Without a Creative Brief, you’ve set your project up for failure. Your creative team is relying 100 percent on their intuitive skills while spending little time learning about the client, their customers and other essential facts. When the creatives feel they have executed a brilliant design piece, the client may never seem happy and the working relationship becomes strained.

In order to avoid this reality, prepare a written Creative Brief. This is primarily the responsibility of the marketer and not the creative director. Of course, both the marketer and the creative team should collaborate on the written document, it is the marketer’s job to make sure there is a consensus on the assignment and that all parties have reasonable expectations of each other.

The Creative Brief is like a melding of the marketing plan with the creative strategy. Getting the client’s approval and documenting the creative approach requires you to think “big picture” combining the knowledge of the customer, the market environment and the offer itself into a unified creative implementation plan.

The creative team should have the facts that relate to the customer’s target market, competitive environment as well as other knowledge that may appear to relate directly to the problem at hand. We believe it is out of the abundance of such knowledge that creative teams are able to generate the highest possible response rates from their creative work.

Let’s look at the characteristics of a strong direct response Creative Brief.

Strong Briefs:

  • Quantify the objective
  • Organize the information accurately
  • Reveal emotional insights that might lift response
  • Respect the overall brand
  • Summarize information about the client, the client’s customer and the competitive environment
  • Include samples of past winners and losers
  • Supplies any available competitive samples 

Weak Briefs:

  • Lack an offer or guidance for developing a strong offer
  • Focus on the client’s needs rather than those of the target audience
  • Do not provide essential information as needed for the project
  • Omit concrete and factual support for the claimed product benefits
  • Disregard basic target market information such as mailing list descriptions, demographics and any other pertinent customer information

Let’s review a few of these to clarify what each section contains.

I. State the objective(s) and what we have to do to win? For example …

  • Generate actual appointments for the sales team
  • Beat an existing control
  • Enroll new members
  • Convert existing leads to buy the product “off-the-page”
  • Generate completed applications
  • Remind lapsed members of a deadline for an existing offer

II. Describe the product or service benefits.

  • What are the benefits offered by this product?
  • Provide support for each purported product benefit
  • What is the primary benefit?
  • Is there a unique selling proposition or a key differentiation point?
  • Provide any relevant testimonials
  • What do third parties who are respected by the audience say about this product?
  • What research supports the benefits?
  • Particularly important to B-to-B lead generation, what is the product’s value proposition?
  • How does your product compare with competing products or services?
  • Provide copies of the controls regardless of channel
  • Compile printed and electronic literature that may already exist about the product

III. Define the target audience.

  • Describe the client’s typical customer in demographic and psychographic terms
  • Are we communicating with present customers or prospects? If customers, what did they buy and when?
  • For direct mail, what data can we use from the mailing list to personalize the direct mail package to increase response rates?
  • Are these prospects? If so, how was the media selected and why this selection? The media plan reveals insights into the customers that can help the
    creative team better understand the customers the client seeks.
  • What is the size of the selected target audience? Geographic distribution? Can we use local terminology or other local characteristics to make the message more pertinent?
  • Go into any available research or client input of why people buy and do not buy the offered product.
  • Review the emotional motivators of why the audience might buy or not buy the product.
  • Summarize key research information about the customer or prospect audience.

IV. Discuss the offer.

  • What offers have worked in the past?
  • What offers have not worked in the past?
  • What other offers are worthy of a test?
  • What offers have worked for competitors or in other industries directed to the target audience?
  • When creating new offers, how much can we afford to spend on it based on the allowables for this product or service?
  • Share the test grid and testing ideas such as offer, format or multichannel testing.

V. Summarize the customer’s perceptions about the advertiser’s product.

  • How does the target audience view the offered product in the competitive environment?
  • What can our target audience turn to instead of to us?
  • If possible, give the creative team a comparison chart pitting the offered product against the competition (a SWOT — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats — analysis).
  • Based on the competition and how it relates to the brand, what tone should the creative take on?

VI. Provide the “givens” and brand requirements.

  • Include any regulatory or legal copy requirements.
  • Provide any graphic guidelines, logos and other graphic support as required for the creative execution.
  • Review any verbiage or language that must not be used in the copy.

VII. Reveal the relevant budgets.

  • What is the executional budget for this creative effort?
  • Provide production limits that take into account the allowable cost per lead or cost per sale.
  • In direct mail, the Creative Brief describes the proposed format and Cost Per Thousand (both test costs and rollout costs) already agreed to by the client. For other channels, the media plan describes the advertising vehicles such as a two-minute spot, print advertisement size or an email series and so forth.

Many projects proceed without the benefit of a Creative Brief. Sometimes talented and dedicated creative teams gather the  needed information on their own while others just do the work and cross their fingers hoping that the program will work. But this approach invariably causes missed deadlines and needless stress on the client and others involved in the project.

A well-done Creative Brief is the Missing Link that will improve response rates. It also saves time by reducing the amount of revisions and assures prompt client approvals. And lastly, such well-prepared creative projects improve the chances  of meeting, or even exceeding tight production deadlines. But most of all, you have done all you can to create work that has the best chance of achieving the project’s marketing objectives