As a PR and Marketing expert, everyone asks for my special sauce to building a successful brand. Most people assume it’s about answering the what and the which: what technologies will drive our marketing success? Which of our product(s) appeal to which customer personas? What communications channels should we leverage? Which influencers should we target?

Technology is incredibly valuable. It simplifies how businesses navigate through projects, make decisions, and distribute information. But technology is only an operational tool, a conduit. Market research is important too – by mining and analyzing data, we get direction on whom to target, what they’re looking for and at, and how to reach them. And of course, we ultimately communicate the message through a variety of channels and (full circle) leverage technology to track the results.

I argue, though, that a company’s why inspires the creativity that cuts through the noise of competition, gains market share, and builds a successful brand.

A brand’s “why” ignites its compelling brand story and inspires Big Ideas.

“Big Idea” is a term coined by advertising tycoon David Ogilvy. It describes a marketing program or event that is huge and different – it evokes emotion, inspires change, and ultimately positions a brand as a market leader. A Big Idea can push a brand into emerging as a change agent in a challenging or saturated industry.

PR and Marketing professionals mull the concept of Big Ideas every day, but many dread the opportunity to pull one off – because the ideas that could make the most impact also seem to have the most risk.

Take MailChimp’s “Did You Mean” campaign, for example. As the email marketing automation company’s first major multimedia marketing campaign, Did You Mean was a risky play of making fun of its own brand name. But it was executed well and didn’t trigger market confusion or fall flat. Instead, the campaign was wildly successful, generating significant brand attention, international visibility, and industry accolades. While a huge risk – after all, the company was basically insulting itself – the campaign sparked emotion, interest, and clearly demonstrated that MailChimp is a fun-loving and savvy company. And the risk ultimately paid off, playing a big part in making the company the signature brand it is today.

Big Idea thinking can be not only impactful to clients’ brand success, but also a significant driver of PR and marketing professionals’ career growth. But constant immersion in an always-on and connected, content-heavy world can challenge the actual practice of thinking big. It’s necessary and worth the risk to break away from the monotonous practices of traditional PR and marketing.

Here are some keys to fueling Big Idea thinking:

  • The Mining Process Lays the Groundwork for Big Ideas. The foundation of building a Big Idea is the company’s “why.” Talk with employees and customers, research industry resources, even talk with competitors and seek to identify the brand’s unique, authentic differentiator. For instance, our brand mining process – what we refer to as a “brand vision workshop” – is a session in which we brainstorm bold, no-boundaries ideas that will potentially drive the client’s business. The collaborative effort often leads to big campaign ideas that can be incorporated into a client’s overall PR and Marketing strategy.
  • New Experiences Inspire New Ideas. After the why is defined, it’s time to decide how to share it with the world in an interesting way. Inspiration doesn’t often emerge out of the same old routine: meaningful, new experiences trigger ideas that are innovative and disruptive. Take an internet (or at least social media) vacation. Explore locally or further afield. Seek friends and colleagues with different worldviews. Broadening your mind evokes the creative thinking that births big ideas. And, experiences that inspire big ideas to make for a great story, perhaps even for the campaign.
  • Be Big in Brainstorming and Realistic in Design and Execution. In conceptualizing a Big Idea, assume that your client/brand is brave enough, willing enough, and capable enough to take risks. There are brands with “think big” cultures and those that are more traditional. And “big” can be attained in different ways for different brands. Share big ideas that can be executed within your client’s budget and capabilities – and most importantly, that drive the business towards its goals. But don’t be afraid to suggest an idea that’s outside of a client’s traditional model – after all, that’s why they’ve hired you.

For most companies and brands, Big Idea thinking is necessary to thrive. In executing Big Ideas, existing customers (and even employees) are energized. The market is alerted. Big ideas remind everyone of the company’s authentic self, its drivers, passions, and differentiators.