Everyone has their own way of working, be it leafing through scrapbooks or browsing YouTube. Some like to get a few key facts off an account man or planner, and work off those. Whatever works for you is the best way of working I suppose.
I'm painfully old-fashioned, I'm afraid, in that I like to go out and do my own research. Get out of the office, go and meet the client, grill them about this and that. See where it's made, how it's made, who by etc. I like to go to the shops and look at the product on the shelf, or visit a branch, go to competitors' store. Sit around a bit, listen to what people are saying. I guess this makes me sound like some kind of advertising stalker. I am.
We are just getting cracking on a new project for a brand-new client here at Sell! Towers. This is a part of the process that I really enjoy - finding out as much stuff as possible about a new product and category and the customer. It's an exciting time because there's always the hope that every new experience might lead to something interesting.
I like to try the product in situ, and the competitors' products. Be honest and critical about its qualities and failings and how it compares to its competitors. Talk to the staff, talk to my friends and family about the product - if they buy it or not, why, why not, etc.
Some people say you should keep your distance - so you can bring a different perspective than the client or account team (who invariably know everything there is to know about the product and the category). That makes a lot of sense in theory. But I think it is possible to do your own leg work and keep your own perspective at the same time. Otherwise you're always relying in someone else's interpretation or understanding. And it's funny what turns out to be very relevant sometimes that someone else has discounted.
Small observations or details or experiences can spark off an idea or train of thought. It's surprising what can pop into your head if you leave the safe confines of the office and venture out into the real world now and again.
Personally, I find it easier to come up with ideas that centre around the product or brand this way. There isn't the need to retro-fit a technique or idea to the product if it started from there in the first place.
Anyway I'll shut up now, I'm off to stalk some shoppers.