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.

So, how do you bring it all together in a way that's clear and concise so others can easily understand, buy into, and act upon? The answer is to use the One Page Creative Brief template. Check out my post here that takes you through how the One Page Creative Brief template is made up; how to go about crafting it; and how you should use it with creative teams, agencies, and the wider business.

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