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How to Write a Rock Solid Creative Brief (With Examples)

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by Katie Oberthaler

29 May 2020

It's rare for a project to get from one end of your pipeline to the other without the input of a lot of people.

If you are getting a project done in-house or working with an outside client, you'll need to have everyone on the same page and working towards the same vision to make sure it's a success. After all, if you’re engaging a marketing agency on a campaign, or you happen to be the agency producing the work, you need to make sure everybody is getting the most out of the partnership.

One way to keep everyone on the same page is to outline what the project is all about on the same page. That's where a creative brief comes into play.

A creative brief is a living document where your team—and your clients—will have a clear understanding of project goals, challenges, target audience, and delivery. The brief gives everyone involved a strong foundation to make sure any campaign your team is working on is successful—from start to finish.

In this article, we're going to break down:

  • What is a Creative Brief, And Why is It Important?
  • Who is in Charge of Creating the Creative Brief?
  • How to Write a Rockstar Creative Brief (7 Key Elements to Include)
  • 5 Best Practices When Writing Creative Briefs
  • 4 Best Creative Brief Examples You Can Learn From

Let's get creative.


Read More: "The Definitive Guide to Online Proofing"


What is a Creative Brief, And Why Is It Important?

A creative brief is a short, comprehensive summary of your project background, target audience, and campaign goals. It will act as a blueprint of guidelines and expectations on any project or campaign that you launch.

As it's a blueprint, a creative brief is used as a guide to make sure brand and vision are communicated consistently both internally and externally. The standard makeup of a creative brief includes:

  • A brand or project statement
  • Key objectives/challenges
  • Target audience
  • Main competitors
  • Company values/market positioning
  • Campaign delivery (i.e. which channels you use to reach your target audience)

Without a creative brief, your in-house team, as well as external agencies, will lack a clear vision for who they're targeting and what your project is hoping to achieve. So, it makes sense that a creative brief is one of the most essential parts of any marketing or advertising campaign, such as:

  • Websites
  • Social media campaigns
  • Promotional videos
  • Print/magazine advertisements
  • Banner ads

Just to name a few.

Who is in Charge of Creating the Creative Brief?

Building out a creative brief requires input from a lot of people.

First, you need to get the ear of your creative team and ask them what their vision and ideas are for the project. Next, your marketing team needs to gather data on your customers and competitors to narrow in on who your target audience is. Finally, your accounts team needs to have an input on how much of a budget your projects can have.

Of course, building out the creative brief means you need to have someone in charge of gathering all this information and putting it down on paper. If you are building a creative brief internally, an account or project manager will have the skills needed to engage with each team to get the information they need.

If you are an agency that's building out a creative brief for a client, however, then whoever is in charge of managing that client relationship will normally take control over the brief.

For example, the project managers at creative firm Advent, which helps college and professional sports organizations develop large-scale interactive displays, formalizes their initial consultation notes into a creative brief proof that both clients and designers can approve before work begins and reference throughout the project lifecycle. This not only helps capture client requirements, but demonstrates that those project requirements were met throughout the design and implementation.

“Our team will still start the first review together in person and talk through it. Clients still like that aspect of discussion in live time. Once that initial discussion happens, the person that's responsible for updating all the design now has a way to say, ‘"Did we actually implement all the things we discussed?,"' noted Mandi Cannon, the agency's Operations Manager.


Read more: "How Creative Firm Advent Streamlined Client Approval for Large-Scale Sports Facilities Design"


How to Write a Rockstar Creative Brief (7 Key Elements)

1. Define Your Business Profile

First, you need to capture the background and essence of your business in a concise paragraph.

Your business profile should outline who your business is, what it's about, and what services you offer. The information provided here will act as an anchor for the entire brief and outline the overall context of your company.

Here's a spec example of business profile for Red Bull, which describes the company's focus and market. 

 

2. Highlight the Main Objective

This section outlines the core goal of your company.

Your main objective should describe the overall aim of your company's existence. It should showcase the problem your target audience experiences and how your product/service helps them overcome it.

This creative brief for PayPal frames their objective in two succinct sentences:

This short outline gives anyone using the creative brief a broad canvas to work from when building out marketing and advertising campaigns. It can help tell a story of how PayPal is a service that allows users to have a virtual wallet when they're shopping online. Simple!

3. Identify Any Possible Challenges

Next, make it clear what challenges your brand is currently facing.

Instead of going into detail about every individual challenge, this section should be used to describe any broad problems the company is having in delivering its message to customers. This section can then be used to clarify how individual projects or campaigns can help your brand overcome these issues.

Let's use PayPal again as an example:

Their product has become so popular that some customers are getting confused with its purpose: it's now being viewed as a replacement for a credit card when in reality it is an online payment gateway. Outlining challenges like this will help marketing and advertising teams anchor any messages they have on future projects to make sure they're helping overcome this problem.

4. Identify Your Target Audience

Figuring out who your message for is key to making sure it's heard.

Ask yourself:

  • Who is your customer?
  • Who are you trying to reach?
  • What is their demographic? (i.e. age, gender, marital status, annual income)

Next, dig a little deeper into their interests, lifestyle habits and aspirations. This will help you to outline how you will market your product.

For example, will it solve a problem, or does your target audience look at it more like a fun product? A product like PayPal helps its customers solve a problem (paying for a product online).

In contrast, an item like a Macbook can tap into other behavioral areas like aspirations and standing in society. Both of these products have different messages to their target audiences.

5. Give an Overview of the Competition

After you've defined your target audience, it's time to focus on your competitors.

Providing an overview of your competition in a creative brief allows you to focus on market conditions and how they are branding their messages to customers. You can then build a clearer picture of what your competitors are doing, and how you can market and advertise your product differently.

Start by answering questions like:

  • Who are your main competitors?
  • What are their main products and do you sell the same products?
  • What is their marketing message, and how is yours different?
  • What is their strategy, and how do they advertise it?
  • What do your competitor's customers look like?

6. Nail Down the Key Message

It's here that you cement your company's tone of voice.

Are you cheerful and happy? Or are you serious and straightforward?

How you approach your creative brief's key message will depend a lot on who your target audience is and what you're trying to achieve.

For example, if the creative brief is being used to craft your social media strategy, you might focus on a simple, bold message that can be used across various platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

However, if the tone of voice is being used for a marketing campaign to Enterprise CEOs, it's likely that it will reflect a much more serious tone to build trust and confidence.

Whatever your tone of voice is, make sure it reflects the overall goals and culture of your company.

7. Include Any Technical Requirements

If you have brand guidelines, deliverable dates, or budget constraints—make sure you include them in the creative brief.

Giving clear guidance on what your needs and constraints are is key to keeping everyone working on the project on the same page. If you are giving the brief to an outside agency to launch a marketing campaign, for example, including these requirements will keep budgets and expectations in check.It also helps you reference back to project guidelines and agreements if creative scope starts to change once creative or campaigns assets are in development. It can also be a helpful document in enforcing collaborative steps that impact budget, such as review and approval deadlines and project versions, that were agreed upon in the initial project scope.

Best Practices When Writing Creative Briefs

Be Thorough, but Concise

Creative briefs shouldn't be the size of textbooks.

The magic of a creative brief is that it gives anyone working on a project a clear, concise idea of what your company is and what your goals are on a single page. Make sure you describe the who and the why, but don't go overboard into how you do it.

Fill the brief with useful background information around a company, as well as single paragraphs outlining broad goals, target audiences and challenges.

A good test is if somebody without prior knowledge of a company can read a creative brief and get caught up to speed. Then, add in information around brand guidelines and deliverables that will help agencies working on projects succeed without having to ask additional questions.

Focus on Measurable Results

As the famous management consultant Peter Drucker famously said, "If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it."

It's crucial that any goals you put into a creative brief can be measured. Even better is if those goals can be translated into cold, hard numbers or other measures like team morale.

Example time.

A client may come to you with the goal of increasing their social media traffic. A bad goal to have is one that will "increase social media traffic" because even if the site gets a single more hit, you will have reached your goal. On the other hand, a measurable goal could be to "increase social media traffic to 5,000 views over the next 30 days."

See the difference? Using the latter makes it easier to show clients the size and success of the campaign in a measurable goal. The other is just fluff.

Define Your Voice

A brand's voice should be at the center of any creative brief.

Cementing your voice allows a brand to connect with their audience and tell a story about how they are different from their competitors. Brand strategist Dominic Tortorice says that a company's tone of voice should encapsulate all that its brand and customers value.

"So, if you were a cosmetics brand trying to reach millennials on social media, you might use a fun, lighthearted tone that is peppered with emojis and lingo designed to connect with a younger audience. Like, u totes get it, right? The moar your customer digs the writing, the shibbier. Want a ride-or-die readership? You best get that writing on fleek," he says.

Tortorice says that if your voice needs to capture a C-suite audience, however, then that tone needs to take a 180.

"The suits would probably respond best to a tone that is highly professional, is condensed into short, quick-hit sentences and is authoritative. You want to appear knowledgeable. You want to inspire. You want to provide thought leadership and cultivate an executive following that looks to you for solutions and ideas," he says.

Case in point: Skittles.

The iconic candy brand's voice is fun, colorful and a little silly—just like its product.

 

Its tone of voice works because it captures the imagination and uses the product's colorful brand guidelines to create fun, quirky ad campaigns.

Get Input from Your Team

Finally, make sure everybody gets a say in the creative brief to keep everybody on the same page.

You should share the brief in-house (or externally if you're working with a client) to make sure deadlines and deliverables are realistic. Getting any issues ironed out before a project starts can help ensure that it doesn't get derailed half-way through.

If you build the creative brief inside a living document using a tool like Ziflow, this step becomes even easier. People in each of your departments can add, comment or edit parts of the brief (at the same time) before it's used as a blueprint or sent over to a client.

You can use intake forms to formalize this process with the client, by enabling them to submit key details about their company and needs in an automated form that automatically kicks off the brief creation process with your design or creative team. We talk about how to set up that automated process in this post.

Either way, the person in charge of putting the creative brief together still has the same responsibilities: to speak to stakeholders and find out, in detail, what the project mission is, goals, challenges and delivery requirements.

brief-1

No matter who is compiling a creative brief, intake forms can help formalize the process and capture necessary information to kickstart project workflows.


Suggested reading: "Intake Forms -- Bring Content into Your Creative Production Workflows (Without Email)"


Creative Brief Examples You Can Learn From

1. Doritos

Okay, this creative brief for Doritos isn't much to look at.

But what it lacks in fancy design, it makes up with clear, concise messaging. Let's take a look at the messaging and business profile.

 

doritos creative brief

The brief gives a short, detailed summary of the company's background and aim of its products. Their main aim is to give their target audience tortilla chips that showcase bold flavors. They even state that they want to emphasize the bold, which gives marketing and advertising agencies the green light to try something a little bit different on campaigns. There's enough information to get an idea of the company's message and how it wants it delivered.

2. Reebok

Next up, Reebok.

The American sporting brand is known around the globe as a brand that sells high-quality, affordable products like trainers and clothing.

This brief for Reebok is interesting because of its condensed, scannable design. Anyone can quickly scan it to find information like the tone of voice and target audiences that are broken down by demographics and buying behaviors.

Reebok Creative Brief Example

 

Building a brief that's "scannable" makes it easier to refer back to without having to read a brief in full. 

3. TOMS

Lastly, a creative brief for Californian shoemaker, TOMS.

 

This brief is much more detailed, and there's a reason. TOMS' company is built on a foundation of empathy and compassion, thanks to the company's owner Blake Mycoskie. The company's overarching goal is for each pair of shoes it sells, another pair will be donated to a child in need under its core strategy "one for one".

Because of the importance of this strategy, this brief goes into much greater detail about its character, goals and target customers. Without such a detailed and concise creative brief, TOMS could risk the chance of its vision and overall getting lost if it outsources a project or campaign.

Final Thoughts

Crafting a creative brief takes time, collaboration, and effort.

However, the time put into building a creative brief far outweighs the downsides of not having one at all. A clear, concise creative brief can help keep your team on the same page when delivering a project while keeping it anchored in core messages and goals.

Without a creative brief, your team is essentially flying blind. Spend the time putting in the work to create a brief that will act as a blueprint not only for today's projects—but any campaign your team will work on in the future.

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