New flavours of ice cream... testing service propositions… ideas for fish sauces... naming your new product… must-have website features… top cities of the world to visit… features required in a TV package: the results of a quick brainstorm around our office on ways in which brainstorms can be and have been productively employed.
Brainstorming is a powerful tool within market research and within product and service development more generally which, when carefully managed, can provide a wealth of new insight to your organisation. There are eight key phases of brainstorming which if followed will greatly enhance the quantity and quality of ideas generated as part of a brainstorming exercise.
1. Choose the Right Participants
It is important to invite the right participants to take part in your brainstorm. They should have some user experience of the type of product category or service sector you are looking at or have the average level of knowledge of the users at which your information or website will be pitched.
Further, you should have a range of demographics representative of your target segment. You may want to run more than one brainstorming session, for example, to compare the ideas generated by older and younger consumers or current customers versus prospects.You might even consider running a quick screening test to assess participants’ creativity.
A good number of participants to take part in an online brainstorming session is likely to be 20 – 100 members: this should allow a large number of ideas to be generated whilst making sure everyone has their voice heard.
2. Set the Scene
First you need to give your participants some background information about the product, service or proposition you are brainstorming around and guidelines on the kind of ideas you are looking for. There is a fine line here between providing sufficient information to give participants an understanding of the use case or need to be met and stifling their creativity by being prescriptive about the type of ideas they might have.
It’s useful if you can tell participants how their feedback is likely to be used by your organisation or client, as this can be a major motivating factor in participation. Even if the session is just for fun, tell the participants so and they can come up with their wackiest ideas – in which there might be the seed of something really innovative. Wasabi flavoured ice cream, anyone?
3. Seed the Brainstorm
You may wish to provide a few exemplary ideas to get participants started; these may be spur-of-the-moment examples or you might want to test some ideas which you or your client have already had. This avoids presenting participants with a ‘blank sheet’ which can feel scary.
Again, there is a delicate balance to be struck here between firing your participants’ imaginations and limiting the scope of the ideas they will go on to generate.
4. Let the Ideas Flow
In this full ideation phase you will open the floodgates to a torrent of ideas (hopefully!) from your participants. You might want to challenge them to come up with a certain number of ideas (e.g. ‘post up the three ice cream flavours you would most like to see in store’ or ‘post your two top needs for our website’). Alternatively, you can ask them to come up with as many ideas as they see fit. You should be aware that in our experience, some users can generate an incredible number of ideas given free rein!
5. Reflect and Refine
There now follows a process of questioning and commenting on participants’ ideas in order to draw out and further refine those ideas. By inviting other participants to get involved in this process too you are truly engaging in a collaborative brainstorming exercise and will not only get more robust and considered suggestions but also inspire participants to add more ideas of their own.
6. Promote Competition
Brainstorms inherently involve some element of competition (see Robert Hutton’s great summary ). Participants will feel the need to outdo each other with the most popular, highly rated ideas. The FlexMR Brainstorming tool allows users to vote on each other’s ideas, with the most highly rated ideas bubbling to the top of the list. This encourages participants to think hard to find their best ideas.
Once you have amassed your preferred volume of ideas and refined them through questioning and elaboration on the part of the moderator and other participants, it’s time to move on to evaluating the ideas.
It is a good idea at this stage to require that participants stop adding new ideas and concentrate on reviewing and voting on each other’s ideas. This gives you a quick rank of the appeal of ideas amongst your brainstorm participants. The ideas must then be reviewed in detail by the research team; don’t be afraid to go back to a participant to pick their brains further on a specific suggestion at this stage.
8. Follow Up
Once you have generated, debated and evaluated the ideas with your brainstorming group, you will want to test the most promising with a larger sample of customers. Why not then run a survey using a tool like SurveyMR? Or once you have a prototype of a product or service ready based on the ideas generated, test them using product review task.
In summary, brainstorms are a great enabler of creative ideation and not only that can fulfil a role in creatively engaging members of communities and panels. By following these good practices, you will maximise the value of the brainstorming sessions you run.