When it comes to creating a successful marketing campaign, the creative brief is a crucial element. But before diving into the brief, it’s important to have a solid understanding of your brand’s communications strategy. This includes elements such as brand positioning, brand idea, and brand plan. The briefing stage serves as a bridge between your strategic plan and the execution of your campaign. As a marketing leader, it’s important to maintain control of the strategy while allowing room for creative freedom in the advertising execution. Unfortunately, many marketers make the mistake of relinquishing too much control over strategy and then struggle to achieve the desired creative outcome. We go through how to write a creative brief with plenty of creative brief examples and a creative brief template.
By the end of this article, you will have a deeper understanding of the components of a successful creative brief, which will elevate your marketing skills. And for those looking for even more in-depth guidance, I invite you to check out my Beloved Brands book on the subject.
Make the tough decisions to narrow the brief down to:
- One strategic objective
- One tightly defined consumer target
- One desired consumer response
- One main message
- Two reasons to believe.
I meet resistance when I show people that list. You should see the resistance that your 8-page brief will meet.
To illustrate, click to learn how to write a creative brief.
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We also provide customized training, which allows you to tailor the training to the needs of your team. Graham Robertson brings a wealth of real world marketing experience, having led many of the world’s best brands. Whether you’re looking to build a strong marketing team or develop your current team’s skills, Beloved Brands can help. Our training will give your team the tools and knowledge they need to drive smarter work and business growth. We teach how to write a creative brief with plenty of creative brief examples and a template for creative brief.
Creative brief template
I will dissect the creative brief, with a line-by-line review to demonstrate examples of smart and bad creative briefs. Moreover, I will use some real case studies of bad briefs I have seen over the years to show you what not to do. I will use some of our principles I have talked about to show you a smarter brief.
While each line in the brief has a role to play, the brief should have a natural flow. Similar to how we describe your brand plan as flowing like an orchestra arrangement, when any line of the creative brief feels like it is playing the wrong note, it will stand out like a complete misfit.
1. Why are we advertising?
A bad brief has an unfocused objective:
- Drive trial of Gray’s Cookies, steal market share from mainstream competitors while getting current users to use Gray’s more often.
A smart brief has a focused objective:
- Drive trial of Gray’s Cookies, using the positioning of “The good tasting healthy cookie.”
Smart briefs start with one very clear objective, while bad briefs try to accomplish too many things at once.
If you get this line wrong, it can destroy the entire brief. With the example above, the smart brief narrows the decision to one objective (drive trial). A clear objective helps steer the direction for the rest of the brief. The bad brief makes the mistake of trying to do two things at once.
I see too many brands put “drive penetration and usage frequency” at the top of the brief. It is the sign of a lazy mind. Do you realize how different these two strategies are? Can you see how much you will drain your resources when you try to do both with the same ad?
These two strategies have two separate targets, two different brand messages, and potentially two different media plans. Your agency will divide the brief in half, and come back with one ad to drive penetration and another to drive usage frequency. As a result, you will pick your brand strategy based on which ad you like best.
If your brand has an issue with both penetration and usage, I recommend you write two separate creative briefs, with two independent projects, budgets, and media plans. From a brand plan viewpoint, I would also recommend you stagger these two strategies into different fiscal years to ensure you are not just dividing your limited resources and doing a poor job with both strategies.
Do you want to get more people to eat, or the same amount of people to eat more? Pick one.
Penetration vs. usage frequency
A penetration strategy gets someone new with minimal experience with your brand to consider dropping their current brand to try you once and see if they will like your brand. That will take a lot of hard work.
A usage frequency strategy gets someone already familiar with your brand, and you have to convince them to change their behavior about your brand. They will either have to change their current life routine or substitute your brand into a higher share of occasions.
Pick one strategy, not two
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2. Who are we talking to?
A bad brief has an unfocused target:
- 18-65 years old, including current consumers, new consumers, and employees. They shop at grocery, drug, and mass retailers. They like cookies and eat 14.7 cookies a month.
A smart brief has a focused and well-defined target bulls-eye:
- “Proactive Preventers.” Suburban working moms, 35-40 who are willing to do whatever it takes to stay healthy. They run, work out, and eat right. For them, food is a stress-reliever and an escape. Even for people who watch what they eat, there is still guilt when they cheat.
One of the most significant correlations with brand success is for consumers to playback and feel, “This brand is for me.” You can only achieve that by speaking directly with a precise, tight bullseye consumer target.
A smart brief uses a combination of demographics, behaviors, and attitudes, and links how a cookie could fit into other parts of their healthy lifestyle. These details paint a full picture of who we are talking to. In the bad, unfocused creative brief above, the target is pretty much everyone, so it will be hard for anyone to feel the advertising is speaking directly to them.
3. What’s the consumer enemy we are fighting?
A bad brief has the business problem as the lead:
- Gray’s market share is still relatively small, held back by low awareness and trial. Product usage is not on par with the category.
A smart brief has a clearly stated consumer problem:
- Consumers struggle to fight off the temptation of cookies and feel guilty when they cheat.
The brief should reflect a consumer problem, not a business problem related to how consumers buy your brand. Think back to the target market chapter and use your consumers’ pain point or enemy, which torments them every day. Think of how your brand will battle that enemy on behalf of your consumers.
In the example of a smart brief, the consumer’s enemies are “temptation and guilt.” When you put an emotional enemy in your brief, it allows the creative process to get into the emotional space right away. That is much more powerful than a functional problem such as losing weight or reducing calories.
In the bad brief example above, the focus on function rather than emotion is a classic flaw of leading with a business-driven problem that talks about a brand’s problem with consumers.
4. Consumer insights
A bad brief has data over insights:
- Gray’s product taste drives high trial (50%) compared to other new launches (32%). Consumers use Gray’s 9.8 times per month compared to the category leader at 18.3 times per month.
A smart brief has deep, rich insights:
- Once consumers cheat on their diet, it puts their whole willpower at risk. They keep cheating. “Once I give in to a cookie, I can’t stop myself. They just taste too good. It puts my diet at risk of collapsing. I feel guilty. However, I can’t stop myself from cheating again.”
The smart brief above uses Consumer Insights to go deep to gain an understanding and build a story through the voice of the consumer. It captures their inner thoughts, uses their own word choices, and expresses their feelings.
In the bad brief, there are no real insights. It is just a bunch of data points, without any depth of explanation or story. It will be hard for the creative team to write an engaging story with stats.
5. What does our consumer think now?
A bad brief provides data only, without a well-drawn conclusion:
- Gray’s only has 35% awareness and 9% penetration. Over 42% of consumers say they like the taste. However, consumers only eat Gray’s 3.6x per month.
A smart brief defines where consumers currently are with the brand:
- Gray’s Cookies have achieved a small growing base of brand fans, but most consumers remain unfamiliar and have yet to try Gray’s. Those who love Gray’s, describe it as “equally good on health and taste.”
You can use the brand love curve from our consumer strategy work to capture how consumers feel about your brand. Use the analytics from brand funnel analysis, the voice of consumer (VOC), market share data, loyalty data, and net promoter scores to determine where your brand sits on the curve.
The bad brief above just throws out random statistics; it fails to turn the data into stories that form a meaningful analysis. The smart brief draws an honest conclusion that your brand is at the unfamiliar/indifferent stage for most consumers. The statement also sheds light on what the few who love the brand say about it, suggesting what might motivate others.
To illustrate, click to zoom in on the consumer brand strategy to set up our Creative Brief template
6. What do we want consumers to do?
A bad brief tries to trigger too many responses:
- We want consumers to THINK Gray’s Cookies are unique, to get consumers to FEEL they can stay in control, and then we want them to TRY Gray’s and see if they like them.
A smart brief focuses on the desired response that comes from the strategic objective:
- Get consumers to TRY Gray’s and believe the great taste will win them over.
To illustrate, click to zoom in on the Creative Brief example of a desired response.
The bad brief above sets up an unrealistic attempt to get consumers to think, feel, and try – and all in one ad. The smart brief narrows the focus to drive trial, which aligns with the strategic objective of the brand plan. Too many marketers already know what they want to say before they even know the response they want from their consumers. Start with the desired response, which comes from your brand plan, and only then can you decide what to say to achieve that response.
7. Tone we will take with our consumers
A bad brief uses clichés that are all over the emotional map:
- Optimistic, smart, down-to-earth, trusted, popular, and yet friendly.
A smart brief focuses on the emotional zones your brand is trying to win:
- A safe choice to stay in control. An honest and down-to-earth option.
With Gray’s Cookies, the two emotional zones the brand positioning focuses on “stay in control” and “I feel good about myself.” The related support words, including safe, honest, and down-to-earth, can help define the ideal emotional tone and manner of your brand.The bad brief is all over the map with emotions. It seems half the briefs I see contain “smart, trusted, reliable and friendly.” It has almost become clichés without thought.
To illustrate, click on the emotional zones that helps your Creative Brief template.
Creative brief template
Take everything you know about the brand and strategically desire, and distills it down to one page. We do have a second post on the Creative Brief that dissects the good and bad versions for each line of the brief. Click here to read more: How to write a Creative Brief that steers and inspires your team.
To illustrate, click on either diagram to see our Creative Brief template.
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.
To illustrate, click on either diagram to see our Creative Brief template.
Media brief template
Our media brief template allows you to also brief your media team. The template follows the same pattern as our creative brief example. Read about how to build a media strategy.
To illustrate, click on either diagram to see our Creative Brief template.
8. What should we tell consumers? (Main message)
A bad brief tries to communicate too many things at once:
- Gray’s Cookies are the perfect modern cookie, only 100 calories and less than 2g of fat. For those looking to lose weight, the American Dietitian’s recommend adding Gray’s to your diet. You can find Gray’s at all leading grocery stores.
A smart brief focuses on one main message, bringing the consumer benefit to life:
- Try Gray’s Cookies, the great tasting cookie without any guilt.
The smart brief above narrows down to one thing, the big idea of “great taste without the guilt.” The bad brief has a laundry list of seven unrelated messages. Most are just product features, instead of a primary consumer benefit. It is a marketing myth to believe that if you tell the consumer a lot of things, at least they will hear something. The truth is that if tell consumers too many messages, they will just shut you out and not listen to anything you say.
9. Why should consumers believe us?
A bad brief lists random claims about your brand:
- Gray’s Cookies are the cookies recommended by doctors and pharmacists. Plenty of before and after photos, and consumer comments. Over 70% of consumers prefer Gray’s to Dad’s. Gray’s cookies have been made in America since 1963, containing all natural ingredients. No one beats Gray’s for fiber content.
A smart brief uses the support points to close off lingering gaps:
- In blind taste tests, Gray’s Cookies matched market leaders on taste, but only has 100 calories and 2g of fat. In a 12-week study, consumers using Gray’s once a night as a dessert lost 5 pounds.
Only use support points to close off any potential gaps in your logic. Listen to consumers for possible doubts they may have relative to your main message. Based on Logic 101, you can win any argument using two premise points to conclude. The same should hold true for a brand. Force yourself to use a maximum of two support points.
The smart brief above focuses on two support points, which back up your main message. The bad creative brief example throws out random claims that have nothing to do with the main message.
10. Brand idea
A bad brief throws out random features to anyone:
- Anyone could love Gray’s Cookies, premium cookies that taste great. Over 70% of consumers prefer Gray’s to Dad’s. Gray’s cookies come from a homemade recipe. Doctors and pharmacists recommend them. You can buy them at your local grocery store.
A smart brief uses the brand idea that organizes everything we do:
- Gray’s are the best tasting yet guilt-free pleasure so you can stay in control of your health and mind.
The smart creative brief uses the brand idea that drives everything we do. The bad creative brief example above targets everyone and lists random features and claims. However, it does not contain any consumer benefits. If you only tell consumers what you do, and not what consumers get, you risk leaving it up to their interpretation.
11. Brand Assets
A bad brief throws out random features and ideas to control the creative:
- Avoid humor, as a sarcastic tone will not work with our target market. Real customer testimonials supported by before/after with our 90-day guarantee tagged on. Use our celebrity spokesperson. Increase credibility by having set in a pharmacy. Add our AMA doctor recommendation seal.
A smart brief uses distinctive creative and strategic assets to build behind:
- Story of our New England family recipe, our signature stack of beautiful cookies, “More Cookie. Less Guilt.”
The smart brief builds creative and strategic assets. Stay confident that you have written such a great brief, that you do not need to control the creative outcome.
12. Media choices
A bad brief uses too many media choices, especially early in the process:
- TV, 30-seconds, and 15-seconds. Include 5-second tag for promotions. Print includes magazine and newspaper. Need separate display headers for Walmart. Need to use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Must be able to use video on our website and YouTube channel.
A smart brief provides a range to see what the creative looks like first:
- Main creative will be a 30-second TV ad, supported by event signage and in-store display. Want to carry the idea into digital and social media, and build a microsite.
At the briefing stage, you might have ideas around what type of media you want to use, but it is difficult to know the ideal media until you see the creative idea. At this point, provide a potential media guideline, with a lead media option and possible media choices to support.
The unfocused bad creative brief example above offers a laundry list of media choices, which will only spread your limited resources so thin that nothing will have the desired impact you hope for. When you try to be everywhere, you might end up nowhere.
To illustrate how to write a creative brief, click to zoom in on the media options you can use in the Creative Brief example.
Here’s a simple way to make sure your creative team covers almost every potential media choice. Ask to see each creative idea presented through a 30-second TV script, a simple billboard, and a long-copy print ad. This process allows you to see how each creative idea plays out on almost any media option before you start to narrow down your media planning. Asking for TV, billboard, and a long-copy print for each creative idea will allow you to imagine how it might look using any of 12 potential media choices.
A good brief gives freedom to the creative team to explore:
- The line: “best tasting yet guilt-free pleasure” is on our packaging. 25% of the print must carry the Whole Foods logo as part of our listing agreement. Include our legal disclaimer on the taste test and 12-week study.
A smart brief has very few mandatories with none of them steering the creative outcome. Stay confident that you have written such a great brief, that you do not need to control the creative outcome. Give some creative freedom to allow your agency the opportunity to look at the best way to express and deliver your strategy.
The bad creative brief example uses mandatories to steer the creative outcome with a prescriptive list that backs the agency into a creative corner. With this bad brief, for the agency to tick off each mandatory, they will create a messy, ugly “Frankenstein” ad to try to piece everything together.
Creative Brief template
You can buy our Creative Brief template
Our creative brief template includes a ready-to-use formatted blank slide with key marketing definitions. As a result, you can insert your own creative brief, media brief, and mini brief. We show how to write a creative brief with plenty of creative brief examples.
Creative Brief examples
To illustrate, click on any of the template for creative brief below.
With social media, digital advertising and search media, marketing is moving faster than ever. You still need a creative brief; however, you might need to try our mini creative brief. We are seeing things speed up, with opportunities come to brand leaders need quick decisions and even faster execution. This mini brief is part of our template for creative brief.
The Creative Brief defines the box.
At Beloved Brands, we believe the best creative people are in-the-box problem solvers, not out-of-the box inventors. This builds on our Strategic ThinkBox we used in our planning process. The box below demonstrates how we need creative work that is focused on the target, fits with the brand, delivers the message, and executes the strategy.
As marketers, we kick off the advertising process using a Creative Brief to define the box the creative advertising must play in. The execution align with the brand positioning work and deliver the brand strategy statements you wrote in your marketing plan. Moreover, we show examples of the good and bad of the Creative Brief. And, we introduce our Mini Brief for smaller projects and the Media Brief as part of media decisions. We have a Creative Brief template you can use.
Use our Creative Checklist to determine if the creative work is in the box.
Then, we introduce a Creative Checklist that is designed to help you make advertising decisions. When you see the creative marketing execution come back from your experts, use our creative checklist to make decisions. Next, use your feedback to your marketing experts to steer the ideas back in-the-box. Importantly, the Creative Checklist highlights the gaps you see. Your role is to provide your problems with the work, while avoiding providing a solution. Let your creative marketing execution experts use their in-the-box creativity to figure out new solutions that will fit the box.
To illustrate, click to review how our Creative Checklist helps decide if the creative advertising fits the box..
Use our ABC's of Advertising: Attention, brand link, communication stickiness
Here are four questions to ask:
- First, is it the creative idea that earns the consumer’s attention for the ad?
- Then, is the creative idea helping to drive maximum brand link?
- Next, is the creative idea setting up the communication of the main consumer benefit?
- And, is the creative idea memorable enough to stick in the consumer’s mind and move them to purchase?
To illustrate, click on the ABC’s of advertising to see details.
Get comfortable with various advertising techniques.
Learn how to be better at advertising. Explore other advertising ideas such as emotional advertising, humorous ads, feel-good ads, and ads that bring consumer insights to life. Moreover, read how to conduct your own marketing research, social media plans, or using influencers.
Video on how to use in-the-box creativity
Have a look at our video on how to use in-the-box creativity to ensure our marketing execution stays on strategy. We introduce how our Creative Brief defines the box the work must play in. And, our Creative Checklist to allow you to decide if the marketing execution delivers. To read more, click on this link: How to use in-the-box creativity.
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The marketing fundamentals that we show in this article are part of what we use in our marketing training programs. Ambitious marketers will learn about strategic thinking, brand positioning, brand plans, marketing execution, writing creative briefs, advertising decision-making, marketing analytics, and marketing finance.
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Finally, I wrote our Beloved Brands playbook to help you build a brand that your consumers will love. If you are a B2B marketer, try our B2B Brands playbook. And, if you are a Healthcare Marketer, try our Healthcare Brands playbook.
We designed our brand templates to make it easier for you to do your job.
Moreover, we provide brand templates that help you run your brand. For instance, you can find templates for marketing plans, brand positioning, creative briefs, and business reviews. Altogether, we offer brand toolkits with all the presentation slides you need.
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Importantly, Brand leaders need to know how to think, define, plan, execute and analyze with the best of them. Moreover, while the brand leaders don’t really know how to do anything, they are looked upon to make every decision. Have a look at our five minute video on everything a marketer must know. To read more, click on this link: Everything.
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Creative Brief Frequently Asked Questions
What is a creative brief?
The creative brief is the bridge between the strategy in a marketing plan and the marketing execution. You can use a creative brief for any type of marketing communications. Advertising. Packaging. Websites. Digital Media. Retail merchandising. Social Media. Events. Sales Material. The role of the creative brief is to set the parameters for the creative people. It guides them on the strategy, main messages, and media choices.
What should a creative brief include?
A creative brief should include a strategic objective statement at the top. Match up the desired consumer response to the objective. Then define the target market. Add flavor with consumer insights. In terms of message, include the main benefit, and up to two main reasons to believe. We go through the good and bad of a creative brief, line by line with examples.
What is the most important part of a creative brief?
The most important part of a creative brief is the objective and main message. What are you trying to do. And, what are you trying to say.
Who writes the creative brief?
When I was in marketing, the strategic planner at the creative agency wrote the creative brief. That worked when a brand had one main agency. Now, a brand might work with multiple agencies. First, a brand might have an agency for the traditional advertising. Second, a brand would have an agency specific for digital or social media. Third, there are agencies for retail merchandising, PR, or professional market. Finally, the brand might have a design agency that looks at logos, and look and feel of the brand. With the proliferation of agencies, many times, the brand manager is writing the creative brief. Some might refer to this as a marketing brief. And, the agency would then write their own version of a creative brief. When this happens, they will put more inspirational thinking into the creative brief. It’s ok to have two briefs as long as the brand manager knows which one they will use to make their advertising decisions.