Ever heard of whiteboard concepts or strawman proposals? Both are upstream marketing tools used to express ideas in draft form, to get feedback, and to iteratively optimize.

The initial thoughts are not intended as the final answer, but rather as tools to reach the answer—the essence of create, test, and learn.

What are Whiteboard Concepts?

Whiteboard concepts express new business and communication ideas as a starting point of the creative process. Write the concepts in the voice of end customers, including a benefit-based headline and a few lines of copy. Initially, the concepts are very crude—words on a blank page or computer screen, hence the phrase “whiteboard.”

Concepts are then exposed internally, and to customers, so that the ideas can be shaped and vetted over time, moving to increasingly better, next-level versions

Concepts can be as short as a couple of sentences and as long as a page or two. The key is to focus on customer benefits and use language they can relate to. Clarify your message so customers engage.

Understanding Strawman Proposals

Strawman proposals serve a similar role, though are used mainly for internal purposes to debate, pick apart, and improve draft ideas. A strawman is an initial draft proposal designed to generate discussion and provoke the creation of new and better alternatives.

Strawman business proposals can take many forms:

  • a new business model canvas
  • a new business pitch deck
  • customer demand framework
  • alternative brand architecture models

Presenting an idea as a first step is an invitation to knock it down and rebuild it better. Stamp “STRAWMAN” on the cover sheet and seek input.

Remember: You’re not selling the idea. You’re looking to engage the team to improve upon it.

The dialogue and debate that accompany both whiteboard concepts and strawman proposals provide valuable insight to help shape the ultimate solution. These tools can literally get people on the same page in focusing on optimal solutions.

Create Benefit-Based Solutions in 4 Easy Steps

Here’s a sample outline for preparing concept statements:

1) Create a headline that describes the core idea and the benefit delivered. Keep it short, because it will force you to be single-minded.

2) Describe the customer insight in one sentence. This is often the problem facing your customers. You want them nodding in agreement.

3) Explain your plan to help them. Be sure to include one or two sentences that describe the product and its corresponding benefits. The product solution should flow from the customer insight.

4) Close by reinforcing the desired end state. Describe the ideal end-in-sight, through the eyes of the customer.

Want to learn more about how to optimize your ideas through whiteboard concepts and strawman proposals?

Download Chapter 2 of our bestselling book, Upstream Marketing. Available here.