Five Effective Brainstorming Techniques

Brainstorming can be one of the most inspiring and fruitful exercises a group or company can do. However, it can also be the most frustrating. Unfortunately, “it’s all been done before” and “there are no more new ideas” are often heard most when a mental wall hijacks the process.

When all hope appears to be lost, here are a few tried and tested tricks that can help spark new thoughts. While the below might not be appropriate for every situation, hopefully these techniques will result in more valuable brainstorming sessions:

The Sticky Note

Move away from the white board and give participants a stack of sticky notes. Set a time limit to write down the first things that come to mind on a given topic. Possibly propose a new topic (what you did last weekend, where to go on a vacation) to help inspire more creative thinking.

That Sucks

Come up with the worst idea for the topic (e.g., how do we sell fewer products, provide worse service, etc.). This might seem a bit contradictory, but the exercise of thinking of the worst idea can often produce one or two that have some legs.

What Would Jiffy Lube Do?

I learned this one from storyteller Jenne Fromm. Just as the title says, ask yourself what a company like Jiffy Lube would do and start hashing out ideas. Feel free to insert other companies for additional ideas (e.g., Walmart, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Best Buy, etc.).

Expand Your Horizons

Point to a random word in the dictionary and use that word during the brainstorm. This serves two purposes; first, it helps generate new ideas and second, it expands vocabulary.

Walk Away

If ideas are simply not flowing, just walk away. Often times the brain will stay active on a certain topic while you’re thinking about something completely different. If you have a 2-hour brainstorming session, think about breaking it up — one hour on the first day, the second hour a week later. The key here is to make sure participants write their ideas down throughout the week.

Charlie_WellsHaving worked in marketing for more than eight years, Charlie Wells enjoys the challenge of brand strategy, particularly pulling insights from customers and consumers to develop smart, effective work. Between stints in advertising, he spent a total of five years in the restaurant business managing and running different establishments. When Charlie is not at his desk at KCG, he enjoys kayaking, camping and losing video games to his 6-year-old son and newborn daughter.

Project HoloLens: Will success go to Microsoft’s head?

My 13- and 12-year-old children, like so many kids, are HUGE fans of the online gaming craze, Minecraft. My son, who is a bit of a geek, has even recreated scenes from his favorite literary universe — Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Very impressive, I have to say (speaking as a geek myself). When I was his age, I used to LOVE to repurpose my mathematical grid-paper, along with my No. 2 pencils to create scenes from my favorite genres by coloring in very large pixels… So I understand the way the mind fills in the gaps, touching on those pleasure points of perception. His mom just wishes he was playing with real friends.

But never fear, he is actually playing with real friends. Their cousin even host his very own Minecraft universe, where they chat, chase, trap and out-build one another with the same fervor we used to play pickup football games in the backyard. I often catch a glimpse of my son smiling wryly, or laughing to himself, to the tune of his encoded tap-tap-tap. I am sure he has just outwitted someone and is doing the digital equivalent of a victory lap.

At Koch, I am a part of the Mobility Center of Excellence, the purpose of which is to explore opportunities across Koch companies where mobile development might create value. Apart from the challenges of trying to steer in this dynamic, but fragmented arena, there is also the fun factor: testing all kinds of hand-held devices, trying on the latest wearables, or, best of all — getting to demo various Head-Mounted Displays (officially referred to as HMD). The latter demos have ranged from a roller-coaster thrill-ride with Google’s Cardboard, to an alien adventure with Samsung’s new virtual reality headset GEAR, to walking through an Italian villa by way of Oculus Rift. Pure geek fun!

But each immersive experience has exposed the debilitating nature of HMD: A great experience for the eyes and ears, but essentially taking the user completely out of reality.

“It has been called “the most intriguing…technology…since the Oculus Rift.”

Then I read the February WIRED article about Microsoft’s Project HoloLens. Unveiled to the media early this year, it has been called “the most intriguing…technology…since the Oculus Rift.” ( And HoloLens is quickly making waves in the world of virtual and augmented reality. It is billed as the perfect blend of both. It may, in fact, be just the right tool to overcome some of the constraints of current iterations of VR and AR.

About as lightweight as a high-end cycling helmet, the HoloLens (essentially a smart visor with internal projection screens and a host of external video sensors) can generate holograms, virtual environments and augmented reality — all in a way that does not otherwise “blind” the user. It elevates the level of user inputs by responding to gestures, voice and gaze.

This means, for the user, there is a spectrum of outputs as well a wide range of inputs. Normal activities, from sitting at a computer, or interacting with objects (real or holographic) or other people (also real or otherwise), to comfortably ambling through the living room, HoloLens, will allow the user “to do what we’re put on earth to do: interact with other humans, environments, or objects.” (WIRED, 76)

“Soon imaginative kids might be able to play in 3D, working alongside holograms of their real-life friends to build things together.”

Too good to be true? In the world of digital design and creation, the very utterance of the name “Microsoft” generates a gag reflex. However, if you are paying attention, you’ll notice on the fringes of its empire of mediocrity, that the minds up in Redmond, Washington (at Microsoft’s global headquarters) produce a steady stream of projects that are very inspired. Some of the most bleeding-edge digital/computing explorations I have been exposed to were projects of the self-same inventors of the Blue-Screen-of-Death, the Windows phone and SharePoint. Whether these inspired projects actually make it to the market is another story.

For Microsoft and HoloLens, the event-horizon may be getting very close. With new leadership, the opening up of their .NET programming language to the open-source universe, and a new operating system in the works, Microsoft is poised to storm the market with a brand new attitude, and HoloLens leading the way into what they think will be a “new phase of computing.” (WIRED, 76)

Perhaps most telling of all is Microsoft’s recent acquisition of the powerhouse game Minecraft. If the reviews and teasers are accurate, Microsoft is planning to position the game as a flagship application for the new HoloLens. If Microsoft can leverage the some 28.6 million users of Minecraft ( as early adopters, they just might have an instant audience.

And if that audience is anything like my kids, they will have a built-in network of friends and family to recruit. “Soon imaginative kids might be able to play in 3D, working alongside holograms of their real-life friends to build things together.” (WIRED, 79)

I can’t wait to try it.  Uh, I mean, I can’t wait for my kids to try it.



Daniel Brake

Daniel Brake loves the challenges and opportunities posed by new technology. He works in the area of interactive and mobile design/development.


A Lesson in Fun: Drive Time, Meetingless Wednesdays and other Silly Ideas from KCG

Have you ever visited us on the first floor of the main tower in Wichita? People seem to be fascinated by the idea of “creatives” in the corporate world. When people give tours of the building, they walk through our space and say, “This is where the fun people work.” On employees’ first day, HR shows them the café, the in-house dry cleaning service and KCG.

While I love showing off our people, space and work, I wonder why everyone can’t be “the fun people.” Someone told me recently that I should teach a class on how to collaborate and have fun at work. I don’t think anyone will sign up — and I probably can’t convince the Market-Based Management® team to make that a part of their curriculum — but I can take over the KCG blog and wax philosophically without much resistance.

“Having fun at work is a requirement. And it is the furthest thing from being unproductive.”

First, can we all agree that FUN is not a dirty word? To me, having fun at work is a requirement. And it is the furthest thing from being unproductive. We spend more time at work than we do at home. Don’t you want to love that time? Yes, there are frustrating days. There are unproductive and redundant meetings. There’s burnout. But those moments pass. What I remember and cherish are the times I spend with great people, doing great work we’re proud of and having a little fun while we’re at it.


Mayra used her drive time to reignite a childhood passion: crocheting.

Some of what we do in KCG is completely random and unplanned. However, we are intentional with the space we have created. We are die-hard believers and try-hard practitioners of MBM®. It starts in the interview process. We are transparent from the beginning. This place isn’t for everyone. We work hard. We can work long hours. We have to be flexible, nimble and thick-skinned. We kind of have a no B.S. rule. We don’t like drama. We encourage competition amongst ourselves and our counterparts in the advertising/design community. But it’s built on a mutual respect and desire to build each other up and do great work.

Some of the intentional things we do to build a “fun” environment includes Meetingless Wednesdays. This idea is not really about having fun, but it is about getting things done. Which, to us, is fun. We can all get in calendar hell — go to a meeting, rush to the next one, answer an email, check voicemail, and in between, try to at least grab a coffee or two. Then before you know it, the day is gone and you have not really done anything you intended to do. As a creative team, we get paid for our ideas. If we aren’t thinking, we aren’t creating value. Meetingless Wednesdays block our calendars for the entire day so we can try to get some real work done. Occasionally we have to sneak in a meeting or two — but just seeing that day blocked out on my calendar is a freeing thought. A freedom to think, create, build, collaborate. We all need to meet less and do more.


Amy, who is already a ridiculously good baker, expanded her repertoire with strawberry and red velvet whoopee pies.

Along that same theme, we believe that passion breeds creativity. We also believe that not everything is created by sitting behind a computer monitor all day. You have to get up and GET OUT. Get out of your area, get out of your building. A small change of environment can make a world of difference. You literally and figuratively start seeing things in a different way. We encourage people to take their laptop and go sit in our lounge space, or take a notebook down to the cafe or take nothing and just go for a walk. Think, daydream, space out. We started something called “Drive Time” last year. This is a dedicated time for employees to get out and be creative, do something they are passionate about and open up their minds to new ideas and possibilities. We’ve had people teach themselves how to crochet and how to cook. Some have gone to the art museum or the bookstore. One person learned how to build a website and someone else wrote a short story. No, they are not working on billable work for a client — but each comes back with a new idea, a fresh perspective, a clear mind and a rejuvenated spirit.


Ben went retro with his drive time by creating and coding his own portable video game console.

We have 30 people on our team now. When I started seven years ago, there were six of us. So building a collaborative environment where people truly like each other takes some work. But when you spend time with your co-workers, you start getting to know them, you start liking them and you start trusting them. When you trust each other, the challenge process is much easier. Collaboration happens. And the work is better for it.

We celebrate birthdays, babies, weddings, graduations and everything in between. We cheer each other on. When Chad ran his first marathon in Kansas City, several of us were there at the finish line. We play and hang out at pumpkin patches, restaurants and art studios.

While it may look silly, it matters to us. I have never met a group of 30 people that get along so well and genuinely enjoy being together as much as this group. All while keeping the common goal in mind, which is to do great work for Koch companies. So remember, play hard, work hard and have fun. Class dismissed.


Terri newAs the marketing director for KCG, Terri McCool is basically to blame for all the “goings-on” around here. From marketing strategy to brand development, Terri’s vision has propelled KCG to new heights. With more than 20 years of experience in marketing and advertising, Terri stays on top of the latest in the ad world by reading everything she can get her hands on and collaborating with her great team. When not at the office, her two teenagers keep her pretty busy. You can find her most days at a sporting event cheering on her son or starting a redecorating project at home.


Honesty in Advertising

In this culture obsessed on winning, it’s hard for anyone to accept second place anymore. Only the “idol” gets the record contract. Only the champions get the parade. Somehow, we’ve managed to convince ourselves “if you ain’t first, you’re last,” to quote Will Ferrell’s character from “Talladega Nights.”

Unfortunately, many brands have taken the same approach. Marketers feel it’s shameful not to be the best and they shudder at the thought of mentioning a competing brand could do something better.

But that’s just not reality. Consumers crave honesty so they can make their own decision based on the information.

Tapping the truth is exactly how Avis positioned itself so successfully years ago with its “We Try Harder” campaign. They knew they weren’t going to beat Hertz and they embraced second place with open arms.

“Whatever you are, be a good one.”
-Honest Abe

We see it happen when a company has multiple brands within one category, too.

Take paper towels, for example. Georgia-Pacific offers a “premium” product with Brawny® paper towels but also offers a “basic” alternative with Sparkle® paper towels. That’s why Kerri the Sparkle® Fairy speaks straight to value in the television commercials.

Maxwell House is taking a similar course after a solid decade of explosive growth by competitors in the gourmet coffee café industry. The hundred-year-old company had a big question. If they couldn’t compete with fair-trade, hours-fresh, hand-roasted, freshly ground java, what could they offer?

The answer was just good coffee. Not great. Not amazing. Not a unique coffee experience. Just good. Refreshingly and honestly good.

So whatever happened to good? We’ll have to see how it all percolates.





Nick Gebhardt is associate creative director for KCG. His responsibilities include the management of the copywriting and proofreading team, as well as the overall generation of marketing and advertising concepts across media. He finds creative collaboration particularly rewarding, drawing on 13 years of experience as a copywriter in digital and traditional agencies across the Southeast. Outside of work, Nick plays bass guitar, writes short stories and chases his 3-year-old boy around his home in suburban Atlanta.

Tiger Doesn’t Talk Features

Boring TV spots will never increase brand affinity. Why? Because TV is a medium meant to entertain. I don’t want to hear the product features. Don’t show me the long list of specs. A brand spot on television needs to move me.

One of my favorite examples of using TV to build love for a brand is Nike’s most recent golf commercial. Here’s the spot.

There is a reason this video has more than 10 million views and it’s not complex; it’s simply entertaining. PGA TOUR golfers Tiger Woods and Rory McElroy didn’t mention anything about how Nike’s engineers “thinned the driver face to increase the MOI to drive the ball farther.” A VO wasn’t speaking over the action explaining how the “all-new perimeter weighting of the irons helps hit the ball straighter on off-center strikes.” In this fun competition featuring some great one-liners, Tiger and Rory show how the products could benefit my game (if they are good enough for the best in the world, they are good enough for me).

“Dude, is that your real hair?”
-Tiger Woods
Nike Golf commercial

The effectiveness of this spot to reinforce Nike’s brand in golf (and well beyond the sports world) became apparent quickly. After a just a few airings, millions flocked to the Internet to watch it, share it, and then watch it again and again. Talk about bang for your buck!

So what if a viewer is interested in getting the details? What if they thirst for the product specs or side-by-side comparisons? That’s where the website and point-of-purchase come in to complement the brand.

As an avid golfer, when I’m in the market for new clubs I know exactly where to find specific product information and benefits. I’ll search out this information online and while I’m at a golf store. But for me, Nike is going to have the edge when I’m making my purchase decision because of TV spots like these.

A thirty-second spot is just too short to tell me a bunch of specs that I won’t remember. But because Nike shared their attention-grabbing, entertaining story with me, I’ll remember their clubs could help me with my game.

Well played Nike, well played.



Hoppock's Beautiful Mug


Justin Hoppock, account director extraordinaire, works out of our Atlanta office in the Georgia-Pacific building. As an AD, Justin works with a number of Koch company marketing teams to develop communication strategies and bring them to life. Even though he has a passion for TV commercials, Justin spends most of his time outside hiking in North Georgia, dropping bombs on the softball field or missing short putts on the golf course.

The Official Sponsorship of Official Sponsorships

The ‘70s had disco. The ‘80s had Rubik’s Cubes. In the ‘90s, it was Starter® jackets and for the new millennium, it was Scientology.

But now that the “Twenty-Tens” are in full swing, an advertising trend is helping define the decade. No, it’s not the selfie. It’s the official sponsorship.

Since the turn of the century, businesses have become increasingly obsessed with visibility, and rightfully so. Where there’s visibility, there’s brand recognition. So corporations began to team up with other noticeable brands. With die-hard fan bases, huge TV ratings and specific all-sports networks, sports franchises are lightning rods for public attention. It’s a big pie (I’m guessing it’s Boston Cream) and corporations want a piece. That’s why their names and logos can be found plastered on press conference banners, more than three-quarters of NFL, NBA and MLB stadiums and, in soccer, on the front of each player’s jersey.

But now, companies are taking sponsorships to a whole new, and abstract, level. By advertising themselves as the official sponsors of pretty much anything and everything that’s not another brand.

Although not new to advertising, this trend became mainstream prior to the 2012 Summer Olympics. That’s when Proctor & Gamble came out with their advertising campaign touting themselves as the “Proud Sponsor of Moms.” Since then, marketers have hopped on the intangible train and some have done it better than others. Omaha Steaks has had success as the “Official Sponsor of Tailgating.” Transition Lenses is now the “Official Sponsor of Sightseeing.” Even Mutual of Omaha has become the “Proud Sponsor of Life’s Aha Moments” (whatever that means).

The most effective example of corporate sponsorship is the American Cancer Society (ACS) who now uses “The Official Sponsor of Birthdays” as their company tagline. This poignant message ties back to the mission of the ACS and serves as a rallying cry of their goal to save lives.

“Every year on your birthday, you get a chance to start new.”
-Sammy Hagar

Overall, these efforts have proven successful from two different angles. From an advertising standpoint, it puts a name with an action by giving the company a simple connection to concepts/ideas where consumers are emotionally invested. From a business view, being an official partner implies that the brand is an expert in that field.

As the ‘10s chug along with wrecking balls, frozen yogurt stores and our obsession with memes and gifs, remember, this is the decade of the official sponsorship. And we would know, because Koch Creative Group is the Official Sponsor of Awesome, Smart, Creative Stuff.





Ryan Schafer, copywriter at KCG, is responsible for the words you see, hear and feel in advertisements and marketing efforts. Along with being a language liaison, Ryan collaborates with other KCGers to generate creative concepts. While he’s been a professional copywriter since 2010, Ryan has actually been writing since he was 3 years old! When he’s not attending a wedding almost every weekend, Ryan can be found asleep, cheering on his beloved sports teams or belting out show tunes in his car.

We are All Consumers

Years before the term “business-to-business marketing” was even coined, President John F. Kennedy knew its secret.

“Consumers, by definition, include us all,” he said to Congress back in 1962.

Even today, in an age where technology turns just about everything instantly obsolete, the idea that we are all consumers endures — even for those of us consumers working in marketing who serve other consumers who also work in marketing. Or procurement. Or recruiting.  Or some other facet of business.

Inside many marketing, advertising and design agencies, a tremendous amount of energy is spent studying target markets, competitive data, pricing models and overall consumer behavior. Commercial artists then use this valuable research and insight to fashion integrated campaigns that hopefully resonate enough to prompt some form of action from the consumer.

So again, if we are all consumers, why wouldn’t we employ the same practices when we’re trying to sway John Q. Public to buy widgets as when we’re trying to convince Jane Q. Public, chief buyer for Acme Manufacturing, to buy trinkets so she can build her cogs?

The obvious answer would be that we should. But for some odd reason, the minute we see or hear “B2B” the mentality shifts. Rigidity reigns. Language tightens. The human connection is removed and replaced like a cold, heartless robot on an assembly line.

Bryan Kramer, an author, social business strategist and CEO of a marketing firm himself, recently discussed this very subject in a article called There Is No More B2B or B2C: There Is Only Human to Human (H2H)1.

Kramer’s basic assumption is that we should communicate simply and genuinely, drawing upon the emotional nature of those multi-dimensional, immensely-complex organisms called human beings. Regardless if its for “B2B” or “B2C” reasons.

“Businesses do not have emotion. People do.
People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
People want to feel something.
People want to be included.
People want to understand.”
-Bryan Kramer

In other words, ditch the corporate buzzwords. Sure there are industry terms, and speaking the language shows mastery and authenticity, but corporate buzzwords don’t do anybody any good. In fact, if an agency is being evaluated by how well it can produce and execute creative ideas, wouldn’t choosing words, concepts and terminology that everyone is already tired of hearing show a fundamental lack of creativity?

In the end, we must “find the commonality in our humanity, and speak the language we’ve all been waiting for.”

At KCG, we couldn’t agree more.






Nick Gebhardt is associate creative director for KCG. His responsibilities include the management of the copywriting and proofreading team, as well as the overall generation of marketing and advertising concepts across media. He finds creative collaboration particularly rewarding, drawing on 13 years of experience as a copywriter in digital and traditional agencies across the Southeast. Outside of work, Nick plays bass guitar, writes short stories and chases his 2 1/2-year-old boy around his home in suburban Atlanta.