you could make them fit a relevant, effective sales message or an awareness-raising campaign… but, alas, you can’t.
Normally, these ideas simply languish in ‘the bottom drawer’, hoping to see the light of day again when they become relevant to something. More often than not, they just stay in that drawer, banished for eternity.
However, every now and then you can do something different with seemingly useless ideas: you can work backwards.
Many moons ago, I was in an experiential marketing agency, as a junior copywriter, and they were looking for a more senior copywriter – freelance – to help with a pitch for a big piece of business.
They knew of one that they always used, but – despite his reputation – they couldn’t remember his name. They were reduced to frowning, squinting, and clicking fingers in the air….’oh, what’s his name? That writing chap…’
For some reason, saying ‘that writing chap’, as the generic standard for a freelancer in demand, struck a chord with me. I banked ‘that writing chap’, but had no idea how to use it…. until I became ‘That Writing Chap’.
I’m not the biggest, most well-known copywriter out there in the slightest, but I’m making headway and I hope, in years to come, to be the standard name people refer to, whether by accident or design: ‘we should get That Writing Chap to come in’.
I only did this by noting something down and working backwards to make it fit.
It was the same with my business cards. For no particular reason, I thought: ‘wouldn’t it be interesting if they had a bite out of one corner?’
My next thought was: ‘Maybe, but how do I make that relevant to any message about my services?’
Eventually I stumbled across the thought that I write emotive copy – copy that moves people to act in some way (or that’s the plan…) – so the line ‘writing with bite’ could match the bite in the corner of the cards.
At the end of next month, I’ll be going to a big business show. There’ll be lots of other businesses there, including clients I could work with directly and those I could collaborate with e.g web designers who need content writers.
I had this mad plan to wear a brightly coloured onesie (long story how this came about originally), but my concern was, no matter how entertaining it might be for some people, who would take me seriously as a copywriter and hire me to write for their business?
Sitting in bed last night, reading Calvin and Hobbes for inspiration, an idea hit me that makes wearing the onesie entirely relevant in a business-based context, and conveys a smart message that will resonate with those considering revamping their copy/content.
I’ve worked backwards and made the stupidity of wearing a onesie at a business show into something that works, with the right message.
(I can’t give away my full plan, just in case people going to the show read this post – I want the message-onesie combo to be a surprise).
Think of all the ideas you’ve had recently, or even in the distant past, when you’ve thought ‘nah’ because you haven’t found the correct context in which they could sit and communicate a relevant message effectively.
See if you can roll them around in your head for a bit – even have them running in the background – and make them fit, by working backwards.
Just think: at some point, two guys – a creative team – came up with the idea of a talking meerkat and worked all the way backwards to make it fit an online comparison website, and become one of the most successful, talked about ad campaigns of the last decade.