Structure is the Key to an Effective Creative Brief

By Camille Leonard

Structure is the Key to an Effective Creative Brief

Whether you're working with an in-house marketing team or have chosen to outsource your marketing support, a structured creative brief is essential for keeping everyone on track. While every creative brief is different, there are 3 standard phases of development and a handful of pertinent questions every brief should answer.

Effective marketing is based on strategy and planning. Whether you are working with an in-house marketing team, completely outsourcing your marketing support or somewhere in between, determining and communicating your goals is crucial to the success of your marketing efforts. To ensure that all parties involved are on the same page, we strongly recommend creative briefs to guide the development of your marketing programs. Answering all the big questions up-front will keep everyone on track throughout the process and help mitigate confusion and scope creep down the road. While every creative brief is different, there are 3 standard phases of the creative brief development process.

Phase 1: Discovery

Take a close look at what you’re trying to accomplish.

The success of marketing programs depends on purpose and focus. Be as specific as possible about who you intend your target audience(s) to be, what their role in your success is (what you need them to do), and what they need to believe about you in order for you to succeed with them. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t generalize. Harness any available insight or data to help you better understand what will motivate them to take action. This will guide the marketing development process towards messages that will resonate with them.

Questioning is very important to the process of developing effective creative. What makes your offering (be it a hotel, attraction, city, event, etc.) stand out? What end goal are you trying to reach? If there is an opportunity to provide additional context, take it! Every pertinent detail counts. 

Ideally, the writing of a creative brief is a team effort. Count on insight from members of your organization for a well-informed brief. The brief should then be shared among the contributors to make certain all parties are in agreement and all the details are covered. 

Phase 2: Communication

Share this information with the team assigned to create the marketing solution.

For marketing and PR professionals, a well-written creative brief is the gold standard for getting their teams moving together toward accomplishing the stated goal of the project. Yes, you can share this information in a meeting where everyone takes notes. However, a written brief ensures that every contributing member has the exact same, most pertinent information. Creative brainstorming and development should only start after the brief is signed off by the parties expected to approve the work of these efforts.

Phase 3: Accountability & Agreement

Get confirmation that everyone understands the goals and scope of the project.

To keep creative in line with the marketing goals of the project, everyone from leadership and stakeholders to the creative team needs to work toward the goals established in the brief.

The creative brief also provides a framework to evaluate creative direction as the project progresses and helps ensure that each element is on brand. Content and design are no longer judged according to emotion or opinion, but instead, on strategic analysis. 

Side benefits to using creative briefs:

If you outsource your marketing, expect increased satisfaction with the solutions the firm provides. If you are in a leadership position, well-written creative briefs are great for justifying marketing dollars spent to your stakeholders. And no matter your role, creative briefs provide a framework to confidently walk your organization’s leadership through creative solutions for their approval. 

So, how do you write a creative brief?

Over the last 25 years, we have found that there's no one way to write a creative brief. It is important that it provides clarity, goals and purpose to help shape the marketing program of work being created for you. However, keep in mind that it’s referred to as a brief for good reason, it’s short and to the point. As you move forward with creating your organization’s next brief, answering some of these crucial questions is a great way to begin this process:

  1. What problem are we seeking to solve (goals)?
  2. Who are we trying to reach (target audience)?
  3. What does our target audience need to believe? What do they believe now?
  4. How is what we offer different from what our competition offers?
  5. What opportunities are there to strengthen the position of our offering?
  6. What factors (if any) threaten the position?
  7. How are we going to reach them (media/distribution)?
  8. What elements must be included (logo, phone, imagery, CTA, etc.)?
  9. What assets are available to inform creative direction (research, data, customer feedback, image library, etc.)?
  10.  What is the scope, the budget and the timeline?
  11. How will success be measured?

These are the more factual questions that creatives use to set parameters for their work. Dig deeply for the answers to these questions. The creative brief is like a mini MAP (marketing action plan)—focused, but condensed.

Because the creative brief serves as inspiration as well as a defining structure for your project or campaign, some less-structured questions should also be asked—such as defining the tone of voice, listing some aspirational goals and sharing creative examples that can serve to communicate what’s expected. 

Keep in mind that creative briefs for branding, marketing campaigns, videos, and websites each have their own set of specific questions (in addition to those listed above) that help guide the team to a successful solution. Hubspot offers a variety of templates free to download for different kinds of projects and is a great place to start the creative brief development process for your next assignment.