Why concepts are more potent than ideas

Creative ideas are great, but it’s usually wise to generate a creative concept instead. Concepts are richer and more versatile than simple ideas.

Think in concepts

You have an idea. And it’s truly original. Great. You can’t wait to implement this gem of your imagination.


Not yet. First, look for the concept behind your idea.

What’s a concept?

A concept is not the same as an idea. It’s more broad and abstract. A concept is a general approach to achieving something. An idea is much more concrete. An idea is a way to carry out a concept.

A concept describes WHAT to do, but not exactly how. That’s where ideas come in.

For instance, if your concept is ‘We do everything to make our customers feel valued’ you know WHAT to do, but not exactly how. There are many different ways to act upon this concept. You could write your loyal customers hand-written letters in which you thank them and give them a coupon. You could instruct your personnel to always smile and be polite. You could make it a point to always answer the phone within 60 seconds or give life-long guarantees on any products you sell.

All these ideas are ways to act upon the concept. Bound together by a concept, ideas are strong. However, a single idea on its own is rather limited. It’s only one possible way of doing or achieving something. You can execute it and that’s about it. Therefore, it’s usually wise to see if you can find the concept behind your idea; the broad thought that gave birth to your idea.

While a concept is a lot vaguer than an idea, it’s also much more potent. A concept is an umbrella under which many ideas can be lined up. There are many ways to act upon a concept. Many different ideas can be generated to give life to it.

Take Dutch webshop Coolblue. Coolblue famously claims to do ‘Anything for a smile’. This concept is simple, yet incredibly rich. It allows for many different initiatives to make the customer smile. Are you waiting for your package to be delivered? Coolblue offers ‘waiting therapy’ (customers can, for instance, listen to some relaxing waiting music while they wait for their package to arrive). When you receive your package, the instructions on the box are lighthearted and funny (‘don’t open with a carrot’). The concept ‘anything for a smile’ also carries the famously hilarious social media comments and lighthearted videos Coolblue regularly sends out (like this clever April fools joke in which Coolblue announces a new service: slowing down your delivery).

Anything for a smile - Coolblue concept

Coolblue gladly tells you exactly what not to use to open your package…

Extract your concept

Usually, you’ll generate individual ideas long before you come up with a great concept. Did you generate a great idea? See if you can find the concept behind it.

Look at your idea and ask yourself: what am I trying to do here?

The answer to this question is your concept.

Make sure the concept is inspiring and clear. Whoever hears your concept should immediately get ideas on how to act upon it.

To make things a little more complicated, one idea can have multiple concepts behind it.
Imagine you work for a municipality and your idea is ‘Our Mayor will personally visit one of our citizens every week’. There are many possible concepts to extract from this single idea. If you ask ‘what are we trying to do here?’ you could answer:
– Bridging the gap between (local) government and citizens
– Showing our citizens that we take them very seriously
– Basing our policies on inhabitants’ personal experiences
– Demonstrating that we are servants to the people living in our municipality
– Etc.

Sometimes it helps to give your concept a catchy slogan. Where Coolblue has ‘Anything for a smile’ to convey their concept ‘we will do anything to put a smile on our customer’s faces’, you can formulate a slogan that describes your concept. For instance, the concepts above could be described with the slogans:

  • Bridging the gap
  • Your voice matters!
  • Governing the city with a personal touch
  • Serving the city



A concept provides guidance. You can use it to generate new, creative ideas. But that’s not all. You can also use a concept to assess ideas. ‘Does this fit the concept?’ For instance, whenever someone at Coolblue headquarters would suggest a serious, formal way of reaching out to customers, every colleague would know this is wrong. Serious, formal communication is a complete mismatch if you pursue ‘Anything for a smile’. Does a formal way of communicating put a smile on customer’s faces? No? Then it obviously doesn’t fit.

Don’t just generate ideas. Generate concepts. Concepts to build great campaigns around. Concepts that inspire and feed creativity. Concepts that help you reach your goals.


Want to know more about concept development or innovation?

Check out our Innovation Course; 5 to 16 participants experience all phases of the innovation process and learn how to generate added value for clients and the own organisation.

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