Insights / Creative

PUBLISHED: Jan 25, 2022 10 min read

How to Put Together a Killer Creative Brief That Actually Works

Key insights on how to get the right input, move creative projects to the next level, and achieve customer outcomes.

Whether you’re tackling a total update to your marketing campaigns or attempting to tweak your brand designs to appeal to new demographics, compiling a creative brief is a make-or-break step. When customers and creative teams are misaligned, the result is phoned-in creative deliverables with off-brand messaging and mediocre execution across copy, UX, UI, web design, visual design, social media, video production, content[amsive_tooltip term=”content”] creation, and more. The worst-case scenario is that creative teams have to start playing the blame game, putting suboptimal KPIs and poor campaign performance into context while airing grievances to frustrated team members and customers alike. Nobody wants all that — and many would prefer to skip the creative brief altogether. 

The root cause of all the headaches and inefficiencies when putting together a project is that creative briefs — the documents used to outline the strategy of a creative project — aren’t any good. Usually, they aren’t given the weight that’s needed to be the single source of truth to guide a customer’s campaign goals. Yes, many factors — and excuses — go into whether certain projects are successful or not. But achieving desired outcomes for customers starts with pulling off a killer creative brief.

Rediscover the Power of the Creative Brief

52 percent of agency leaders say creative briefs lack focus, with around 27 percent saying incomplete or inconsistent information regularly goes into them to render the overall campaign dead on arrival — and this was back in 2013! Not a lot has changed. Copywriters, art directors, and designers still won’t get going without customer sign-offs on a full brief, or they essentially fill in the blanks where they think they’re on the right track; and customers still tend to fill out the information in the vaguest, most basic way possible. 

Look at it like this: if creative project work was food, and the desired outcome was a satisfying meal, the creative brief would be the recipe. The customer and team chefs have to be able to cook the meal to perfection, but you can’t serve a delicious dinner that’ll get your restaurant a Michelin star without a precise recipe. Customers and creative teams need to put their heads together and roll up their sleeves for that common purpose. 

If you’re still lagging behind, or aren’t convinced that it’s possible, here are some best practices on how to make creative briefs the powerful and necessary launching point they need to be to make campaigns successful.

When customers and creative teams are misaligned, the result is phoned-in creative deliverables with off-brand messaging and mediocre execution.

1. Reestablish the Goal of the Brief

The fact is, creative briefs are the perfect opportunity for fresh perspectives and framing ideas — and they’re only lousy when customers and teams allow them to be. We know that it’s tough at the outset of a new project to use this time and space wisely. But it’s crucial to communicate a fundamental mindset change to an internal team and a customer’s conception of the nature of the brief. 

You can undercut any excuses either side might have by reframing the goal of the brief itself: the customer wants to overcome a barrier to get an audience to take some sort of action — for example, purchase products or services — and the team, with the help of a detailed brief, will help them get there. 

It’s a classic forest-for-the-trees conundrum that gets lost when either side is too busy worrying about unnecessary minutiae. But by reestablishing the goal of the brief to be about solving consumer problems, teams will ensure the brief primarily addresses the reason why audiences are not willing to take the desired action, and let that drive the creative deliverables.

2. Nail Down the Necessary Details

If the brief is only communicating stagnant points of difference, then you’ve got a problem. 

According to customers, they have industry-best products that the market has never seen before. The brand has been around for half a century so they have legacy status in the marketplace, they have storefront locations, and their products are made-in-USA. A creative team can certainly illustrate those points, but they won’t be able to get to the creative next level with them. 

When compiling a brief, access to information is key — but it must work both ways to generate next-level ideas. All too often, creative teams are left to ideate messaging and strategy based on basic information. For a truly successful project, The creative team needs to rethink how to get a seat at the strategy table to collaborate with customers and solve for their challenges. 

Without necessary information, it becomes highly difficult to pinpoint true consumer-focused differentiators. Each must come together to collect important details such as the message to convey, the audience to communicate with, the dates when a particular creative deliverable should be in the market, or the channel used to communicate the message. Only then will the creative team determine successful concept, copy, and visuals.

3. Optimize the Brief for Success

How does a customer relay the right information to make sure that input is worthwhile, and how do teams compel them to do so? There are no right answers without the right questions. 

Questions that are too broad will in turn generate information too general to be useful through the right channels. But a dynamic, specific set of questions will surface vital statistics about consumer-facing facts or points of view that help determine why a team’s work is the right thing to do for any customers’ business.

Make the brief incredibly simple to fill out but use questions that dig deeper to undercut vague or unclear responses, like:

  • What should the creative deliverables work accomplish and what buyer personas[amsive_tooltip term=”buyer-persona”] will they communicate to?
  • What primary message should be communicated to reach the desired business outcome?
  • How will success be measured/evaluated?
  • What are the primary goals and actions the audience should take?
  • What analytics do you have to back up campaign trajectories?

When compiling a brief, access to information is key — but it must work both ways to generate next-level ideas.

Writing the Creative Brief

All of the above includes the insights that teams and customers need to reignite a stagnant creative brief that’s holding them back. But we know a thing or two about how it’s also key to establish simple, streamlined ways to put together the creative brief itself to ensure that projects can be successful.

Keeping the three steps above in mind, below is a handy creative brief outline that will help teams and customers align with a creative project’s expectations and business needs.

Preparing the Creative Brief

Start the brief off with the sorts of client information that everyone needs to be aware of. Then, populate subsequent sections with the essential questions that aim to get intended audiences to do the things customers and creative teams want them to do. Finally, move into the broader context of the account and the product as a way to zero in on how to achieve the desired outcome. This conceptually far-reaching but focused portion of the brief is the final springboard that will let the full creative strategy flourish.

Section 1 — Project Overview 

  • These are the basics, and mostly self-explanatory. Align on the essential foundations of the project here, including project name, client name and contact information, what round of revision a certain set of deliverables may be, desired due date, and the true budget the teams will work with. Also worthwhile are specific brand manuals, materials, position statements, or samples of previous marketing materials that will be relevant for the project.

Section 2 — Marketplace Overview

  • Think of the specific market where the customer provides its products or services. Are there markets that will be more favorable to those products and services than others? Here’s where you can flex your business brain to think about the economic ramifications of the overall project. 

Section 3 — Targeted Personas

  • What audience does the project need to reach and what are the desired primary and secondary demographics (if any)? Include as much desired demographic information as possible. 

Section 4 Audience Insights 

  • Tell us something about that persona and that audience. What things do they do? How do they feel about products and services in general? What pain points do they have? Any research the customer has done, or anything from vertical strategies about the target audience should go in this section. 

Section 5 – Desired Audience Action

  • Cut right to the chase once you know who to go after. It’s here where to state the desired business outcome and call-to-action[amsive_tooltip term=”call-to-action”]. Determine what the primary action is that the customer wants the audience to take. A little trick here is to write it as a verb — we want the persona to actually express action, after all.

If a customer and a creative team knows what the creative project needs to accomplish, know how it will be measured, who the deliverables need to talk to, what action they want the desired audience to take, and why they aren’t taking it — then a team has the ingredients they need to pull together a successful strategy.

Section 6 — Barriers to Success

  • Customers and teams need to determine what they want the creative work to accomplish. But the real question to dig into this section is to state why the audience isn’t willing to take the desired action at this point in their journey. 

Section 7 — Channels

  • This section may change as collaboration moves ahead. But the customer is looking for an omnichannel solution. Whatever tactics the customer is considering could turn into something different given the journey through compiling the creative brief, but it’s important to state what initial deliverables are expected up front, and the best channel vehicles to recommend for delivering the desired business outcome.

Section 8 — Measurement and Key KPIs

  • Assume the desired business outcome is achieved (hooray!) — but wait, how will teams know they achieved it? This is where to uncover the data details about how to measure and evaluate performance.

Section 9 — Competitors 

  • The customer should know their rivals, and the teams should too. Do a deep dive into the biggest adversaries in the marketplace, and how to game the customer’s advantages and disadvantages.

In all, if a customer and a creative team knows what the creative project needs to accomplish, know how it will be measured, who the deliverables need to talk to, what action they want the desired audience to take, and why they aren’t taking it — then a team has the ingredients they need to pull together a successful strategy. If you need even more help, we encourage you to download a free template of our creative brief. As we know, with a killer creative brief, customers and teams alike will ensure the marketing isn’t doomed to fail from the start.