How to write a creative brief that inspires your agency

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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.

The role of the creative brief is the bridge between your strategic plan and any type of marketing execution. You should have a creative brief for any type of advertising, content marketing, logos, packaging design, websites, videos, or conferences. The creative brief distills everything you could possibly say into only those elements that matter. 

Your creative brief should have a clear single-minded objective of what you are looking to do, a tightly defined target, consumer insights that explain your consumer, the overarching brand idea the work needs to fit, the main message you want to communicate, and any support points that will help reinforce your message.

Managing the creative brief process

Click on diagram to zoom in

 

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

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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:

Click to zoom in for details

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.

Click to zoom in for details

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

Dissecting the good and bad of the creative brief

How to define the ideal target market to build your brand around

Buy our Creative Brief template, Media Brief template

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.

Learn more about how to find your brand positioning

To find your ideal brand positioning statement, you want to find the space that is most motivating to consumers. And, find the space that is most ownable for your brand. Our brand positioning statement process starts with a defined consumer target your brand will serve. Then, we focus on the emotional and functional benefits that differentiate your brand. Further, we use support points to help differentiate your brand from competitors.

Learn more about how to write marketing plans

A strategic marketing plan gets everyone on the same page, including senior management, sales, product development, customer service and your agency partners. So, we have a one-page brand plan to help. That way, everyone drives against the same vision, key issues, strategies, and tactics. Throughout this article, I will show how to write a marketing plan, with a few marketing plan examples. And, we have a marketing plan template you can purchase. 

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