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How to come up with an idea for a video ad

Ideas are elusive. Where do great ideas come from? A bolt of lightning? A passing thought in the shower? Years of being immersed in advertising? When you work in marketing, you don’t have time to wait for inspiration to strike for every campaign. You need great ideas now.

In this episode of Death to the Corporate Video, Guy and Hope walk through the Idea Generator 1.0, a distillation of our actual process for coming up with killer ideas for B2B video ads. The purpose of the Idea Generator is to help you narrow down the possible creative avenues until you find one that makes sense for your campaign.

We’d love to hear any feedback on the Idea Generator. Email the show at hello@umault.com.

Additional resources to help you use the Idea Generator

Guide to using video across the B2B customer journey

How to develop a B2B video marketing strategy

Using the “pizza test” for marketing ideas

You can listen to the episode using the player embedded above, or you can read a full transcript below.

Episode transcript

Guy Bauer: The hardest thing to do is take out a pad of paper and come up with an idea. And that's what is so daunting to a lot of brands when they try to come up with ideas themselves is they don't do a good job of putting constraints on them and reducing the amount of applicable ideas.

Hope Morley: Hello and welcome to Death to the Corporate Video, a podcast with tools and advice for making B2B videos your prospects actually want to watch. I'm Hope Morley.

Guy Bauer: I’m Guy Bauer.

Hope Morley: We talk a lot on the show about the importance of starting with strategy and starting with creative when you're making a B2B video ad. And we also talk a lot about pitfalls and things not to do, and the common mistakes that we see all the time, but what we felt that we don't do enough is spend some time giving really practical advice for how we actually do these things, how we come up with ideas and creative ideas for videos that haven't been done before.

Or, you know, we try our best to come up with ideas that haven't been done before.

Guy Bauer: No, we, we always do. No.

Hope Morley: Always.

Guy Bauer: The upshot is that there will always be a piece of magic in the formation of an idea. It's kind of like , well, you know, anytime you've had an idea for something, it's not like you added two plus two and it was very obvious that that's an idea. It's kind of like those like math people that can add crazy things in their heads. And they say that they just see shapes and colors and that's how they get the answer.

So they don't even know those math geniuses, how they do it. They don't know. And I think that's the truth is we'll never really know where the idea comes from, but we can make it easier for us. And the way we make it easier for us is by subtracting instead of adding. And so are we, we've actually, we're going to be launching the Idea Generator 1.0, along with this podcast and the Idea Generator it's basically there to help you reduce the amount of creative options.

That's really the point is that if you think about like the creative energy, that one has. It's kind of like in Mortal Kombat or any of those like fighting games where throughout the game, you have this bar that grows and it allows you to do a special move, but once you do that special move, the bar goes down like your energy level and you have to wait again for it to replenish. That's your creative energy. There's not much actually. So what you want to do is not try to muscle and force ideas. In the Idea Generator 90% of the steps have nothing to do with coming up with the idea they actually have to do with diminishing the amount of options. The hardest thing to do is take out a pad of paper and come up with an idea. Like, well, an idea for what, like there has to be constraints or else it's infinite. And that's what is so daunting to a lot of brands when they try to come up with ideas themselves is they don't do a good job of putting constraints on them and reducing the amount of applicable ideas. If that makes sense.

Hope Morley: Yeah, absolutely. So from the get-go what we don't do, like Guy said is we don't put our creative team in a room with a whiteboard and start with, okay. So-and-so is a new client. This is corporation XYZ. They want a commercial, what should we do for them? That is not the first step. So what the Idea Generator really is, is giving you a framework for basically building the box around, which the idea should fit inside.

So we'll walk through these steps of what the Idea Generator is. And we do use this, you know, this is not something that we just made for your all benefit that, you know, cause we're trying to hide some secrets of how we come up with great ideas. We believe that a rising tide lifts all boats and if there are more better ideas out there, Great.

We're going to walk through what's in the Idea Generator. I'll go through it step-by-step. Guy, you can add some color and explain how you use this as the creative director. And I will link to this in the show notes and on our website, so anybody can access it.

Okay. So the very first step in the Idea Generator is we like to start with a marketing goal. What is the purpose of this commercial, this ad, this video that you're making. And most importantly, within that goal, we like to situate it within the buyer's journey. And we talk about this a lot and I can link to a couple of resources as well for people who aren't sure where within the buyer's journey, their project might fit. But knowing what mindset your audience is going to be in, when they're watching this ad can really help you narrow down the best way to talk to them.

Guy Bauer: Yeah, exactly. And so there's three main buckets. Obviously there's more steps in the buyer's journey after the sale, but I would say 99% of the engagements were on are all in these three buckets. So there's awareness. Awareness is you need to make someone aware that they have an issue or you need to make someone aware that you exist.

Basically it's the equivalent of the attention. It's the digital equivalent of a sign flipper on the side of the road. It's just an attention grabber and you need to relate to the person you're trying to bring into your store. Let's just say, you've you're a sign flipper. You've got their attention.

Now you pull into the parking lot and you walk into the store. The next level is consideration. So now the, again, the attention grabber person was flipping a sign and the sign said watches, all right. And you're like, yeah, you know what? I don't know what time it is. I'm going to go into the store. So now you've demonstrated some interest.

So now you're in the consideration phase. At this point, if there was another sign flipper in there, it doesn't make sense. Like I'm already in the store. I don't need to have a sign flipper. Now I need some education. Tell me about the different watches that you have and do it in a brief manner, because I want to look at like 10 watches.

I don't want to take a deep dive and you, sit me down and tell me about just one watch. I want like a brief overview on, on my options in your store. Sorry. My kids are in the background laughing. Okay. So let's assume now that I like option number three. Option number three, I really. But you know what I'm like?

Well, it's the internet now. So I'm going to Google option number three and see what other watches are comparable in that class of watch. So now I'm now in the decision phase, I've said, I like really like option three, watch number three. It has everything I was looking for. And so now you need to get me over the line.

I don't want to know about the other products. I want to know about this one. Why is this one the watch for me? Again, if a sign flipper came in at this point, actually, I'd be like, get out of here. The sign flipper may actually make me leave the store. Because it's annoying. Cause like I'm zeroed in, I'm trying to make a decision on which watch I want and I'm making a decision.

So now the content I want to know is like, well, do other people like this watch? Can I talk to some others that own this watch? Testimonials? What do people say about this watch? Do you have any reviews or can you share like in depth day in the life of someone that owns this watch, right? It's all stuff that's trying to reassure me.

So those are the three things awareness, think of sign flipper, consideration, think of a person, a knowledgeable sales person showing me my options within your store consideration. And then decision is like, I'm about to buy and I need to know that it works. And so what you have to do is answer the question.

Is what stage, for this piece of marketing collateral, what stage is your buyer in? Are they just driving by your store? Are they already in your store or are they about to make a purchase? That mindset, honestly, well, if you just do dumb math, by picking one, you eliminate 66% of your creative options.

Hope Morley: yeah.

Guy Bauer: So you're trimming. The idea is to reduce the amount of options there are. And to me, you don't need a lot of creative power in this. What we want to do is conserve that creative energy till the very last step, the brainstorm step. And so right now we're not making creative decisions. We're just making decisions to trim back.

Hope Morley: So once you've decided where in the customer journey you want this ad to fall, next, you need to figure out who you're talking to. And we recommend that people start with your single most valuable customer. And most of our clients have personas and many of them have buyer personas and many of them have multiples.

But for this case, because like Guy keeps saying, we're trying to narrow it down. We're trying to just talk to one person at a time. We want to pick our single most valuable customer. Who do we really want to see this spot? Relate to it? Enjoy it? And then ultimately convert.

Guy Bauer: Yeah, it's the customer. When I say your most valuable customer, they pop into your head immediately. Whether it's, you know, if you're a service firm, it may actually be a customer that pops into your head. Or if you're, if you sell more like software as a service and you have many clients, right?

It's the type of client like, oh, I just know they, they do this, I know their name. Like they love this and that, like, that's what you want. Just think of your most valuable and the value and value is profitable when they call or when they call customer service, are they nice to your people?

Like, it's not just in terms of how much top line do they spend, but are they profitable? Do they add value to your company? Are they a pain in the butt? We don't want to talk to the people that are a pain in the butt. We want to talk to the people that pay a lot of money, but then are also aligned with you on how they treat you and kind of Like the way they are aligns with your values.

So, yeah, we want to trim it back to who is the most valuable customer. And this is basically where we're, what we're doing is, again, limiting the amount of creative options there are, because every creative idea we come up with has to pass this gatekeeper that we've put on it. Now it has to relate to Shelly or whoever, right?

Like if it doesn't, then we throw the idea out again. We're not trying to like, we're just eliminating the number of options.

Hope Morley: So once we have the stage in the buyer's journey and we have that target single most valuable customer, then we have to think about what the message is of this thing, like what do we actually need this video ad to say? The best video ads focus on just one core message. They just try to say one thing. And one of the, I said, this wasn't an episode about pitfalls, but here we go, I'm going to start talking about pitfalls.

But one of the biggest things that we see from our clients that creates bad, like bad corporate video that we talk about and that we rail against is people who come to us with six core messages and expect that one video can encompass all these messages. And you just can't fit that much in one spot.

Guy Bauer: No, you can't. I mean, if you just do the math, if you have six core messages and if you have a one minute video, well, it doesn't actually matter how long the video is, but each video is worth one sixth. You're allotting one sixth importance to each of them. Now you may have one message that trumps them all.

And usually you do. It's the 80 20 rule, right? Go for the 80. Don't worry about the 20, but the easy way to come up with the core message is to think about your persona's problem. And what We do is have you list out many of their problems, right?

Hope Morley: We all have a lot of problems.

Guy Bauer: We've got a lot of problems, so, what you do is you list out all their problems.

And what we do in the Idea Generator is have you pick one, like what's the one problem that encompasses all the other problems,

right? Or it does the best job or is the 80, 20, like 80% of their problem is this problem. And the way to do the core message. It sounds silly. Just take the inverse of the problem.

So if the problem is our IT systems are out of control, your core message is by using us, your IT systems will be in control. That's it. I know it sounds silly, but that should be your core message. It has to be one sentence. It has to be like short and an and I like to just speak in very, I use the word dumb. It's not dumb.

It's like hyper simple, just grunts. Cause that's all your customers are doing is they're just grunting. So it's gotta be spoken in a grunt. It's gotta be a statement that isn't a mile long of like. You know, your core message cannot have many different bullets and commas. If your core message has a comma, you are out. No, no, that's too long.

Hope Morley: A comma isn't necessarily a deal breaker, but we like to challenge people to think about it like an original Tweet length, like 140 characters.

Guy Bauer: Very short, pithy, just a phrase, really a phrase too.

Hope Morley: Yeah, one phrase. I think what you're getting at with the comma thing is it, the core message cannot have three separate components within it.

Guy Bauer: Right. And that's really hard. It's so hard. It is close to damn near impossible actually. But next time you watch a commercial you really like just hit, pause and analyze it. And it doesn't have a laundry list of things. It really doesn't. It's just trying to, a lot of times, commercials are very subversive too at least the good ones don't even, you're like, I don't know what the, like, you know, they don't really have an obvious message.

The message is actually in the subtext. It's the message is actually given to you by you thinking about it and analyzing it. It's almost like you have to unbox the commercial in your brain to reveal the message. It's it's like Inception the movie, the message should always be a little deeper, right? But anyway, yeah. Core message should be simple.

Hope Morley: The next step that we like to do once we have the core message established is we like to do a competitive analysis. And the purpose for encouraging a competitive analysis is not to look around at what other people are in your industry are doing so that you can do the same thing. The purpose of doing a competitive analysis is to find yourself in some open space within the industry that you can do or say something that will help you stand out.

So in our competitive analysis that we recommend in the Idea Generator, what we recommend people do just very basically look at your competitors, look at what they're saying about their competing product to yours, how they say it, and then determine how you'll be different from the way that they're saying their message.

Guy Bauer: Yeah. And we've done a whole podcast on this, but the idea really is to get an idea for what consensus is so that you can be contrarian and. And some cases you only have to be hyper contrarian. We're on an engagement now where we've established that consensus is just that, uh, everything is just really beautiful and millennial and perfect with pour over coffee and stuff like that.

And, and so with that consensus info, we're just going to work, do something. Different that's out of consensus. And so that's really it again, your, what you're doing here is you're eliminating the number of possible options, right? So if you, if we started the Idea Generator, you know, at infinity, right?

So like there would be a bar of infinite number of options. And then as each step you complete, the number of options, almost like a half-life of radiation or whatever, it goes down in half, like exponentially, the more you eliminate the areas of possibility. So again, because the competition now is telling you what not to do.

Hope Morley: Exactly. Remember that the purpose of you making this video ad and sending this message is to convince your prospects that you're different and you're the right choice. So the way to to be different is to be different. And that is my insight.

So once you've gone through your competitive analysis and then. Now we get to the point that we tell you to come up with an idea. So now it's easy, right? But what we do suggest in the Idea Generator is we've helpfully listed a couple options, kind of additional frameworks and ad formats that you can use to try to get your message across.

So I'll share just a couple of these. There's more than, that I'm going to go through here. But when you think about these ad formats, I'm sure most of you will be able to come up with off the top of your head, like several different campaigns and commercials and videos that you've seen that kind of follow these formats.

And there it's always something that you can use to, to get your, the wheels turning in your brainstorming session. So for example, a couple examples that we have here, one is personification. So make your product or your product's attributes into a person and you put the person in this story. So an example of this is the Maytag commercials where they have the Maytag man sitting as your washing machine, right?

So you place a person there to be able to tell your story in an engaging way.

Guy Bauer: And there's also  Mayhem from Allstate. not a product attribute, but that's what the product is solving for. So it's a good way of getting any time your, your, your core message. Like if you, we just take apart Allstate, the core message is probably like, Allstate is your guard against mayhem.

Life is chaotic. Life has a bunch of mayhem. Allstate is your guard and what they came up with as a great inventive way to personify mayhem is just this a-hole and you get Allstate and you defend against him.

Hope Morley: Yeah. So personification is one option. Another option is to make essentially a short film. So don't think about trying to make a commercial or an ad. You make a short film where you feature your customer and you feature them as the hero of their own journey and they're using your product to succeed and to solve their problems.

Guy Bauer: Yeah.

Apple, masters of this. They came up with "Apple at Work". But I've noticed a lot of other companies, following suit. It's usually any time there's a tech product. Because tech products are a screen, right? It's like, it's hard, it's hard like to sell a screen. Um, so instead of a product walkthrough and stuff like that, or an animation that's like meet Doug, basically the, uh, the film is Doug instead of a voiceover and an animation saying meet Doug.

Doug has a problem with this. Just put Doug in a film. Pretend it's a short film and, and Doug uses your product, but it's not a commercial. It's an actual short film of your most valuable customer's problem. And how you fix it. Yeah. And, and a caveat on all these things are, these are frameworks, so they're not idea.

I, we don't want you to copy the idea, but these are very popular frameworks or they're not even like frameworks. They're like idea buds. I think like you know, in film they're seven, they say there's seven storylines in film. Uh, each story, every film you ever know in your life, Fits into one of these seven. I feel the same way in ads.

There's like, there's most of the ads you like will fit into one of these categories, not all of them, but a lot of them are going to fit into these basic buds of ideas. So what you can do is use these as like a, okay, well, almost like a thought starter, like, all right, well, how could we personify our product?

How could we, you know, put our product in a film. And, and, and it's just meant to get the wheels turning.

Hope Morley: Exactly. So like for example, another one of these is, we call it like the absence. What would the world look like if your product didn't exist? You know, that's something that you can use to start thinking, like how. For example, if you sell a B2B tech product, it's like how inefficient is somebody's office without the help of your product?

You know, like what, what do you do? What does the world look like if your product didn't exist? And in that inversion, you're showing people how much better their life is thanks to having your product. So you can use that to start your brainstorming session and just think about, Hey, is there a funny story, or an emotional story?

Something that we could tell about the world without our product?

Guy Bauer: And the most famous example of this is the Got Milk campaign. It's not B2B, but you know, the absence of milk sold milk, um, which is just genius, just absolute genius, that ad

Hope Morley: Yeah. So we have a few more of these thoughts starters included in the Idea Generator with, along with some examples of companies that have used these. So there's just a place to get your brain going. And whenever you're brainstorming getting the first couple ideas out on paper or on your whiteboard, it's for me, it's always the hardest place to start.

And then once your wheels get turning, then you start to come up with things that are really hopefully a little bit more original, a little bit more targeted to your own brand. So these can help you just get that process started, you know, Shake the dust off the wheels.

Guy, do you have any other advice for the brainstorming step?

Guy Bauer: The biggest asset you have during the brainstorming is, not to do one session, your greatest creative asset, all of our greatest creative assets. Assets is, our, uh, brain can't think today, our greatest creative asset is sleeping on it, sleeping on it literally is.

I feel just the number one best thing when it comes to creating things. So what we do is break up the brainstorms. Don't do a four hour brainstorm and expect you to come up with the idea in that four hours and then, you know, all right, we're done. There's the idea. In fact, most of the original initial ideas are going to stink cause it's like the brain getting going.

Hope Morley: And four hours. You're just going to get tired at the end of that. No, one's going to come up with anything good.

Guy Bauer: No, again, you are playing Mortal Kombat. You have that special move energy building up the brainstorm session. You will exhaust that special energy. So that's why I do it in just one hour bursts and just do them like three days in a row, four days in a row. I like the daily cadence, because then it keeps it on the top of your mind.

I noticed when, if, if there's a long, uh, long periods of time between brainstorm sessions, like you switch into other things, by keeping it every day, it kind of just sits in the back of everyone's head. And again, when you sleep and when everyone's sleeping on it, then they come in fresh. And the previous day's brainstorm is still fresh, still fresh enough to know everything that was discussed.

But now you have a day of perspective and like, yeah, I don't know that idea. You know, do you ever have that, like where you, like, this is a great idea. And then a week later, like, Ugh, what was I thinking? And that's not even about video ads or whatever, that's just in life. So yeah, sleep on it. Uh, I would do daily hour long meetings and it's just that pulse, pulse, pulse, pulse.

And, no, idea's a bad idea. Write everything down. Obviously there will be bad ideas, but by not poo-pooing ideas, what it allows people to do is kind of derive from that idea. So there's always like this organic tree that comes off of, what people say. Obviously there are bad ideas. That's coming from assuming that every thing that someone says should be a self-contained idea. You can pick and pull parts of what everyone says.

And I noticed that, it really doesn't matter. You don't need to be in a room of like the most creative minds on the planet or whatever. Like everyone what's so funny is like everyone consumes content. So even if the tenor of the room is like, that's really good, you know? You're onto something with that, you know?

So I don't think you have to, like, you know, it doesn't have to be, uh, you know, this crazy mind, whatever thing it's not Mensa, I would, I would grab your team. And, uh, just talk, talk about. And the idea of having daily meetings means that there's no like pressure really? Because even if today is wasted there's tomorrow and there is no really wasted time because it's basically the mind starting to go, starting to get revved up.

So that's that's our suggestions.

Hope Morley: Yeah, it's not wasted because. A, you're building on everything that you've done before, but it also gives you time to process and think about what you think are the good ideas and really refine them. Think about, find the elements that you think will really, really work well. And then go from there to create something that you can distill down to a nice, you know, 60 second consumable piece of content.

Guy Bauer: Again, it's all about eliminating possibilities. That's the easiest way to come up with creative ideas and please check out the Idea Generator it'll be linked and everything I'd love – It's 1.0, it's 1.0, so please do email us. Hello at Umault dot com with suggestions or places you got tripped up. Cause yeah, it's very selfish why we're doing this so that we have something too, so yeah, if we can make it better, let's make it better.

Hope Morley: I'll link to the Idea Generator in the show notes. You can also find it on our website. It will be at umault.com. That's U M A U L t.com. And as Guy mentioned, if you want to contact the show, you can always email us at hello@umault.com.

Guy Bauer: Awesome.

Hope Morley: Thanks for listening.

Guy Bauer: You're welcome.





Picture of Guy bauer, founder of umault

Guy has been making commercial videos for over 20 years and is the author of “Death to the Corporate Video: A Modern Approach that Works.” He started the agency in 2010 after a decade of working in TV, film and radio. He’s been losing hair and gaining weight ever since.

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