If you’re embarking on an important marketing program or a significant marketing deliverable, you’ll need to develop a creative brief. Your creative team, whether in-house or agency, needs to have the right information to create on-point deliverables that will help you achieve your goals.
By outlining a creative brief, you and your team can avoid modifications and multiple iterations to deliverables.
Don’t have a brief? Or don’t even know where to start? Fortunately, I’m here to help.
What Information Should a Creative Brief Include?
Imagine you hop into a taxi in Manhattan. When the driver asks, “Where to?” you answer, “Just drive around Midtown; I’ll know it when I see it.” Provided he doesn’t just get annoyed enough to throw you out, you’re in for an expensive and time-consuming ride. Once told the destination, an experienced driver will get you there as quickly and efficiently as possible. A creative brief is like that.
Some folks worry about constraining the creative by offering too much information. While too specific direction on how to do it can harm the process, answers to the questions below allow for the best work.
You don’t have to do it alone; work with your agency. They write briefs on a consistent basis and can help ensure the right information is gathered. To start, below you’ll find the key information every creative marketing brief should include, as well as questions you can ask yourself and your team, plus a few extras that may be helpful.
What is the offering?
First, define the key aspects of the product, service or capability you’re marketing. Try to describe the real-world problem it solves for potential customers. Include high-level descriptions of its scale, function and purpose.
What is the marketing objective?
Try to restrict your answer to one sentence (this varies from project to project). Your response should indicate the tangible outcome your organization hopes to achieve and how you will measure that success. If you haven’t yet defined what should be measured, at least be prepared to name the goal (e.g., educate, launch, lead generation, brand awareness, etc.).
Who is the target audience?
In some cases, you’ll see creative briefs dive right into the titles and roles of the folks the marketing should reach. I like to make sure there is more information available for context. To make these people as specific and real as possible, make sure you summarize the following:
- Markets: What industries and geographic markets are the focus of this program or project? This will help ensure the creative is on target and accounts for industry and cultural nuances.
- Titles, Roles and Demographics: Who will most benefit from your offering? Include their job titles, descriptions of their roles, ages and genders. What do they know about your offering and brand? Where do they get information about your type of offering?
- Pain Points: As best as you can, describe the issues these people have to deal with every day, how they would describe these issues (in their language), and why your offering will be important to them. Also, describe what process and challenges they face to purchase your offering.
- Buyer’s Journey: What is the audience’s understanding of the offering? A typical journey follows awareness, research, consideration, purchase and advocacy. If your offering isn’t sold in the check-out aisle, you won’t be able to jump directly to purchase. Knowing where the audience is in the journey will inform calls-to-action and ideas for audience engagement that otherwise might have been overlooked.
NOTE: Business-to-business (B2B) purchases typically involve a lot of interested parties, but it’s important to narrow it down to the ONE audience who will have the greatest opportunity to help you achieve the defined objective. It’s okay to list other influencers, but for the details, focus on the main audience.
What MUST we communicate to the target audience?
Playing catch is easy; juggling is hard. And the more objects you add, the harder it gets. To give your message the best chance of being received, it is essential to define the single, most relevant and differentiating thought that will motivate the audience, i.e., the one thing you want the target audience to take away. Consider what will surprise them or challenge their current thinking. Keep in mind how you want them to feel when seeing your message. Emotion plays a huge role in the decision-making process. Again, focus on one idea, since multiple thoughts will dilute the message and confuse the target audience.
Why should the audience believe our claim?
For any engineers and product managers reading this out there, you can breathe a little easier. This section of the brief is where you can provide the statistics, figures, test results, case studies and other facts that support the key message you defined. Doing so will ensure its believability and build trust. Focus on the ones which only you provide, and the ones you provide better than anyone. Keep it simple and concise. (Think Tweet, not brochure.) You can add more in the reference material later (see “Nice-to-Haves”).
What barriers do we need to overcome in the target market?
There will certainly be challenges in converting the target audience to your offering. Obvious factors include established competitors or savvy newcomers. But there could be others, such as:
- Is your offering unfamiliar, the first of its kind, or does it require support infrastructure?
- Is your target audience conservative, risk-averse and opposed to change?
- Is there a negative history or complicated purchase-decision process?
- Is the value of the offering unclear?
Any obstacles to adoption and success should be clearly described.
Where will your marketing be seen?
If this is a print advertising campaign, make sure that’s noted. Will the product be shown across several different media? If so, document that. For example, if it’s an interactive tool for website visitors, describe the environment where it will display. If it’s for exhibit graphics, provide some guidance on the event and size of the booth.
Where is the product being sold, and what language will be used?
Ideas, headlines and product names developed for a specific region of the world may not translate well everywhere (e.g., Chevrolet’s Nova — nova means “no go” in Spanish). Keep in mind that in various global regions, your messaging could be interpreted differently. A creative idea based on a clever play on words could end up being disastrous. It’s best to include all the regions where the work will be shown.
What MUST be included in the work?
Note all the items that are required to appear by law or by corporate mandates and guidelines. This often includes part numbers, copyright statements, corporate color palettes and a logo. If the creative team doesn’t have a copy of relevant brand standards, provide one to them.
Writing a Creative Brief is Time Well Spent
Hopefully you should be able to answer those questions without too much effort — perhaps in as little as an hour or two. That feels like a good investment of your time when you consider the potential upside: better, on-point ideas you’ll enjoy reviewing versus countless hours making revisions and edits.
An added benefit: you’ll be able to apply the brief as a guide when evaluating the work. Use it to confirm that the work aligns with the direction provided in the brief, will gain the attention of the target audience, and is built to drive the action you will measure in your marketing objective.
Creative Brief “Nice-to-Haves”
If you’re feeling ambitious, I suggest considering a few more data points for the creative team.
As noted previously, there may be a set of defined elements for your B2B marketing campaign or program. If so, provide the specifications, dimensions, layouts, software/hardware requirements and other information to guide their creation. Offering this upfront will ensure the creative team avoids ideas and concepts that could encounter execution or technical pitfalls later.
Most programs are time-sensitive, so provide guidance on availability for reviews and if the work must be completed for an event. This part of the creative brief will help production team members prioritize work, assign resources, create timelines and set expectations proactively.
Context is great, so if you can provide a PowerPoint, website landing page, business document, image, graphic or other reference point that might add color, it can be a big help. Isolate and highlight the relevant, helpful information that you deem worthwhile to share with your team. Don’t overwhelm your creative resources with information they don’t need. Define the opportunity in clear, concise terms.
Subject matter experts
If applicable, provide the names and contact information for the lead subject matter experts on the offering. The creative team may find it necessary to seek clarification or even test an idea for viability.
Tone and personality
Remember, you should already have an audience in mind for your creative; no matter what, they are human. Your messaging should use a tone or personality that engages them to learn more about your campaign, company or product. Knowing this, decide whether you should take a formal approach or a more relaxed tone. Campaigns can have their own personality. One may deviate from the corporate brand (epic, premium, elegant and more). The possibilities are endless; just keep your intended audience in mind.
Keep the Creative Brief, Brief
Ironically, more than 1,600 words into this blog, I’m now offering some advice on brevity. It’s a creative BRIEF. Try to be concise. You don’t need to dump all the research and knowledge you have on the subject into this document. Plus, the creative team won’t need to spend time sorting through reams of information to figure out what’s important. Be succinct. Outline only what’s important. You’ll be happy you did when you see the on-message, great work your team produces.