How to write briefs that lead to breakthrough creative ideas

Every so often we see marketing that tickles our funny bone, gives us the “feels”, or genuinely enlightens us. And it also makes us wonder, “How’d they think of that?” What was the “thought journey” that led the creative team to that solution? It’s a marvel of creative problem solving and we want to understand how they did it so that we can learn something.

More often than not, that thought journey started with a really great creative brief - a strategy document that identified an intriguing intersection between the client’s brand and the people it was trying to sell to. It framed the creative problem, focused the creative team in a particular area, and inspired them to come up with a brilliantly compelling idea.

Many people in the marketing industry don’t realize or appreciate this, but writing a good creative brief is an art form unto itself. Over the past couple of decades of both writing briefs and executing on them, I’ve noticed a few best practices that can mean the difference between powerful creative and sucky creative (there just happens to be 10 of them – trust me, I wasn’t trying for that number.)

Luminous, not voluminous.

There’s a tendency to dump large amounts of data on creatives. But less is more, as the saying goes. By providing only information that’s pertinent to the project, it helps your team focus their attention on what really matters and doesn’t cloud their thinking with impertinent details.

Accuracy is critical.

The brief is the bible for the product. You might think that having one little thing wrong, omitted or changed later won’t matter. And maybe it won’t. But it’s possible that it will matter quite a bit indeed.

Provide context.

Your brand is in the middle of a conversation with the customer. Your creative team needs to know what we’ve said to the prospect or customer in the past, what we want them to do next, and how this piece fits into the entire communication stream.

Offer audience insights.

The real meat of the audience section of a brief is about how the product or service would fit into the audience’s life. Why would they want it? Why would they want to change what they’re doing and adopt your thing? Use your intuition if you have to and offer at least one core human truth. This is critical.

Pretend your mom was going to read it.

The best creative briefs use simple, raw language. They don’t get overly complex. They don’t talk about business strategy. They’re straightforward and basic (no offense to your mom).

Check your thinking for consistency.

Is your strategy aligned with your objective? Does the single-minded message line up with the proof points? Doesn’t everything map back to the key audience insight? The more consistent the brief, the more powerful the creative idea (usually).

Meet face-to-face.

Don’t toss briefs over the email fence. Many times it’s what you say that sparks an idea that leads to great work. Give your creative partners the opportunity to probe your brain and you will be rewarded with the best ideas.

Be truthful about deadlines.

The creative team and the marketing team need to have trust if this thing is going to work. The marketers need to reveal their true deadlines and the creatives need to deliver ON time every time. That’s the deal. This helps create a good working relationship and mutual respect.

Judge work against the brief.

Your brief is a creative contract. That is what you use to judge the creative output. Is the work on strategy? Is it doing everything you asked? Does your feedback map directly back to the brief?

Include all approvers in the briefing process.

If someone hasn’t seen the brief, then they don’t have the context they need to properly assess the creative. If the CEO is approving the creative, then she or he needs to know what the problem was that the creatives were asked to solve in the first place. Also, they may disagree with the problem and the way that it’s framed in the brief. This gives them the opportunity to weigh in BEFORE all the time is spent solving the problem.

What do you think? Would you add anything to this list of best practices?

Oftentimes when we start working with a brand, I’m surprised to find that the client doesn’t have a brief template. If that’s the case for you, I offer up Pinwheel’s creative brief template FOR FREE. It includes tips, hints, and reminders to writing a good creative brief. We also offer creative brief training for marketing teams to develop skills that they will carry with them through many positions on their way to the top of the marketing food chain.