The creative brief is one of the most useful and adaptable tools in business, and not just for people who work in marketing and communications.
They’re known by many different names, but they should do the same thing. Put all of the key information about a program on as few pages as possible. The team develops it together before the program begins. The direction is set, roles are assigned, and – this is where the title comes from – the process for creativity begins (to develop an idea to address the problem).
I’ve outlined below the basic categories in a brief, but frankly, they can be adapted, edited, re-organised to suit your situation or team. But, it should at least outline these elements:
- Articulate the program’s SMART objectives, and how you plan to measure your achievements (your outcomes)
- Outline concisely the problems to address and opportunities to leverage in the hearts and minds of the intended target audience (do not prioritise your opportunities before your problems)
- Detail the resources needed to implement the plan
Moreover, a good creative brief will …
- Force a clarity of purpose through the articulated definition of objectives
- Lead to structured thinking and discipline upon the team
- Focus the team to articulate the strategic direction, so that all subsequent elements – strategies and tactics – best deliver the messages to the intended audiences
- Improve the quality of the ideas produced during the brainstorm
- Lead to better and more effective, measurable outcomes
- When appropriate, ensure agreement between the team and its ‘client’ (someone external, or someone internal – like the head of another department)
Here’s how NOT to complete a creative brief:
How not to complete a creative brief …
- Don’t assign the job of completing the brief to the lowest ranking person in the team.
- Writing a brief is a group activity, started at the earliest possible stage in plan development, and done through discussion, debate and buy-in among the team members and the client
- Don’t think of a brief as answering a bunch of obvious questions
- It’s not the quality of the questions, it’s the quality of the answers that makes a successful brief
- Don’t write a brief and then ignore it
- Revisit it as much as possible to ensure the campaign is going in the agreed-to direction
- Don’t overload the brief with more information than necessary (what’s needed vs. what’s nice to know)
- Focus on strategy first: what’s the real problem to solve?
- It’s absolutely key to understand the resources, but oftentimes, a lack of resources is good to know at the beginning, but remember too that many a creative idea came because of a lack of resources
Below is the most comprehensive list of questions I’ve compiled over my career. A few thoughts:
- Tailor the questions to your organisation or situation – don’t use ‘as is’
- Train everyone how to complete one – at least tell them what type of answer you expect for each question
- Create your own version as a template to use so you don’t re-create the wheel each time
- Set up guidelines on how to use: where is the blank template stored on your shared drive, how and when does someone begin to complete it, determine the system for approving it as the project moves toward completion.
What a Good Creative Brief Should Contain
- Program title, campaign name, or code name
- Program owner (the owner of the creative brief), plus department and other internal information (phone extension?)
- Program team, names, contact information, location, email etc – include external people when appropraite
- Project details: project type, relevant purchase orders, job codes
- Dates: commencement, completion milestones
- What is the specific business outcome this campaign, project or assignment must achieve?
- Typical outcomes: affect sales; usage; awareness; image or reputation; profitability; retention or recruitment of customers or employees; productivity; approvals or finalising deals; legislation or regulations; database management and responses; shareholder value. An outcome might even be to minimise action.
- What is the specific marketing objective? What role should/must communications or other disciplines play to help achieve this business outcome?
- Typical objectives: educates or informs; updates; changes minds, perceptions or behaviours; justifies (a position); challenges a point-of-view; inspires a call to action; makes amends for; generate coverage in traditional, digital or social media
- What is the marketing or campaign strategy?
- What is the unified concept or theme that should be reinforced by all marketing disciplines?
Generally, try to limit the number of objectives. Less objectives means a more focused campaign, and less difficulty in measuring against those objectives.
Current Situation: Issues and Opportunities
- What external problems, issues or debts may impact the campaign objectives?
- What communications issues may or will prevent us from achieving the campaign objectives? The issues should only be ones which ‘communications’ can make an impact. Important issues where communications can’t help need to be noted and discussed with the other relevant parties.
- What external trends, circumstances, events will influence or impact the campaign objectives?
- What assets or drivers can we leverage against the threats?
- Typical threats and opportunities include: brand, reputation or legacy; trends, fads or influences; attributes and qualities of the product or service, talent, location, timing, relevancy, usage and application; resources of the organisation, such as capabilities, copyrights and patents, culture, distribution, infrastructure, operations and logistics; partnerships, joint ventures and alliances; unique selling points and differentiation; honors and awards; and exclusivity, value and price.)
- Don’t forget to look internally at the client’s organisation: what strengths or weaknesses will influence the campaign?
- For each prioritised issue above, what specific strategy will address, minimise, neutralise or eliminate a particular issue? Strategies should directly address the issues. Some issues may have multiple strategies. See my blog entry on defining objectives, strategies and tactics if you need guidelines.
- Who is the specific primary audience which must change their attitude, opinion or behaviour so that we will achieve the communications objective and the business result? Audiences should be defined and prioritised through accurate research, by demographics, psychographics, lifestyle choices and values.
- What secondary groups of people will influence the primary target audience, both positively and negatively? How might these groups be magnified, neutralised or incentivised?
- What traditional and social media will be critical to reach these audiences in a relevant, credible and compelling way?
- What is the current perception of the primary target audience?
- Why do they believe or behave in the way that they due?
- What do we expect them to do – realistically – as a result of a campaign?
- What’s the little voice in the back of their heads telling them?What past experiences, events, issues, history, perceptions (right or wrong), or personal attitudes do they have?
- What macro influences are shaping public thought (environmental, societal, economic)?
- What are outside groups or organizations telling them to believe? (rivals, competitors, neutral parties who can’t pick sides)
- What is the single overall message which this campaign must deliver to key audiences?
- What is the most relevant or differentiating message that will surprise or engage our audiences to change their minds about us?
- Facts What rational points do we need to convey to the audiences? (Rational reasons persuade.)
- Feelings What emotional points do we need to convey to the audiences? (Emotional reasons motivate.)
- Who or what else is competing for our target audience’s attention with similar or related messages? How will our messages be different to theirs?
- What is the most relevant and differentiating idea that will surprise consumers, or challenge their current thinking?
- What is the psychological, social or cultural tension between the current perception and the desired perception?
- What idea will help us start a relevant and compelling dialogue between us, our consumers, and their key influencers?
Resources and Practicalities
- Timing, calendars, delivery
- Staffing (internal and external)
- Materials, resources and skills
- For all tactics, how will we measure our success against these objectives?
What aspects do we need to consider at the beginning of the campaign, as it’s impossible to effectively measure a campaign retro-actively.
Have you used creative briefs in the past? What has worked, or hasn’t? Do you find briefs impossible or unnecessary? I’m curious to hear your answers. Please comment below!