Creating and using an ‘idea bank’
Stephen King once said: ‘Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
Even if he wasn’t 100% right (which he is) I’ve never been one to argue with the King. Instead of mooching around, waiting for an inspirational idea to fall into my lap, I harvest them while I can and feast on them when the crop is looking a little meagre.
My secret weapon is the humble ‘idea bank’.
It’s easy to make and will fuel your fires when you get into a tight spot. Here’s how to get started…
1. Become a hoarder
I have an entire box full of print that inspires me. It started as a cute little plastic wallet and, over the course of my 8-year writing career, it has exploded. Here he is, in all his glory…
In this box, you’ll find examples of almost every kind of print: brochures, magazine ads, packaging, DM leaflets, DM letters, packing slips, menus. Just like Noah’s ark, I got two (or more) or every kind, baby.
Whenever I’m called on to write in a particular tone of voice or particular format and want to see some best-in-class examples, I’ll go through my print stash.
2. Start saving emails
As a regular email writer, I like to think I’m wise to the tricks of the trade when it comes to compelling a click-to-open or a click-to-convert. Whenever I’m sent something which catches my eye or converts me, I save it.
I try to keep the collection varied so—like my print stash—I have a selection of ‘types’ to choose from. Newsletters, confirmation emails, system alerts, reactivation, dropped basket, promotional…the whole shebang.
Email is a hard format to crack because online behaviour is always changing and no two clients will have customers who react to them in the same way. Keep it diverse and you’ll always have *something* you can use.
3. Turn paparazzi
I have absolutely no shame when it comes to stashing ideas. If I’m in a restaurant and the menu is fun, I’ll snap a cheeky phone pic. If I’m on the tube and I see an ad that gets my creative juices flowing, I’ma snag it with a photo. Anything and everything is potential stash material, even packaging and visual merchandising.
There’s no finer example of my paparazzi ways than the post I wrote on Japanese marketing, which consisted of photos I’d taken of random items while away on holiday.
4. Save idea fragments
Ever get shower moments? When you’re engrossed in lathering yourself up and you suddenly have the best idea for a piece of copy? Perhaps you’re taking an early morning jog and inspiration decides to strike? Maybe you’re working on a campaign and come up with a string of banging’ ideas that don’t work for this particular client but you’ll be goddamned if you aren’t going to use them in future?
Save those little idea fragments in a word document or a blank email. If the right fit doesn’t come along and land in your lap, you can always adapt the ideas into something useful later on. Never let those little gems slip away!
5. Utilise the thesaurus
Whenever I find myself getting stuck for ideas, I turn to the thesaurus. It’s a tool that my ‘idea bank’ couldn’t be without.
Sometimes just typing a word in and seeing all the related synonyms helps me get the inspiration I’m searching for. Often, if I’m stuck in a rut and need to freshen up my ideas, I can use it to reach for new words.
Another great way to root out inspiration is to trawl Pinterest. I’m aware that it’s a pretty niche site—not everyone ‘gets’ it, not everyone likes it, but when it comes to idea generation, visually stimulated people (like myself) are going to have an absolute field day.
I like to type in the keywords or topics I’m writing about and find inspiration in the images I get served. It helps me to create an authentic tone or feel, especially for things like straplines or TOV guides.
I don’t just pilfer print and email marketing for my idea bank. Oh no. I also pilfer ideas that I find in articles. If it’s a piece of print, I snap a picture and if it’s online, I email it to myself or attach a link to a Trello card.
Often, I find that the ideas and concepts explored in some of the stuff I read trigger the seed of an idea in my own head. My ‘What the hell is that?‘ blog series was actually inspired by articles that Grammarly kept serving me based on the quality of my writing.
So how ’bout them apples?! Have you got any idea bank inspo to share? Comment below!