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Ideation meets AI; how does it actually work?

New products, new services, new marketing and communication ideas. Enjoy letting loose and in no time you have hundreds of new ideas. Idea generation with the help of AI has become the default for many agencies and organizations. And rightly so: why make it difficult when it can be easy? The next step often proves much more difficult. Because which ideas are the best? A brief discourse.

First, set the stakes

The goal of an ideation session is often: to generate ideas, cluster them, and come up with 5-10 ideas that can be developed in concept form. But: 'Every goal without a plan is just a wish,' as Antoine de Saint-Exupery said. In other words: a goal without a plan is just a wish. And nothing could be truer when it comes to finding good ideas. Start your plan by defining the boundaries within which the ideas may fall. This framework is formed by, for example, focusing on a so-called Demand Space: which target group need and/or usage moment do you want to address with your ideas? For whom? But also: where does your brand/product category want to move towards (more premium? What positioning?) Has a North Star been formulated? Within what timeframe should the idea be developed and introduced to the market? How much budget is available?

Create an Opportunity Framework

Now that you have the scope in sight, establish a search strategy. One of the tools is creating an Opportunity Framework based on a Demand Space. This Framework is nothing more than naming the search areas. You determine a search area based on insights gathered from research - often a combination of market data/competition and consumer insights (think emotional/functional pains, gains, jobs to be done).

Example (for illustration): a paint brand wants to expand its offering with paint products for in-home use, but in addition to standard wall paint and wood paint, they want to explore what else is possible. The brand has formulated 'Warm family feeling' as a Demand Space. Through consumer research on this theme, an Opportunity Framework has been created with two axes. Horizontal: Functional Needs vs Emotional Needs. Vertical: Social vs Individual. Within each quadrant, opportunity areas have been formulated, for example within the quadrant 'Emotional/Individual' it is about an opportunity area focused on 'Creative Comfort - creating a pleasant and inspiring experience for individual consumers while painting.' Each opportunity area is filled in based on knowledge of consumer needs and provides direction for the search area for generating ideas. Of course, AI can assist in designing the framework and the opportunity areas - provided it is 'fed' with relevant consumer insights.

Generate ideas

Actually, now is the time to generate ideas. Use the Opportunity Framework to systematically generate ideas within each of the quadrants. Think of it as panning for gold - you scour every possible area within the stakes. You can use HI (Human Intelligence 😉) but of course, ChatGPT is also here to help as an inspirator/team member. Use GPTs to create chatbots fed with data to which you can ask questions and request ideas. Note down every idea (give it a name, a description, which consumer need the idea addresses, how it fits with the brand strategy/North Star). After - hopefully - many ideas have been brainstormed, review all the ideas. It's often helpful to go through all the ideas with your 'core team' and cluster ideas that are similar or could reinforce each other. Note the clusters and identify what the 'big idea' within the cluster is about. Score the idea (to what extent does the idea fit within the stakes, what problem does it solve for the consumer, etc.). ChatGPT can also be helpful for screening ideas. Based on the highest scoring clusters, select the 5-10 ideas and develop them into concept texts with visuals - again here: ask ChatGPT - the quality of the visualizations is genuinely impressive.

Assess the value of the ideas

You now know a few things: you have defined boundaries for generating ideas. You have systematically worked through the process by using an Opportunity Framework. You have given ideas a score to understand their value for the organization and the target audience. In short, your ideas didn't just come out of thin air and can be substantiated from both perspectives. Now you can create synthetic personas with AI and present the ideas to them (fun!). However, in this somewhat premature phase of AI, I would advise caution and recommend a hybrid approach to assess the value/potential of the ideas. This means: also present the concepts to the flesh-and-blood target audience. Review the results and determine what can be improved about the concept. Don't forget to involve important stakeholders in the process. From Demand Space, Opportunity Framework to the concepts - make them part of the solution to prevent the 'not invented here' syndrome. Because: 'At the end of the day, we are all humans' (Joost Klein).

Bon appetite!

Majolein van Ballegooij

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