How to make your Creative Brief smarter


The best Marketing Execution is creative, but never random. It is well-organized and lines up to the brand’s strategy. The creative brief acts as the bridge between the brand strategy and the execution in the market. The role of a brand is to create a unique idea that transforms the brand’s soul into a reputation that is perceived in the minds and hearts of the consumer, consistently delivered by the experience, creating a bond, power and profit, beyond what the product alone could achieve. Marketing Execution can play a critical role in making the brand stronger.

  • Great Marketing Execution should create a bond with consumers who connect with the soul of the brand.
  • Great Marketing Execution should establish your brand’s reputation based on a distinct positioning.
  • Great Marketing Execution should influence consumers to alter their behavior, making the brand more powerfully connected, eventually leading to higher sales, share and profit.

If you are creating Marketing Execution that doesn’t alter behavior or doesn’t help lead the brand on a pathway to higher profits, then you are wasting the hard-earned money of the brand.


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Control the strategy. Give freedom on execution

Brand leaders have this backwards, giving freedom on the strategy with various options in the brief, and yet control the execution with a long list of mandatories and direction on style of advertising. In my 25 years of marketing, every great Creative Advertising person I met was a problem solving “in-the-box” type thinker, not a blue sky “out-of-the-box” thinker. Never give them a blank slate or blank canvas and ask them to come up with an ad. But never give them a solution. If they are “in the box thinkers” then the role of the Creative Brief is to create a box for them to solve.


A creative brief creates the box to play in.

While it hard to come up with the ideal brand strategies, sometimes it’s even harder to stay on strategy throughout the execution of the marketing activities. Many think the only intended audience of the creative brief is the creative team at your agency. Write it for yourself to keep you focused on your strategy, write it for your boss that might not be in the room when the creative work is presented, write it for other agencies to align with the main creative work and write it for the next brand leader on your desk to keep them focused on the strategy you have created.

Some think that a creative brief takes everything you know about your brand and only puts down those pieces of information relevant to the strategic choice you have made. In a way it does, but remember that it’s called a “brief” for a reason. Most brand leaders struggle to focus. It should force you to make choices in what you put in the brief. What you need the brief to do is to focus on a slice of the population (target), create something that gets them to take an action (desired response) that make the brand stronger (result). The brief lays out what to say (main message), how to talk to them to trigger that action (tone) and re-enforces why we can do it and others can’t. (positioning). As you create the box for the creative team, here are the rules of the box you create:

  • one clearly defined and narrow target
  • one benefit
  • one or two reason to believe
  • one strategic objective
  • make the consumers think, feel or do
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Before you start writing a creative brief without doing your homework.

At Beloved Brands, we use six questions as a deep-dive homework to set up a Brand Communications Strategy.

  1. Who is in the consumer target?  (Who is the most motivated to buy?)
  2. What are we are selling?  (What is your main benefit?)
  3. Why should they believe us?  (Support points to back up what you say)
  4. What’s the long range feeling the brand evokes? (What is the Big Idea/Soul for the brand?)
  5. What do we want the advertising to do for the brand? (Strategic Choices)
  6. What do want people to think, feel or do? (Desired Response)
  7. Where will you deliver the message?(Media Plan)
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Transforming your Advertising Strategy homework into a Creative Brief

As we move from the home work you have done above into the briefing stage, here are 12 headlines you can use to help frame your creative brief:

  1. Why Are We Advertising
  2. What’s the Consumer Problem We are Addressing
  3. Who are you talking to?
  4. Consumer Insights
  5. What does our consumer think now?
  6. What do you want your consumer to think/feel/do? (Desired Response)
  7. What should we tell them? (Stimulus: benefit)
  8. Why should they believe us?
  9. Brand Positioning Statement
  10. Tone and Manner
  11. Media Options
  12. Mandatories

Once you answer the seven questions on the homework, you can use those answers to begin to populate your creative brief:


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A well written creative brief takes everything you know about the brand and strategically desire, and distils it down to 1 page. Here’s an example of a good creative brief:

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Where Brand Leaders make mistakes on the Creative Brief

Why are we Advertising?

The first area is at the top of the brief with the advertising objective.

  • An unfocused objective: Drive TRIAL of Grays Cookies AND get current users to USE MORE often.
  • A focused objective: Drive trial of Grays Cookies by positioning it as “The good tasting Healthy cookie”

I see too many briefs that have both penetration and usage frequency as one objective. Stop this, it’s TWO STRATEGIES that leads you to two targets, two objectives, two messages and possibly two different media options. Your agency will come back with one ad that does penetration and one for frequency and this gives up control of the strategy to the agency and even to you who now picks the best creative work, not the best strategy.


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What’s the Consumer Problem we are addressing?

The next flaw I see is leading with a product driven brief, not a consumer driven brief.

  • A product driven Brief misses the consumer problem we are addressing: Gray’s market share is still relatively small. It is held back by low awareness and trial and the product usage is not on par with the category.
  • A consumer driven Brief lays out a clear consumer problem we are addressing. I’m always watching what I eat. And then BAM, I see a cookie and I’m done. As much as I look after myself, I still like to sneak a cookie now and then.

The best ads are rooted in consumer insights so you can connect and move the consumer in a way that benefits your brand. We recommend that you start with the consumers enemy—every product started by solving a problem, but every brand fights off an enemy in the consumers life.

Who are you talking to?

Brand Leaders tend to pick too broad of a target and as we mentioned in the homework, this just spreads your limited resources.

  • A broad target Brief: 25-55 year olds, current users and potential users. They shop mainly at Grocery and some Mass. They use 24.7 cookies a month
  • A highly targeted Brief: “Proactive Preventers”. Suburban working women, 35-40, who are willing to do whatever it takes to stay healthy. They run, workout and eat right. For many, Food can be a bit of a stress-reliever and escape even for people who watch what they eat.

Having a 30 year age gap is too wide: your agency will give you one ad for 25 year olds and one for 55 year olds. You want CREATIVE options, not STRATEGIC options. We recommend a maximum 5 year age gap to give your ad focus. Going after current and new users is an unfocused strategy that just spreads your resources.

Consumer Insights

Consumer insights adds real flavor to the target, and with great advertising is what creates that first connection that we “get the consumer”. But consumer insights are not facts and stats. You have to go a layer beneath the surface. Consumer insight is an enlightening discovery about consumer’s underlying needs and motivations. Insight is something that everyone already knows and comes to life when it’s told in such a captivating way that makes consumers stop and say “hmm, I thought I was the only who felt like that.

  • A bad “stats driven” Brief: Gray’s product taste drives high trial to purchase (50%) compared to other new launches (32%). Consumers only use Gray’s 9.8 cookies per month compared to the Category Leader at 18.3 cookies.
  • An insights driven Brief: “I have tremendous will-power. I work out 3x a week, watch what I eat and maintain my figure. But we all have weaknesses and cookies are mine. I just wish they were less bad for you”

We recommend that you frame your insight by starting with the word “I” to force yourself into their shoes and put the insight in quotes to force yourself to use their voice. Bring insights into the brief as ways to tell the story to the creative team, so they can build stories that connect with your consumer. The best ads are those where you can almost see the insight shining through the work.


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What do we want consumers to think, feel or do? (Desired Response)

When getting into execution mode, think about the desired response before planning the stimulus. Too many Brand Leaders start with the stimulus. But, you should start with the response and let that guide what you’re going to tell them.

  • A bad Brief wants the advertising to do everything: We want them to THINK that Grays Cookies are unique. We want them to FEEL they can stay in control with Grays and it will keep them feeling successful in living their healthy lifestyle. And we want them to TRY Grays and see if they like the great taste.
  • A Better Brief is focused on accomplishing ONE thing: We want them to FEEL they can stay in control with Grays.

You should choose ONE of think, feel or act, not a combination. Good advertising can only move one body part at a time—so you have to decide, or else your agency will show you creative options for each of these strategies and the best ad will decide your brand strategy.


What should we tell them? (Stimulus)

As we work with brands, we try to get them focused on what the consumer gets from what you do, not just talking about yourself. The golden rule for getting someone to like you is talk about them, not you.

  • A feature oriented Brief: Grays Cookies are the perfect modern cookie, only 100 calories and less than 2g of Fat. For those looking to lose weight, the American Dietician Society recommends adding Gray’s to your diet. You can find Gray’s at all leading grocery stores.
  • A Benefit focused Brief: With Grays Cookies you can still have a great tasting cookie without the guilt.

Speak in terms of benefits, not features. Focus your stimulus on what consumers get (rational benefit) or how consumers feel (emotional). Try to narrow what you TELL consumers to ONE THING, not a laundry list of things. If you tell them too much, they’ll hear NOTHING.



The best briefs have few mandatories. I’ve seen Brand Leaders write long Mandatories lists, that makes it so prescriptive the agency ends up backed into a creative corner.

  • A Bad prescriptive attempt to control the Creative: Avoid humor, as a sarcastic tone will not work with our target market. Preference is for real customer testimonials supported by before/after with our 90 day guarantee tagged on. Ensure brand shown in first 7 seconds. Use Snookie, as our spokesperson. Ad setting in pharmacy will add credibility.
  • Good attempt to give Freedom to the Creative: The line: “best tasting yet guilt-free pleasure” is on our packaging. At least 25% of Print must carry the Whole Foods logo as part of our listing agreement. Include the Legal disclaimer on the taste test and the 12 week study.

If you think the first list is fictional, it’s not. I’ve seen every one of those mandatories in creative briefs. With the second list, you’ll notice that none of them steer the creative advertising ideas.

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Some simple rules for a good Creative Brief:

  • Target the people most motivated by what you do best. Don’t just randomly target competitive users that are most desirable to us, without knowing if we can actually win them over. Spreading your resources against a target so broad, everyone will think you message is for someone else.
  • Use what we stand for to show consumers what they get from us.  Don’t just tell what we do, so that it makes us appear the best in the category. Consumers don’t care what you do, they selfishly and rightfully so care about what they get.
  • Focus on getting consumers to do only one thing at a time: think, feel or do. Make a choice instead of  trying to get new users to buy and getting current users to use more at the same time.  Trying to drive trial and usage at the same time will leave consumers confused as to what to think, do or feel.
  • Use the creative work to tell the brand story in a way we love and believe in.  Great advertising is NOT about making sure we get all our key messages into the creative. With so many messages, people won’t know what you stand for, and you’ll never get a reputation for anything.
  • Connect with our target where they are most likely to engage with our brand story.  While efficient media is important, focusing solely on efficiency and ROI might lead us to staying beneath the consumer’s radar. Consumers hear 7000 efficiently placed messages a day, and quickly reject boring messages all day long. They likely will connect and engage with 5 messages a day. Will it be yours?

Trying to be everything to anyone, makes you nothing to everyone

To read more on Creative Briefs, follow this presentation

Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter. We can help you come up with your brand’s Brand Positioning, Big Idea and Brand Concept. We also can help create Brand Plans that everyone in your organization can follow and helps to focus your Marketing Execution. We provide a new way to look at Brand Management, that uses a provocative approach to align your brand to the sound fundamentals of brand management. 

We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution. 

To contact us, email us at or call us at 416-885-3911. You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrands. 

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How to write a Creative Brief that will inspire smart, creative ads

I wish everyone would stop writing ugly Creative Briefs. The brief is a crucial way for brand leaders to control the strategy, but give freedom on execution to the experts who execute. Too many marketers have this backward, preferring to give freedom on strategy with various possible strategic options layered within the creative brief. They attempt to try to control the creative outcome by writing a long list of tangled mandatories.creative briefs

When you write a big-wide creative brief with layers of options within the brief, the Agency just peels the brief apart and gives you strategic options. For instance, if you put a big wide target market of 18-55 years-old, your agency will present one ad for 18-25 years-old, another one for 25-40 years-old and the third ad for 40-55 years-old. If you put two objectives into the brief, asking to drive trial and drive usage, you will get one ad idea for driving trial and one ad idea for usage. This means you are picking your brand strategy based on which ad idea you like best. That is wrong. Pick your strategy first and use the creativity of execution to express that strategy.

A Creative Brief creates the box to play in

Most great creative advertising people I have met are problem solvers, not inventors. I would describe them as ‘in-the-box’ creative thinkers, not blue sky “out-of-the-box” thinkers. With that in mind, never give your creative team a blank slate or blank canvas and ask them to come up with an ad. They want your problems to solve, so never give them your solution. If they are ‘in-the-box thinkers’, then the role of the Creative Brief is to create the right box for them to solve. Here is what creative people do not want from you:

  1. A Blank canvas: Creative people would prefer a business problem to solve, not a wide-open request for advertising options.
  2. An unclear problem: Creative people need a tightly defined and focused problem to generate great work that meets your needs.
  3. A long list of mandatories: Do not create a tangled web of mandatories that almost write the ad itself. These lists only trap the creative team, holding them back from doing anything breakthrough, surprising or spectacular.
  4. Your Solutions: Creative people find it demotivating to be asked for their expertise (solving problems) and then not be fully utilized (given your answer).

Keep the brief small

A smart Creative Brief should be brief, not long. Avoid the “Just in Case” list by taking your pen and stroking a few things off your creative brief! It is always enlightening when you tighten your Creative Brief. Make tough decisions of what goes into the brief, so you narrow the brief down to:

  • One objective
  • One desired consumer response
  • One target tightly defined
  • One main benefit
  • Up to two main reasons to believe

Five ways to make your brief better

Here are some simple Rules for Writing a Smart Creative Brief:

  1. Make sure you have a tight target: Do not spread your resources against a target so broad that leave everyone thinking your message is for someone else. Target the people who are the most motivated by what you do best, and you will make your brand feel personal. The best thing a brand can do is make consumers think, “This is for me.”
  2. Talk benefits, and not features: Start a conversation that shows what the consumers get or how they will feel. Do not just yell features at the consumer.
  3. Drive one objective at a time: Focus on getting consumers to do only one thing at a time, whether you want them to see, think, feel or do something. Force yourself to make a decision that links with the brand strategy.
  4. Drive one main message at a time: If you put so many messages into your ad, consumers will just see and hear a cluttered mess. They will not know what you stand for, and you will never build a reputation for anything. Use your brand’s Big Idea to simplify and organize the brand messaging.
  5. Connect with consumers where they are most likely to engage with the brand story: Where in the market you choose to stand out can be just as important as what you say. While efficient media is important, focusing solely on efficiency and ROI might lead to staying beneath the consumer’s radar.

Transform your Brand Communications Strategy into a Creative Brief

In the Brand Plan chapter, I laid out the seven questions of the Brand Communications Plan:

  1. Who is in the consumer target?
  2. What are we are selling?
  3. Why should they believe us?
  4. Does your brand have an organizing Big Idea?
  5. What do we want the advertising to do?
  6. What do we want people to think, feel or do?
  7. Where will you deliver the message?

Brand Communications Plan How to write a Creative Brief

Transforming the plan into a Creative Brief

Take all the work the strategic homework you developed through the Brand Communications Plan, and begin to populate the 12 questions of the creative brief template:

Brand Communications Plan How to write a Creative Brief

A well written creative brief takes everything you know about the brand and strategically desire, and distills it down to 1 page. Here’s an example of a good creative brief template:

Format for How to write a Creative Brief

To learn more about this type of thinking, you should explore my new book, Beloved Brands.

With Beloved Brands, you will learn everything you need to know so you can build a brand that your consumers will love.

You will learn how to think strategically, define your brand with a positioning statement and a brand idea, write a brand plan everyone can follow, inspire smart and creative marketing execution and analyze the performance of your brand through a deep-dive business review.

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Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, our purpose is to help brands find a new pathway to growth. We believe that the more love your brand can generate with your most cherished consumers, the more power, growth, and profitability you will realize in the future.

We think the best solutions are likely inside you already, but struggle to come out. Our unique playbook tools are the backbone of our workshops. We bring our challenging voice to help you make decisions and refine every potential idea.

We start by defining a brand positioning statement, outlining the desired target, consumer benefits and support points the brand will stand behind. And then, we build a brand idea that is simple and unique enough to stand out in the clutter of the market, motivating enough to get consumers to engage, buy and build a loyal following with your brand.

We will help you write a strategic brand plan for the future, to get everyone in your organization to follow. It starts with an inspiring vision that pushes your team to imagine a brighter future. We use our strategic thinking tools to help you make strategic choices on where to allocate your brand’s limited resources.

Our brand playbook methodology will challenge you to unlock future growth for your brand

  1. Our deep-dive assessment process will give you the knowledge of the issues facing your brand, so you can build a smart plan to unleash future growth.
  2. Find a winning brand positioning statement that motivates consumers to buy, and gives you a competitive advantage to drive future growth.
  3. Create a brand idea to capture the minds and hearts of consumers, while inspiring and focusing your team to deliver greatness on the brand’s behalf.
  4. Build a brand plan to help you make smart focused decisions, so you can organize, steer, and inspire your team towards higher growth.
  5. Advise on advertising, to find creative that drives branded breakthrough and use a motivating messaging to set up long-term brand growth.
  6. Our brand training program will make your brand leaders smarter, so you have added confidence in their performance to drive brand growth.

To learn more about our coaching, click on this link: Beloved Brands Strategic Coaching

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If you need our help, email me at or call me at 416 885 3911

You have my personal promise to help you solve your brand building challenges. I will give you new thinking, so you can unlock future growth for your brand.


Graham Robertson

Founder and CMO, Beloved Brands Inc.