How many of us record most of our TV viewing these days, so we can fast-forward through the ads? Or use an online ad blocker? Or just change radio stations when a block of ads comes on? People will always find ways to avoid marketing messages that are not relevant or entertaining. Luckily, marketers have a tool at their disposal to combat ad avoidance: the marketing brief (or, if you prefer, the creative brief).
The brief is the main tool marketers have at their disposal to ensure their marketing and advertising connects with their target audience. And that connection is what gives you the best chance of getting the outcome you’re seeking from your marketing dollar.
Getting the marketing brief right
There are so many ways to get the marketing brief wrong. So how can you get it right?
Small jobs that just require a quick refresh don’t require pages of documentation. Not if you want to have any hope of being an agile marketing organisation.
And in an agile process, you need to focus on launching new work quickly, keeping your projects and your bets small. A page or two may be all you need to write your agile marketing brief, particularly if you’re planning to iterate and improve the creative a week or two after testing it with customers.
But still, your brief must contain some basic information to have any chance of being understood by the audience so the resulting creative product meets your needs: what are we saying, to whom, what do we want them to do, what are the mandatories, where will it run and when do we need it?
And if you’re briefing out a major campaign, or a new project with several moving parts, your brief needs to be clear and concise, while including all the necessary information.
So here, for the record, are the 12 essential things you need to write the perfect marketing or creative brief.
1. Project details
Make sure you include all the basic project details, including the name of the project and brand that’s being promoted, timelines for each stage of the approval process and the final due date.
Also include who is requesting the work, who is writing the brief, and who the ultimate approver will be. This last point is often neglected, but it’s critical, as it will help the creative team decide how to shape their creative proposal so it has the best chance of being approved, streamlining turnaround times.
If you have regular channels to market you expect to use, nominate those up front. For instance, if you always amplify your campaigns on social, or you need landing page imagery that matches your online campaign, specify it early and save time later on. Alternatively, it may be the case that the creative idea will largely determine the channels to be used.
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3. Proposed budget
The budget is so important — and so often left out of the marketing or creative brief — that it deserves a section on its own. Too often the marketer writing a brief will tell the agency to go as big as they need to in their creative proposal — when realistically, the resources to make it happen were never going to be available. All that means is the creative team will probably be sent back to the drawing board, and the marketer will end up paying for an additional round of creative, adding unnecessary cost to the process.
4. Product details
In addition to nominating the product, brand or service being advertised, the brief should include any product benefits and any additional information that may be used to help sell the brand. Does the product have any unique features? Is it the first of its kind? The best? If so, why? How can that be substantiated? Don’t assume your designer, creative team or agency knows everything you know.
5. Commercial context
There are two main areas here that need to be covered off. Firstly, what is the business opportunity, goal or problem that needs to be solved? By including this information in the marketing brief, you’re allowing the agency to suggest additional or other ways of satisfying that requirement that may not be the project you’re briefing in.
Also include why the project is important to the company, and how it meets the strategic objectives of the company. The more closely aligned the proposal is to the needs of the business, the more likely it is to be approved.
Secondly, include competitive data, market dynamics and any commercial history the creative team should know about. List your main competitors and their strengths and weaknesses. If the market is changing locally or globally, describe how. And if you’ve tried some things in the past that worked well, or that bombed, be honest — share those experiences and you’ll save time and get to the next great campaign sooner.
6. Audience information
One of the first things your agency or creative team needs to know is who they are trying to reach and persuade to take action. You may have detailed personas built out that you can append to your marketing brief. There may be a primary and a secondary audience. Include as much detail as you reasonably can.
Also describe the problem or pain point your product solves for the target audience, how they feel about your product, brand or service, and any information to support why they are likely to believe your marketing or advertising promise.
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7. What do we want our audience to do?
Are you building trust in your brand? Do you want increased advocacy as a result of this project? Are you seeking more sales? Or trying to generate more leads? Be very clear about what you want your target audience to do as a result of seeing your marketing communications.
8. Insight into the target audience
Often left out of the marketing or creative brief, an insight into the target audience is an essential ingredient for motivating them to take the action you want them to take. “In almost every case, by definition, an insight is out of sight,” according to Joe Talcott, former global marketing director of McDonald’s and founder of marketing consultancy Creatism. “It’s something everybody else doesn’t know. It’s your potential competitive advantage that comes from having a better understanding of the customer.”
Talcott goes into more detail in a previous post for Simple: “An observation is a fact about your product or your target audience: the ‘what’. An insight is about understanding the forces that motivate them: it’s the ‘why’.”
In an example Talcott gives from his time at McDonald’s, the company was preparing to brief its agency DDB on an international campaign for Happy Meals. Past advertising had focused on the toy that came with the meal. The reason it was being created was that Happy Meal sales had been dropping.
“The insight we came up with was that mums who were now dropping their kids off at daycare and picking them up, were feeling guilty that they were not spending as much time with their kids as they should,” Talcott says.
Instead of just plugging the Happy Meal toy, the creative idea that came back from the agency in response to this brief focused on how buying a Happy Meal gave time back to mums that they could spend with their kids.
“It was quite different for the time,” says Talcott. “It ended up being quite successful – ‘Stop for lunch and spend time with your kids’.”
In this campaign for Meat & Livestock Australia, the “We never lamb alone” strategy was built on the observation that lamb is the meat most likely to be shared, and the insight that Australians wished they could share a meal with family and friends more often.
Make no mistake — creative teams rely on a strong insight because it’s the essential truth on which great campaigns are built. The actual creative treatment may vary, but it should be built on a basic human truth. The insight is what gives creative teams the freedom to explore those different treatments while maintaining a connection with the target audience.
9. Most important communication idea
What is the one thing you need your project to communicate? Often called the single-minded proposition, marketers typically find this the hardest part of the brief to complete because it requires them to distill all their thinking and eliminate all the non-essential requirements.
“In my experience, agency creatives will immediately look for the single most important idea,” Talcott says. “If it’s not there, you’re really going to have a problem. It should take you back to the insight. If it’s something that’s deeper than the product or the price, you’ve got a much better chance of moving people to take action.”
10. Brand guidelines
Is there an established look and feel for your brand? Do you have brand guidelines or a style guide? What are your brand colours? How should your logo be used? How are images treated? What tone does the marketing work you’re undertaking need to strike? Ticking these boxes helps your brand build the consistency needed to create long-term brand recognition and be remembered alongside the competition.
Hard to leave this out of the essential elements of a perfect marketing brief, since mandatories are by their nature… well, mandatory. What must be included in your project or campaign? The logo? The website address? A response mechanism? An advertising tagline? If you can specify these up front, you’ll save time and revision costs down the track.
12. Measurable results
Last but by no means least, how will the success of your project be measured? This is about quantifiable results, such as a desired percentage increase in sales, a percentage uptick in leads, a measurable increase in brand awareness. If you don’t include these, you’ll never know if your project — or your brief — was successful. And surely we as marketers can do better than that these days!
Of course, if you write all your marketing briefs directly in Simple’s content marketing platform, we capture all your project information in our flexible, online templates, customised for your business and easily accessible in our one central system of record.
That means no more sending marketing briefs by email, hunting for lost emails and forgetting who responded to you. And that means more time you and your team can then spend on the strategic and creative thinking that leads to better marketing.
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