How to Write a Killer Creative Brief

The ability to write an effective creative brief is a fundamental discipline in marketing. Great marketing only stems from a great brief. In other words, you only get out what you put in. As marketers, we need to be able to convey and express our thinking and ideas with eloquence and accuracy so we can bring others with us and ensure consistency in our marketing executions. Creative briefs are used extensively to communicate with and mobilise other members of the marketing team or business, as well as external agencies and partners who we need to align with, and work on our plans.

However, the skill of marketers to craft creative briefs that generate great outputs, i.e. campaigns that deliver impact, resonance, and results, has waned in recent times. Either they're too detailed and prescriptive, not allowing the recipients the scope to add meaningful input and value; or they're missing key elements and therefore lack the necessary insights or direction.

What is a creative brief?

A creative brief is a document that outlines requirements for a creative marketing project. Creative briefs can also be referred to as campaign briefs, marketing briefs or advertising briefs; these terms are often used interchangeably but generally mean the same thing. 

How are creative briefs used?

Creative briefs are provided to agencies, partners, and stakeholders who need to work on a specific marketing project, campaign or program. It gives them the necessary direction and information to be able to generate assets, content or resources which will be delivered as part of that project, campaign or program. The creative brief sets their expectations, and gives them the parameters that have been defined so they can build the deliverables out accordingly.

Creative Team

How to write a creative brief

If you're going to do great marketing that gets results, you have to be able to deliver great briefs in the first place. Writing an effective creative brief is a disciplined process. You have to have the right approach if you're going to get the most out of it.  This means focussing on the following aspects:

Give it time and focus

Many marketers rush writing creative briefs. They see it as a burden, as 'admin' or 'process' that they have to get through as quickly as possible. They therefore give it short shrift and don't provide adequate time, focus or attention to the exercise.

Rather, writing a creative brief is a necessity whenever you're looking to others to create assets, materials or content for your brand. By paying due consideration to the brief itself, as well as the wider briefing process, you're maximising the potential return in terms of quality, creativity, and results. Unless you give it sufficient time and focus, you're going to get responses that aren't aligned to your vision, don't impact or resonate with your desired audience, and lack inspiration and innovation.

Give your creative brief the effort that it deserves. That doesn't mean generating pages and pages - less in this case is more! Make every word count by concentrating on the key elements that you need to convey. It should be concise, clear, and consumable.

Do your research

It's important to do your homework. A strong creative brief is built on a sound foundation of knowledge and understanding derived from research of your audience, market, competitors, channels, and so forth. The context within which your marketing program or campaign will exist and operate will have a significant bearing on its success. Therefore, gaining as much background and intelligence as possible on the environment you're facing is crucial to feed into your brief and inform the creatives or planners who'll be responding to it.

Ideally this is something you've built up over time. One-off research is useful, but knowledge and insights that you've gained over a duration will reflect more sustained trends and influences that are relevant to your offering or brand.

Concentrate on the audience

Whatever the intended deliverable is from your brief, it will in some way communicate with, inform, educate, or engage your audience. As such, they are the start, middle, and end of the brief itself. Everything revolves around who you're looking to connect with, so building a comprehensive knowledge, insight, and understanding of your target customer is a must.

Although this is an obvious assertion, it's amazing how many companies and brands don't really know who their customer is and who they want to target. Often, they get blinded by the product - it's so good that it'll just sell itself; or drawn into the "it's for everyone" myopia. Audience research is therefore given lip-service, with rudimentary methodologies applied and a lack of real depth.

The success of your brief is dependent on your ability to give the creative / planning team sufficient knowledge and insight about your audience that they can put themselves in the audience's shoes to understand their motivations, behaviours, and decision processes. Only by doing so can they create work that will stimulate positive emotional responses and actions. Concentrating on the audience through all aspects of the creative brief will lead to a result that's more centred and attuned to their needs, sensibilities, and motivations.

The proposition is everything

On the back of audience understanding is your ability to articulate the value that you're delivering to them...your proposition. This is the crux of the campaign itself; to convince your audience why they should want to take up your offer - what's in it for them? The proposition is everything. Having a specific, clear, and resonant proposition runs through all great marketing. The proposition is therefore at the heart of the creative brief. All messaging starts with your proposition and the quality of your communication is dependent upon the efficacy of your proposition.

Don't do the creative's job

No-one's brilliant at everything, so you have to know when to use additional resources versus trying to manage things yourself. You're creating a brief as you need to tap into people who have different capabilities or expertise than you in a specific area. That being the case, use them and allow them to do what you've asked them to do and maximise the value that they bring. Basically, that means don't be overly prescriptive or try to be creative yourself when it comes to drafting your creative brief. Give them the scope to add their thoughts, perspectives, ideas, and inspiration...to be creative. When you do this you get the multiplier effect: additional inputs create a sum that's much greater than the parts. You get great marketing.

Give them the info

To allow the creative's to do their job, you also need to make sure that they have all the necessary information that they need. What are they working to? What are the parameters of the brief? Are there any constraints or criteria that they have to take into consideration? Make sure that everything is clear up-front. Otherwise things can get complicated, costly, and time-consuming when you have to go back and try to retro-fit. Great ideas are frequently diluted by having to accommodate additional requests that come in late in the day. Start the process by providing the detailed scope that everyone needs to follow.

The One Page Creative Brief

Pulling all of this together into a document that's not overly complicated or voluminous is a challenge. A creative brief needs to offer all the necessary criteria and information, whilst being easy to consume and comprehend. I've seen a lot of occasions where someone has to present the brief and without doing so, it becomes difficult to interpret and therefore address. This is useless as it ends up like the game of Chinese Whispers...whoever you've 'briefed' has to pass that information onto others who'll invariably be the ones who actually do the work. You're reliant upon the middlemen/women to not only understand where you're coming from and what you're trying to achieve, but also to be able to represent that effectively to others. The key is to have a creative plan that works in isolation. To achieve this it needs to be simple, concise, and thorough.

The following One Page Creative Brief template provides a framework for marketers to outline the necessary direction and inputs for their campaigns and programs, whilst offering the scope for creatives and planners to ideate and innovate so they can deliver great work.

One Page Creative Brief

The discipline of keeping everything to one page means that you have to really focus and consider what should be included and, crucially, what shouldn't. One page is intentionally restrictive to promote simplicity, clarity, and speed. Every word is important. It forces you to be specific in what you articulate, and how you do so.

At the same time, the One Page Creative Brief contains the essential building blocks to construct an effective campaign or program. These building blocks break down as follows: 

Campaign Outline

This provides the key information for the make-up and parameters of the campaign:

Timings
What are the key dates and deadlines that need to be met:
•  Brief Date – when the brief is submitted / due to be delivered to the people or teams who need to act upon it
•  Brief Response – when the provider needs to deliver a response, i.e. when they need to feedback their proposals / work
•  Campaign Live – the to / from dates for when the campaign needs to be in market

Budget
How much spend has been allocated for:
•  Development – the budget for upfront strategy and planning; the thinking work that needs to go into the deliverable
•  Creation – the budget for asset and content creation and production
•  Execution – the budget for media and amplification; the in-market spend to deliver the asset or content to the audience

Specs
What are the specifications for the required outputs / deliverables from the brief:
•  Format(s) – the form, composition, or arrangement that's needed, i.e. are you specifically wanting a video, written blog post, podcast, etc.
•  Length(s) – the time / word count required
•  Variants – the number and type of different executions that should be delivered

Campaign Goals

An outline of what the campaign is looking to achieve strategically (Campaign Goals), and in terms of specific metrics (Key Performance Indicators). The Key Performance Indicators or KPIs should be expressed as both the current status and target at the end of the campaign.

It's also important here to provide a Context, what's the background to the activity that's got you to this position. This should give your goals a grounding and help the recipient of the brief to understand why you need to achieve them.

Target Persona

A detailed picture of who you’re targeting with the campaign:

Profile
A description of who the target audience for the activity is with a breakdown in terms of demographics, sociographics, firmographics, geographics, psychographics, behaviours, and technographics, etc. 

Insights
Any specific insights, observations or learnings about the persona that would be relevant for the campaign's development. Is there anything that the creatives or planners can use as a hook or stimulus to solicit an action or reaction from the audience?

Needs
How does the persona relate to the problem or want that you’re solving for? What are their specific needs as they pertain to the product or service that's being offered.

Key Messaging

This section provides the key messaging that you want to communicate to your target persona:

What's your value proposition?
What's the value that you're delivering to your intended audience? How are you solving their specific problem and meeting their need or want? Why is your solution better than what they're currently doing or using, or versus what else is out there including any potential competitors? What evidence do you have for this? How are you remarkable and why should they care?

What do you want the target persona to take-away?
What do you want them to think about your brand / product or service as a result of being exposed to the program, campaign or activity? What's the one-thing that they should believe? How should they feel?

What's the call-to-action?
What do you specifically want them to do as a result of this activity? What action do you want them to take?

Are there any mandatories to include?
Are there any imperatives that you need included such as logo, a specific brand strapline, website URL, contact information, legals, etc.

Over to you

Crafting an effective creative brief that leads to a great marketing program or campaign requires time, attention, and thought. If you put the effort in up front, you'll significantly increase the chances of producing something that meets your vision and requirements, and delivers the results that you're looking for.

Let me know how you're using the One Page Campaign Brief template, how it's working for you, and any thoughts on how it could be honed or improved?

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