Does taking on branding projects make you feel slightly nauseated?
If someone asked, could you name your brand’s value proposition?
Do you have a snappy elevator pitch?
How about a messaging matrix?
If you find yourself tasked with this kind of brand development project, no one would blame you for feeling a bit overwhelmed. After all, these are Big Ideas you’re trying to capture. They don’t typically just sashay in and settle down for tea.
Instead, there is usually a sort of cat-and-mouse game. You chase shadows and random lines of thought. You review a LOT of reference materials – internal input, C-level notions, customer interviews, market research, existing brand content. You have a brilliant idea that later turns out to be crap. It can shake even the most battle-scarred marketer to her core.
When I tackle any kind of Big Idea project – like developing branding assets – I have one secret weapon that gets me started in the right direction each and every time: mind mapping.
I first learned about mind mapping five years ago when a west coast client turned me onto a software program called MindJet Mind Manager. He used it for creating site maps, but I was about to discover how it could make marketing magic.
Invented in the 1960’s by Tony Buzan, mind mapping is a note taking and brainstorming method that allows you to think visually. Its non-linear, free form style encourages an uninhibited flow of thoughts that help you uncover ideas that might otherwise have remained hidden. Its visual nature allows you to easily see connections between overarching themes and individual ideas.
Um … isn’t that like outlining?
No. An outline is a linear structure with a rigid hierarchy. An outline is what they taught you to do in school – all those Roman numerals and small letters. A mind map is a living ecosystem where all your thoughts and data points are connected and can interact with one another. Unlike the many inflexible forms of documentation marketers might be familiar with (the project schedule, scope of work, budget, proposal, RFP, etc.) mind mapping is designed to inspire creativity. It’s not meant to nail anything down. It’s meant to purposely send you off on tangents … and then help you tie those tangents into a coherent story.
Over the years, I’ve found that when I work with a mind map I solve my idea generation and organizational problems much more quickly than if I used traditional means. Being able to see each element of the puzzle in the context of all the other elements provides helpful perspective and then – click! – everything starts to make sense.
So, how do I do this mind mapping thing?
There are many software programs available, but – having used only one – I don’t feel equipped to recommend any particular version over another. Luckily, my favorite method of mind mapping doesn’t require any software. All you need is a blank piece of paper (preferably large) and your favorite pen (colored pencils and markers optional):
- Step 1:Take a deep breath, clear your mind, and relax your muscles (especially those pesky neck and shoulder muscles). This is a creative exercise – you need to prepare for your muse. Loosen up. Put your internal editor outside and lock the door. Get ready to have some fun.
- Step 2:Write your topic or central theme in the center of the paper. You can draw a shape around it if you like. You can also use an image to represent the topic. (Remember this is a creative exercise – doodling is good for sparking creativity.)
- Step 3:Draw a line starting at your central topic and branching out across the paper. Write a sub topic (preferably just one word) either along the wiggly line or at the end of it. Notice how the wiggly lines start to look like a neuron. That’s intentional. Let’s get those synapses firing!
- Step 4: Repeat Step 3 – sometimes from the main topic and sometimes from one of your sub topics. If you see connections, you can draw lines between topics. If you see themes emerging, you can play with color-coding. Don’t hesitate to write down things that seem crazy or out of place.
- Step 5:Once you have all your ideas down, you should walk away for a bit. No, I mean it. Just walk away. When you come back, look at your mind map with fresh eyes, paying particular attention to how you’ve grouped ideas under themes. At this point, you may want to start moving things around. Re-organizing is obviously much easier with software, so if you’ve started your mind map with pen and paper, this might be a good juncture at which to transfer it to a digital medium.
As an example, if I were working on a brand development project, I might start with the following sub-topics: Company, Customers, Employees, Products, Service, Competition, and Philosophy. From there, I can start brainstorming around each of those topics and branching off into more and more detail. The sub-topic “Customers” might, for instance, branch out into hopes, fears, complaints, accolades, needs, etc. I do my first draft of a branding mind map while I’m reviewing all my reference materials – making notes about key ideas and words, and adding reference links so I can find key information later on.
In addition to easily being able to move topics around, using a software program like Mindjet gives you many other organizational tools. I love the little flags and other icons that help me visually identify big ideas and idea threads as well as items that have questions, need more exploring, or are ready for review. I also love the “notes” tool that lets me append notes to any item on my mind map – so I have room to capture notes as I review the mind map with clients. Assigning clickable URLs to topics is also very helpful, allowing me to link directly to existing client and competitor content for quick reference.
Whether you’re working on paper or screen, after a while you’ll probably find that you’ve mind mapped yourself right off the page. You’ll have tons of fresh ideas to play with – many of which probably would never have occurred to you if you’d been using an old school outline. Even better, you’ll have an easy-to-read, visual map that makes the connections between ideas jump off the page. You can connect the dots easily. Now, the project that was freaking you out looks like a fresh canvas, and you feel like Monet on one of his more inspired days.
What do you think? Have you tried mind mapping? How has it worked for you? If you haven’t – do you think you might give it a shot after reading this?
About the Author: Jamie is a freelance strategist, teacher, and copywriter who partners with solo entrepreneurs to define and market their brands. Her specialties include brand development, social media strategy, and content marketing. Enjoy more of her posts, visit her site at Suddenly Marketing, or drop her an email.
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