Artifacts are the Currency of the Idea Business

In my time, I've always enjoyed making things. When there's an idea or inspiration in mind, it's hard to leave it there. Without making them, ideas never make it to the real world. A few years back I found myself landing in the idea business, and everything changed. Or so I thought. At The PARAGRAPH Project, we help all sorts of clients from retailers to manufacturers to advertising agencies by bringing them good ideas. We do our homework to know a client's business and understand their problems as best we can and then turn our knowledge into ideas. That could be a social media strategy or a brand positioning or a creative brief. But in the end, they're just ideas. We don't hammer the nails. But if you'll recall, I like hammering the nails! And that's OK. What I've come to realize is that artifacts are the currency of the idea business.

Without artifacts, no one knows how much effort went into crafting a positioning of the 3 most perfect words. Ever.
Without a physical representation of an idea, no one recalls the tingly inspiration that shot through the room during the big reveal.
Without something to hold onto, understanding is as shallow as the thoroughness of your notes.

I recently heard an example of this idea in action. The Carolina Panthers are an NFL franchise based in Charlotte, NC. I grew up playing football and I lived near the Queen City, so I admit I'm a fan. Sam Mills was an immensely popular player for the Panthers and eventually became a coach for the organization. He was diagnosed with intestinal cancer in his early forties. During the Panthers' lone run to a Super Bowl and his own personal battle, he gave an inspirational speech imploring his teammates to "Keep Pounding." It became a battle cry for the organization and was solidified as an unofficial team slogan as Mills and Mark Fields, another Panther player faced a similar battle at the same time.

Fast forward to 2012 and Nike has taken over the production of uniforms for the NFL. In a unique gesture, they are inscribing the inside of all Carolina jersey collars with the phrase, "Keep Pounding." Every time a player puts on his jersey, the idea, the inspiration and the legacy of Mill's speech will be brought to life all over again. In a very commercialized environment, dripping with endorsements and contracts beyond the imagination of most of us, the inscription serves as an inspiring artifact that captures and perpetuates a powerful concept.

Those of us in the idea business need artifacts to do our good work justice. And they should be as beautiful, inspiring and (of course) strategic as any of the ad campaigns they later spawn. An idea is a beautiful thing. And a terrible thing to be wasting away in the ether of a random conference room. Consider translating your ideas into more than voiceovers or even slides in a conventional deck. They're your ideas, so you most likely have a vision of what they look like, right? And a desire to see them as something more than a PowerPoint slide, right? Your clients will appreciate the specialness of deliverables that do more to inspire and energize their teams. And they'll also be even happier to sign the check that's coming your way.

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Examples of artifacts we've created to capture our research and our ideas.
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Not every creative brief involves assembly. But sometimes it can help jumpstart the creative process. This antique physician's bag was a creative brief helping inspire a design firm in the creation of  a website and identity collateral for a clinical research organization.

A series of magazine covers we created captured the diversity and specific thoughts of a panel of women bloggers to help a retailer develop a year-long strategy for engaging customers.

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We are all unique. To bring different targets to life for a client, we captured our ethnographies in "personal geographies" that illustrated how these people navigated their own world of health, nutrition and fitness.


Dave Alsobrooks, Partner

The PARAGRAPH Project is a marketing research and strategy firm based in Durham, NC. We are, at times, a strange brew. But this is what works for us — and inevitably, it works for our clients. The types of people who work at PARAGRAPH are strategists, anthropologists, artists, engineers, entrepreneurs, negotiators, students and builders. Herein lies our value. We are able to look at problems from many different perspectives and apply this diverse point of view to solutions for our clients. After all, if we conduct the same research in the same ways as our competitors, what advantage do we gain? By using old research methodologies in new ways and inventing new methodologies unique to each client’s research objectives, we quickly explore more territory to find insights often overlooked. We believe creativity is the missing link between useful information and actionable inspiration.