Most brand managers and marketing managers we’ve worked with over the years have told us that the best part of their job is writing the creative brief.

“Sending a creative brief to my agency and getting back a creative reinterpretation of my thoughts is so cool,” says Shauna Pichosky, now the VP Marketing and Communications at ParticipACTION.

She’s right. It’s so cool.

But for a creative team to take a brief to that happy place, the brief has to do some of the lifting. To that end, it should:

  • Be brief. This doesn’t mean short. It means concise.
  • Present interesting jumping-off points for deeper dives into concepts and issues.
  • Paint a comprehensive picture of the audience as it relates to what’s being sold.
  • Clearly outline the value of what’s being sold to the audience.
  • Define the “sandbox” the creatives should play in.

Let’s dig deeper into each.

A creative brief should be (as its name suggests) brief

You’re paying your creative team to think laterally, wax poetically and craft meticulously so you don’t have to do it. So don’t. Think of the brief as a box of LEGO with all the blocks, stickers, little guys and instructions anyone would need to make something awesome. 

Present the elements of the brief concisely and with as little editorializing as possible because it could obfuscate something important without even knowing it.

You may have to catch yourself a few times, especially if you love your brand, your client or your agency because you’d naturally be passionate about it. But that kind of undue influence on the ideation process off the bat might stifle an initial thought that could’ve become the central concept of your message.

It should be well-researched

If you dig deep enough, you’ll find the “interesting” in everything. And as legendary adman David Ogilvy said, “You can’t bore people into buying your product, you can only interest them into buying it.”

Maybe it’s where a truck’s lug nuts are made, or how the new feature in the latest version of a backup software was conceived, or why this particular day trip is worth a trip to Copenhagen, or what’s in the special sauce?

These points of interest are the “jumping-off points” mentioned above that your brief should have. You put something interesting like that in front of a lateral thinker and you’ll get approaches you’d never have thought to think of. To them, this kind of stuff is pure gold. And unless the appearance of the nugget in the final creative is mandatory, it’s okay if it’s not reflected because you can believe it was used in some way to get to the ideas you’re presented.

As you’re putting together your creative brief, don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and get down into it.

It should be well-versed in its audience

This might be the most important part of a creative brief because nothing else matters if it gets this wrong — or worse, gets it right but communicates it poorly.

The standard audience description is demographic-based (18-34, F, urban, 2.2 kids). But this isn’t enough because it’s scientific and people’s purchase decisions are emotional: you have to feel compelled to give your money to someone else for something.

Your creative team is going to want to understand the people behind the demographics. What keeps them up at night and motivates them to get up in the morning? What problems do they have and want to solve? And how do they benefit personally from solving them, be it with recognition, promotion, etc.?

This is important because it will inform the tone and approach of the creative. We like to say there’s no such thing as a bad message, only the wrong audience.

It should identify the value to the customer

We define value as “how the consumer’s life will improve with you in it.” And this is where the “turn” of an argument lies: the transition from “I understand your pain point” to “I can alleviate that pain.”

Value is the relationship between the customer and the product. For example, a flower company sells flowers, but flowers have no inherent value to the purchaser. Instead, the value for the purchaser comes in the form of a better Valentine’s Day or a second date or the look on her face when she sees them for the first time.

That’s how the purchaser’s life is better, and it’s what the creative team wants to see because it’s the kind of information that leads to resonance. A creative person can craft a message to identify with an audience — but only if they understand the audience’s mindset.

And it should define the sandbox

Creative thinking is a never-ending process with an infinite number of options and directions. This is a blessing and a curse. The blessing for many creatives is getting to live as a dreamer. The curse is that it’s remarkably easy to stray from the main point.

Your creative brief should draw clear lines in the sandbox so everyone knows where they are. This includes:

  • The must-haves and why they’re must-haves so your creative teams understand them — they may have a unique, different or better way of including a mandatory if they know why it’s mandatory.
  • The desired tone of the piece and what is and isn’t appropriate language.
  • The timelines, which will inform the approach your creatives take.
  • The measures for success, which will inform key parts of the message like value proposition and calls to action.

Like children, creative people respond to boundaries. Define them clearly and your creative team will squeeze every square inch of gold from the space they have.

Writing a creative brief?

Send it this way before sending it out. We’ll give you our honest feedback and, if necessary, suggestions for improvement.