So you need an idea for an advertising or marketing campaign. Whether it’s a print campaign or a new website, where do you start? Contrary to popular opinion, ideas don’t pop up out of the blue. Instead there are several proven ways to generate plenty of ideas while kicking your creative thinking into high gear. Here are just a few:

1. Listen very carefully to your client. There may be an off-hand comment that’s the key to a broader campaign strategy. Details that may seem unusable or unrelated might be just the way to create differentiation from competitors. It may be as simple as “people mispronounce our name as gecko.” Voila.

How do you think the conversation went when the agency proposed that Geico use a gecko as its “spokesperson”? Did the Geico marketing team say they wanted to take a risk and create a fun, unusual yet approachable brand voice? I think a talking gecko with an Australian accent fits the bill…not to mention a squawking duck and a squealing pig flying down a zip line.

Like Target or the Gap, Geico is a friendly, down-to-earth brand. Their advertising is so effective because it mirrors their brand personality and appeals to their target audience of people looking for affordable, no-nonsense car insurance.

 2. Look around you – with a new set of eyes. There are so many brand messages and sources of inspiration surrounding you every day. Put on your client’s brand hat and look around with a new set of eyes. By putting your personal preferences and biases aside, you’ll better understand what some major brands think is effective. Then, take these thoughts and put them through your client’s brand filter to develop a new take based on an effective national brand approach.

 3. Stockpile great ideas. Pull together an inspiration file of ideas that resonate with you: links to interesting websites, scans of random great ideas, photos, handwritten notes, even tear sheets (if you’re old school). It’s okay if it’s disorganized. While this collection of thoughts may not have an immediate use, they’ll be there when you need a fast way to jumpstart your thinking. You never know where you might find the key to your next campaign.

One thing is for sure: great ideas are not random. They’re the result of smart, creative people keeping all their senses open to the new. They are in tune and completely ok with things not ever seen or heard before. Instinctively knowing when the next, great “it” has been found.

Looking for more creative inspiration? Check out The Accidental Creative: How to become brilliant at a moment’s notice by Todd Henry. It’s a great read for anyone who wants greater insights into the creative process. Hint: It’s not like making widgets or selling t-shirts.