How to write a creative brief that inspires your agency

Posted on Posted in Most Read Brand Stories

 

I wish everyone would stop writing ugly creative briefs. Most importantly, the creative brief is a crucial way for brand leaders to control the strategy. On the other hand, make sure you 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. Then, they attempt to try to control the creative outcome by writing a long list of tangled mandatories. We will use our creative brief template to show you how to write every line of the brief.

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. In conclusion, 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.

The creative brief should define “the strategic box” for the creative to play within.

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” dreamers. If they need a good problem to solve, then give them your problems, but never your solutions. Never give your creative team a blank slate or blank canvas and ask them to come up with an ad. Use the creative brief to create the right box for them to play in, and to solve your problem. 

When I see marketers writing a big, wide brief with too many objectives, a vague target, and cluttered messaging, I wonder if you have unknowingly created too much strategic freedom. While you might think writing a big, wide creative brief provides room for creativity, it does not. Your agency will see you as confused, and will likely just peel the brief apart, rewrite the brief how they want, then provide you with strategic options, instead of creative options. The problem is that you will be choosing your strategy based on which ad you like. 

When I see marketers write a big, long laundry list of mandatories, everyone knows you are just trying to control the creative output. Do not create a tangled web of mandatories that almost write the ad itself, or you will trap the creative team into taking various elements in the mandatory list and build a Frankenstein-type ad. Above all, if you want great work – and I know you do – give your agency the creative freedom they need.

Here is what creative people do not want from you:

  • A blank canvas: Creative people would prefer a business problem to solve, not a wide-open request for advertising options.
  • An unclear problem: Creative people need a tightly defined and focused problem to generate great work that meets your needs.
  • 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.
  • Your Solutions: Creative people find it demotivating to be asked for their expertise (solving problems) and then not be fully utilized (given your answer).

The creative brief must focus and inspire all marketing execution

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
  • A target tightly defined
  • One main benefit
  • Finally, use up to two main reasons to believe

How to write smarter creative briefs:

1. Define a tight target: 

  • First, do not spread your limited resources against a target so broad that it leaves everyone thinking your message is for someone else. Target the people who are the most motivated by what your brand does best, and make your brand feel personal so your target consumer feels special. A brand must make consumers think, “This brand is for me.” 

2. Drive one objective at a time:

  • Next, build advertising that gets consumers to do only one thing at a time, whether it’s something you want them to see, think, do, or feel, or influence their friends. Most importantly, force yourself to make a decision that links the advertising objective with your brand strategy. 

3. Drive one main message at a time: 

  • Then, do not put so many messages into your ad; consumers will see and hear a cluttered mess. They will shut down their minds and reject your ad. They will not know what your brand stands for. In other words, you will never build a reputation for anything. 

4. Talk about consumer benefits, not about your product features: 

  • Finally, start a conversation that shows what the consumers get or how they will feel. Do not just yell features at the consumer. Moreover, use your brand idea to simplify and organize your brand messaging. 

How to transform your strategy into a creative brief

Let’s look at the seven questions of the brand communications plan 

  1. First, who is in our consumer target?  
  2. Second, what are we are selling?  
  3. Third, why should they believe us?  
  4. Then, what is our organizing brand idea?
  5. Next, what do we need our advertising to do? 
  6. For the objective, what do we want people to think, feel or do?  
  7. Finally, where will our consumer be most receptive to see and act upon our brand message?

Do the strategic homework you developed through the brand communications plan, and begin to populate the 12 questions of your creative brief. Below, we can see how to use our creative brief template to build on the brand communications strategy.

Our creative brief template

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

Our mini creative brief template

Going too fast sometimes takes too long. With the explosion of media options, timing is everything. Unfortunately, there are too many “phone call briefs” happening. Even worse, no brief at all.  Accordingly, when in a rush, use our mini creative brief template.

Without a creative brief, too many things could go wrong. Consequently, when you see the creative options, you have to rely on your memory and instincts. And, when you try to present it to your boss, there is nothing to guide them through their decision-making. One round of rejection by your boss, and you will be wondering why you did not just take the 15-30 minutes to organize your thoughts and write a mini creative brief. 

If your brand has a solid brand communications plan, you should be able to create a mini brief with a clear objective, consumer target and insight, the desired response, and the main message.

 

To read more about how to write a mini creative brief, click on the button below

Buy our Creative Brief template, Media Brief template, and our Mini Brief template in a downloadable PowerPoint file

This includes a ready-to-use formatted blank slide with key marketing definitions where you can insert your own creative brief, media brief, and mini brief for specific projects.

Beloved Brands is the playbook to keep at your fingertips

Our readers tell us they reach for Beloved Brands a few times each week as a reference toolkit to help them with the day-to-day management of their brand.

  • To start, we will challenge you with questions that get you to think differently about your brand strategy.
  • Then, we take you through our process for defining your brand positioning. We will open your mind to new possibilities for how you see you can differentiate your brand. And, we use examples of brand positioning statements to bring the learning to life.
  • Next, we will show you how to write a brand plan that everyone can follow. Make sure all stakeholders know precisely how they can contribute to your brand’s success.
  • Moreover, we will show you how to run the creative execution process, show you how to write an inspiring brief, and make decisions to find both smart and breakthrough work.
  • Finally, you will learn new methods to analyze the performance of your brand with a deep-dive business review.

Above all, over 90% of our Amazon reviews receive five-star ratings, and Beloved Brands has spent numerous weeks as a #1 bestseller in brand management.

Build your marketing skills with our post on how to define your Brand Positioning

One of the most important skills marketers need to know is the fundamentals of creating a brand positioning that will set up your brand to win in the marketplace. Read our step-by-step process to learn how to define your brand with a balance of functional benefits and emotional benefits. The ideal brand positioning matches what consumers want with what your brand does best.

Explore all our brand management toolkits

Our brand management toolkits include PowerPoint presentation templates for brand plans, brand positioning, brand reviews, and creative briefs. Essentially, our brand management templates reflect the tools in our brand playbooks, Beloved Brands, and B2B Brands.  

To help, we start with blank slides with key definitions. Then, we add a completed PowerPoint slide presentation using our relevant brand case studies, Gray’s Cookies for a consumer brand, and Gray’s stage lighting for a B2B brand.