SCAMPER Your Way to Increased Creativity

5 minute read

Creativity often feels spontaneous.

That can be both wonderful and frustrating.

On the one hand, when it strikes, it’s an amazing feeling… like you’re in touch with some level of your consciousness you can’t quite describe, but it brings out the best in you and gives you an almost magical ability to convey connections and ideas.

On the other hand, sometimes you need to be creative right now. There’s a deadline looming. Or, you made time to write, and now you’re feeling blocked. All you want is to have some ideas and be able to write them down in a way that will resonate with your readers… but nothing. Maddening!

Fortunately, there’s a formula you can use to deliver up creativity on demand.

It’s called SCAMPER.

First, a Bit of History…

The SCAMPER method was originally developed by Alex Faickney Osborn, an advertising executive who’s also credited with developing the concept of brainstorming. (Who knew a single person could take credit for such a ubiquitous idea!)

A man named Bob Eberle took one of Osborn’s brainstorming techniques, refined and expanded on it, and gave it the acronym SCAMPER.

SCAMPER stands for:

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adapt
  • Modify, Magnify, or Minimize
  • Put to Another Use
  • Eliminate or Elaborate
  • Rearrange or Reverse

Get Unstuck With the SCAMPER Method

SCAMPER was originally intended for teams and cooperative-learning situations, but it’s a technique you can use in your copywriting career whenever you’re feeling stuck or need to look at a project in a new way.

Let’s look at each step, and then we’ll talk about how you can use them to come up with ideas for a project.

1. Substitute

You can use the idea of substitution in several ways.

First, think of analogies. These are ideas you can substitute for your main idea to drive a point home or make it easier to understand.

A well-executed analogy can give your reader an aha moment that makes your writing more memorable and valuable.

You can also substitute the tone of your piece. How would it read if you were to write it in a humorous way instead of a serious one?

Or the medium. Would what you’re working on play better as a video instead of an article? Maybe it would be good as both.

Or even the audience. Thinking about how you’d approach your work for a different audience can be revealing. It can provide insights into how you might connect better with your intended audience. And, it can also open doors to new opportunities — maybe there’s a new audience to reach.

2. Combine

This is just what it sounds like. You bring multiple ideas together to see if you can come up with something new and exciting.

When you’re writing, start with your topic and then think about the most recent half dozen topics you’ve written on. How could you combine each of those with the topic at hand to create something fresh?

Also, think about all the existing assets you have. Make a list — customer testimonials, client presentations, other sales packages, website content. What can you pull from there to augment the topic you’re working on?

Can you combine media? What about typical elements within your copy?

3. Adapt

For this step, spend some time looking at what people in completely unrelated industries are doing.

Pick two or three websites in industries that are unfamiliar to you. How are the websites laid out? What kind of pages do they have? What media do they use? Are they doing anything new that you haven’t considered before?

Study the tone… the navigation… the structure of their different materials. And then, think about how you could borrow what they’ve done and change it to use for your own industry.

4. Modify, Magnify, or Minimize

Consider changing the length or format of your project.

If you’re writing an article, could you convert it into something else like a video or an infographic? Maybe something bigger, like a special report? Or something smaller, like a series of LinkedIn posts?

Is there a main point you’re emphasizing? What if you switched the focus, making other ideas bigger within your piece?

5. Put to Another Use

When it comes to content, this is all about repurposing. How can you take something you’ve already completed and published and use it in other ways?

The possibilities will be similar to those mentioned for modification… but in this case, instead of using a different format, you would use something that already exists to create content for multiple formats.

6. Eliminate or Elaborate

To sharpen the focus of your project, look at all the key points you’re considering including and see what you can strip away.

Or, go through something you’ve already written and see how much you can cut without losing the main thrust of it.

To elaborate, look back at things you’ve written recently. Can you find elements in them that you could elaborate on, turning them into entire new articles or other types of content?

7. Rearrange or Reverse

Look at the key points you plan to make in your writing project and move them around into different orders. What order is strongest? How does changing the order of information change the overall effect of the piece?

Or, instead of rearranging your piece, reverse your thinking. Are you presenting what your reader will gain? Maybe put more emphasis on what they stand to lose if they don’t act on what you say.

Are you writing from a particular point of view? What if you changed that up?

Applying SCAMPER to a Content-Marketing Project

Hopefully at this point, your mind is swimming with ideas about how you can approach the content you write in new ways… and get far more out of every single idea you come up with.

But, let’s look at each of these in action and how you might apply them to a project.

Let’s imagine you’ve been hired by a music-education company to help them build out their content-marketing plan.

They already have a lot of content on their site, and you’re feeling a little stuck on coming up with new ideas. You look at their three most popular pieces of content from the past three months and then apply the SCAMPER method to what you find.

The content you’re working with is an article titled How to Build a Music Habit… a video titled Learn to Play Your First Guitar Song in 15 Minutes… and an article titled Care and Upkeep: How to Maintain Your Guitar in Peak Form.

Using the SCAMPER technique, you might bring a list of new ideas to your client:

  • 3 Ways to Fit Guitar Practice Into Your “Busy Mom” Schedule (substitution – audience)
  • What Car Maintenance Can Teach You About Playing Guitar (substitution – analogy)
  • Use this Easy Practice Habit to Learn Your First Song in 5 Days (combination)
  • The 5 Things You Need to Do to Keep Your Guitar in Good Repair – Video (combination)
  • The 15 Easiest Songs to Learn on Guitar (adaptation)
  • 10 Guitar Practice Strategies That Work (adaptation)
  • Short-Form Posts – Series of 15 Useful Music Habits (minimization)
  • How to Build a Repertoire of Songs You Know By Heart (modification)
  • Music Habits Infographic – (put to another use)
  • The Art of Restringing Your Guitar – When, Why, and How (extrapolation)
  • The Number One Habit of Successful Guitar Players (elimination)
  • How to NOT Learn to Play the Guitar (reversal of approach)

By looking at what you already have and what you know your audience already likes, you can quickly build a list of ideas to work from.

If you spend a little more time thinking about other audiences and product possibilities, you may also come up with some exciting new approaches to content and marketing that can yield excellent results for you and your client.

Give it a try!