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Big Idea Breakdown

by Joel Machak

Like those unfortunate frogs in biology class, ideas have innards too. Look inside and you’ll find identifiable parts that when properly pulsing allow a “good” idea to rise to the revered status of “big.” And if you think that amphibian created a mess, stand back. A successful big idea session will cover the walls. Here’s a quick breakdown:

It starts with the insight. And it ends with the insight. There’s just no way around it. The insight is a single, powerful, unsatisfied motivator gleaned from a unique and original understanding of the target audience. And the more unique and original the better. If you don’t have a powerful insight, you’ll need to get one.

Now, raise the stakes. All good storytellers, screen writers, and novelists will tell you the same. Take the story you’re trying to tell and turn up the emotional stakes – push the emotional costs or rewards as far as you can. And swing for the fences. If you want people to laugh, you’ll have to be very, very funny, surprising, even shocking. If you want people to cry, you’ll want to tug those heart strings like you mean it. If you want people to get up and do something, you’ll want to make them an emotional offer they simply can’t refuse. Anything less is just less.

Use emotions that motivate. Here’s just one example: the euphemism is “loss framing.” In plain English, it’s fear of loss. Put to proper use, this fear can be very powerful. It has been long proven that fear of loss is much more motivating than promise of gain. Human beings are loss-averse. The known and held is considered more valuable than the merely promised. To raise the stakes on this aversion, start by showing the current situation as positive and valuable, even priceless. Then introduce the threat. Loss framing is just one proven motivator. Others include social rejection, social norming, intrinsic worth, reciprocal responsibility, etc.

Advance the most important story. The most important story is the target audience’s story. The best and biggest ideas advance the target’s personal story. It’s why the insight is so critical. Find out what the target wants in their lives, but currently lacks. Think about what would advance your target’s life story. Make this the heart of your promise, the reward in your story. In idea-land, it is the heart of bigness.

Of course, these bits aren’t all that big ideas are made of, but they’re a start. Now let’s go forth and think big.

Joel Machak

EVP, Executive Creative Director

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