In my travels this year on behalf of the Association of National Advertisers’ School of Marketing, I’ve met hundreds of dedicated marketing and advertising professionals. They shared with me their challenges, frustrations and successes with the creative brief. If I’ve learned only one thing from these remarkable people—and it’s difficult to reduce to one—it’s this:
You must maintain a sense of humor.
The brief is the most important part of the creative process because it’s the first step, and that makes it hard to write. Very hard. As it should be. So you must learn to have fun, laugh and accept that brief writing is a process.
From California to Virginia, from Miami to San Francisco, from Phoenix to Cleveland, I heard the same basic questions repeatedly:
How do you know what to include and what to leave out?
How do you make the brief clearer?
How do you get everyone to buy in?
How do you write a really good single-minded proposition?
The answers to these questions require the seven “Cs” outlined below. They are my gift to you this holiday season (plus a New Year’s Resolution I urge you to consider. It’ll be easy…I promise!).
Think of the creative brief as an argument. An argument requires evidence to support it. To be a good argument, you must take a stand, a clear position. Preferably, a position that might cause push back.
If someone disagrees with you about your argument, you’re in the ball park. If they don’t disagree, you might be in safe territory.
Better to be outside your comfort zone with your brand.
Writing a creative brief requires courage. Ultimately you want everyone to agree with you that you’ve taken the brand assignment in the right direction. Being safe is the wrong pathway. Presenting solid evidence in the form of consumer insights and an authentic emotional reason to believe in the product are better choices. You have to defend your position.
Less is more, especially with a creative brief. You can’t say everything in your advertising communication. Don’t even try to.
Constraint is liberating. Put someone in a box and it fires up the imagination. This isn’t my opinion. This is reality. As a creative, I know how it works.
Constraint begins here, with the creative brief. It means you have to decide what is absolutely the most important claim about your brand. So make it. Then stop. You’re done.
If you don’t have it, find another line of work.
Advertising is about ferreting out what your customer wants and triggering that want with a message that demands…action, a response, a purchase.
I wrote a short essay for my college students explaining why I teach. Here’s a sentence from the opening paragraph:
“Curiosity is the engine of inquiry, a catalyst of self-awareness, the train-whistle-in-the-dead-of-night that calls you irresistibly to a new adventure.”
The creative brief is the natural repository of your curiosity. Feed both!
We tend to forget that advertising changed dramatically in the 1960s when copywriters and art directors were paired to work together. Two brains. Two uniques perspectives. Two sounding boards.
This principle is now considered best practices in writing creative briefs. The collaboration must include a creative. That means asking for at the very least some comments on a draft creative brief before the briefing takes place.
Creatives have a stake in the process. Include them, always. When the actual briefing begins, there will be no surprises.
I’ve lost track of how many creative briefs I’ve read in my career. The really good ones had something in common:
The are well written. They were composed by someone who understood a sentence. Who could write a narrative, a story with drama and tension. They were composing a concise, cogent argument.
There is no substitute for craft in a creative brief.
There’s never time to do it right. There’s always time to do it over.
You can avoid this maddening reinforcing loop by giving yourself enough time to think. Demand thinking time!
A quantity you do not have, right? I hear this one, too.
One solution I recommend: Not every project requires its own creative brief. One-offs, special promotions, limited-time offers and projects of this nature can be handled with what I’d call a creative brief “addendum.”
In other words, a paragraph or two of new information to supplement an existing creative brief.
In other words, pick your battles.
I saved this for last.
Clarity is the starting and end point of every creative brief. You’ll know you’ve achieved it when the creatives start to riff on the project in front of you, and you may not even be done with the briefing.
They’ll have questions, of course. Every brief invokes questions. The best briefs always do that.
Clarity means no wasted words. Your argument is sound. Your rationales produce nods of agreement.
So there you have it. My gifts to you for 2017.
Are you still struggling with your briefs? Please consider my request for your New Year’s Resolution. It will make a world of difference:
I’m serious. Professionals always practice. Think LeBron James. Better yet, think Brett Hundley.
Who’s he? The new Green Bay Packers quarterback, the unfortunate guy who had to replace Aaron Rogers when he was injured earlier this season. Boy oh boy does he practice.
Why not you?
Here’s what you can do. Take as little as three minutes a day. No pencil, pen, paper or keyboard required.
On your commute home, identify a brand, any brand. Your car. The phone in your hand. In your head, answer these questions:
What are two brand benefits?
What is the single-minded proposition for this brand?
Who is the ideal consumer? Why?
Do this everyday with any brand. You’re honing a valuable skill. Do this for 30 days in a row, and you’ll have a new habit. Then, the next time you have to write an actual creative brief, you simply click into your muscle memory.
Practice makes creative brief writing easier.
Inspired Creative Brief: The Blog is off in December. I’ll be back in January 2018 with a Sneak Peek of my new book, How To Write A Killer Single-Minded Proposition. Don’t miss it!