Episode 14: The Art of the Creative Brief

Show Notes:

The Creative Brief is one of the most powerful weapons and assets of an agency. It’s the way we convey ideas and innovation to our client–sparking their excitement and vision in three pages or less. This week we talk about the Art of the Creative Brief.



welcome to make the logo bigger. We’re on episode 14 and this week we’re going to be talking about the creative brief, um, if you’ve ever worked in an agency or a, uh, even in marketing department, hopefully

you’ve heard of the creative brief. This is probably one of your most powerful weapons. Um, it’s, it’s an asset. It’s a strength of, of kind of delivering a, your ideas, your innovations in a very short, succinct, a document. And I usually suggest that this is two to three pages and obviously has some visuals. Um, and really the power of this document is a simple piece of, you know, a couple of pages or presentation that allows you to convey your vision, um, and hopefully, uh, convince the powers that be to see that vision and actually probably even make it their own in the case of an agency. We’re trying to convince folks to kind of make that vision their own, uh, and allow us to, to run that innovation, that marketing idea and concept and out into the market. And so that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

How to actually craft that, a creative brief and how to make it effective. Um, so like I said, we’re an episode 14 and as you may have already kind of heard here, uh, I’m without my co host, Mike Carroll, uh, this week, so he’s all tied up in his new role at nutshell, uh, consumed with all the efforts and initiatives that they got going on. They’re trying to work it a little bit of summer, so I’m doing it solo today so, uh, it’s got a little bit of a different field, but, uh, we’ve got some great content today, so I’m excited to deliver this one even if I got to do it alone, uh, in this particular episode. So I’m, like I said, we’re going to talk about the creative brief this week. Um, and this is something that probably doesn’t get enough time spent on it. A lot of times whenever we’re running a marketing department or as an agency and we’re working with clients, we’re constantly kind of phonetically moving back and forth between tactical things that need to get done.

Um, any sort of marketing program has a lot of moving parts, especially as we’re talking about digital marketing. There’s facebook stuff going on. There’s website stuff going on, there’s a inbound initiatives from a different departments and from sales that want certain things, compliance or legal one, certain things, uh, hr wants certain things and the website is just turns into this frankensteiny mismatch of stuff. And then meanwhile, again, like you’re trying to manage all these different channels and campaigns and you’re trying to look at all the analytics and make sense of this. I think a lot of times people think about digital marketing is just kind of a magical thing that happens out there, uh, and doesn’t give a really a lot of, of good maintenance. I’m thinking to it process, thinking to it and gets these things to kind of calm down, slow down so that you can run very defined campaigns and initiatives and the creative brief.

I can help with that in a lot of different ways. One can actually, again frame a particular campaign vision or initiative. It can align it with different departments in the organization’s specific objectives, uh, and help to create alignment. And then again, it’s just a simple document that very, I can’t say this enough, very concisely, delivers, um, the information, uh, and the idea and the concept that will show again, senior managers, marketing directors, possibly c level individuals that were in alignment and this particular campaign or this particular initiative or this particular approach is really important to what we’re doing here. So let’s go through that a little bit. Um, so this is Kinda the way I think about a creative brief, um, and some of the things that need to be in it. So I come from a military background. Um, my early career was in the air force, um, and one of the thing that we did, um, with, with rigid, um, a, uh, discipline was every time we went forward with a mission or, or anything that we were moving in a campaign, we’re very mission oriented.

So if we’re going to go on a mission, we made sure that we briefed that mission before and after. Um, and even when we were in training, and obviously most of our time was spent probably the, the, the highest percentage of our time in the military have spent in training. Uh, so there’s lots of opportunities to kind of perfect this over and over again. And in your marketing organization, you should get that same sort of discipline into your process where we’re briefing before, uh, we’re doing things and we’re briefing after, um, we’ve, we’ve executed, um, and that way we’re kind of a, and we won’t go into this, but there’s this thing called the Ooda loop and where you’re kind of moving through that loop over and over again. Um, and so, uh, when we’re briefing, uh, and I’m going to put it in a military context, when we’re briefing, uh, there were always two important objectives that had to be covered in every single brief, a before and after a mission.

And that was one, what was the objective or what was the problem that we’re solving? We never go into a mission. We never put ourselves in harm’s way unless there is a specific objective. If there’s a specific problem to be solved, uh, marketing should be kinda handled in the same way. We shouldn’t actually do marketing stuff. I’m enlist. There is a specific problem to be solved normally for our customers. Um, there, there is something that in their experience where they experience our brand, uh, that’s problematic. There’s something in the marketplace that’s problematic for us. There’s something, uh, maybe that a competitor is doing that’s problematic for us and as a result, we’re gonna solve that problem with our marketing and our creative brief. So there should always be a problem. Um, otherwise, uh, when you throw forward, uh, an idea, it wouldn’t seem to have any purpose.

It wouldn’t seem to have anything to measure against. So we want to solve a problem and want to have a clear objective of what we’re, why we’re doing this. And then the second part, and this is the one that I see left off the most often, is we want to provide in this creative brief the rules of engagement. What are the rules? Whenever you do anything. And again, I’ll keep jumping back and forth to, to kind of my military example, whenever we went into a mission, there were always constraints. Um, there were always rules of engagement specifically. So there were things we could do. There were things we can’t do. There are things that were appropriate, there were things that are inappropriate, uh, even in the context, believe it or not, a war, there are rules of engagement that are very stringent and so that’s important to put into your creative brief because often we’ll put forth, um, some marketing ideas without, without any consideration of our rules of engagement.

Um, and that will cause problems when we put it forward for approval. Um, so let’s give a couple of quick examples here. Let’s say we’re in the context of financial services and we put forth a program that has some fundamental violation of their rules of engagement. That’s a very regulated industry. So there’s certain things you can say in certain things that you cannot say. If you put a creative brief and you make some claims or you make some sort of approaches that violates those, oftentimes you’ll put it forward. And it will die on the desk, so to speak, um, and you’ll wonder like, well, this is a great idea. Like, why didn’t I get any acceptance? Why didn’t they want to do this? And the fact of the matter is they just simply could not do it. Um, so it’s really critical to understand and to acknowledge in the creative brief and again, in a succinct way exactly what those rules of engagement are, exactly what those constraints are.

Another thing that often happens in the context of this is that there are certain things that you just simply don’t have, um, you don’t have the capabilities for. So there are certain resources, certain skillset, certain things that you just can’t do because you don’t have the people who are good at that. Maybe if you’re in a marketing department that doesn’t have developers, there’s certain features or functionality that maybe you’d love to bring into your campaign. Uh, but you simply can’t because you don’t have developers. Um, or, uh, maybe your designer is not quite as capable as you would like them to be a. and therefore you couldn’t design a particular approach. Maybe you don’t have good copywriters or maybe you’ll have copywriters at all. Um, and so the writing portion is a constraint. So always start with, um, the two important pieces when you’re framing this, um, this document up what, uh, what is the problem that you’re solving and what is the rules of engagement?

The next thing that’s important is to understand the target. This is another time or another place where there’s often weaknesses created inside of the creative brief. And often when we’re thinking through a new marketing initiative, um, we do think through exactly kind of who the customer is, who we want to focus on, um, but we don’t do the added research, um, and that can really put our campaign and our ultimate performance in whatever is contained in that creative brief. Whatever that initiative is, whatever that campaign is, we can create some weaknesses, uh, because we simply don’t do the additional research. So, um, so go out and take advantage of, if you’ve already got, let’s say you’re doing something related to your website and you’ve already got some research, you’ve got your Google analytics, maybe you’ve got some seo tools, um, do the research and there’s so much information available now and those tools about who the demographic is that’s actually touching your website, what they’re doing, how they’re behaving, do that research to really understand your current audience, how they behave, uh, potentially who they are.

Um, and then do some additional market research. Again, there’s lots of stuff available on the Internet and really do a good solid 30 minutes to an hour, uh, and you probably already kind of know your customer base, but do an additional 30 to 30 minutes to an hour of good solid research on the types of things that these folks are interested in, the types of things that they are going to react to and how they’re going to behave so that you can customize that user experience and in whatever, uh, this initiative is to be specifically geared to them and really gain a solid grip for us as an agency. This is additionally critical because there’s nothing worse than an agency putting forth a creative brief. We’re putting forth a marketing initiative idea. Um, and when they read it, uh, they realize because we didn’t do the work, uh, that we don’t understand their customer at all.

Um, and, and so that of course is another one of those scenarios where it’s just going to die on the desk and we’re not sure why this great idea didn’t see the light of day. The other thing that happens quite often is maybe the customer, in our case, our client might not realize the type of customer that they’re actually attracting. So as we’re doing this, it’s always good to back it with some data. So if we have data to give them a characteristic of what their customer looks like or is behaving like today, um, we should put that in the creative brief as well. We actually just ran into this recently. We were doing a site review. Uh, we were building some personas based on the traffic that was happening at the website. And I realized in the course of this, um, that whenever I had talked to the client, uh, their characterization of the consumer, the customer, um, that they were looking for, or the customer that I think was looking for their product was actually vastly different than the person that was showing up at their website.

So then we had to have a conversation of, are we attracting the wrong people or are you somewhat misinformed about what, uh, what type of people are actually looking for your product? And, and either way we’re misaligned. Um, and so we’ve got to figure out how to correct that, so understand the target. So we’re, uh, we, we need to have the purposes of the brief clear problem and rules of engagement and then we need to understand our target and do the work to figure that out. The next thing that’s important, and I kind of touched on this already, is to understand your capabilities. Uh, no. Within your marketing organization or within your agency, um, what is, what are your strengths and what makes you different from your competition? What capabilities do you have that are stronger? And you can see this on the, on the web, if you just pick out any sort of industry or any sort of company, and then look at the different competitors, even if just by just looking at their website, you’re gonna very quickly see the, the differences, um, in their strengths that they’re leveraging.

So you’ll see some competitors in the space that obviously have some, some great design chops and their website is just beautiful. Um, and they have some just, just very detail and focused and a well thought through a design and user experience and then you’ll see some others that obviously have some, some strength and development, um, and they’ve got all kinds of interesting and engaging widgets and functionality on their website. Um, so understand the capabilities that you have inside of the organization. Um, if you’ve got some developers like, um, we’ve talked about this a little bit on the podcast, but growth hacking, I’m think about innovative ways that you can use your development resources to leverage up the engagement or to, to push your customer into a deeper engagement with your marketing activities. So understanding your capabilities in and lane that into the creative brief and highlighting those and emphasizing those and focusing your initiatives along those lines of strength.

Um, the next one, this applies a lot, a lot, well I guess even in an organization, but it definitely applies a lot to an agency because a lot of times we’re engaged by a client because of our experience. One huge advantage of an agency is that we’re working with multiple clients, um, and we’re building and experiencing a lot of patterns of marketing campaigns and initiatives that are working and a lot of them that are not working. And so we very quickly get to experience a lot of case studies in marketing and we can bring that to bear in the creative brief or into the campaigns that we’re building. Um, and so very simply, we need to make sure that in every single creative brief, um, we are talking about those experiences, those lessons that we’ve learned and, and it’s important to, uh, to showcase experiences that we had, um, that have created successes and experiences that we had that have created failures because those failures are just as important.

Um, oftentimes, um, marketing departments that we serve or even agencies themselves will simply try to kind of forget about or not think about the failures or potentially they’re doing things that they’ve, um, or asking for things that they’ve actually never done before personally. And so it’s really important to figure out who has done these things and to bring those past lessons learned into it, um, so that we can get to success much faster. Um, and so it’s important to, to pop those out. Um, instead of just kind of creating a creative brief that feels all pie in the sky and there’s no basis in why we’ve made these decisions to do this particular approach. And then we want to take that big idea, that big vision, even if it’s just a component of what we’re trying to do, um, maybe it’s not like a, a huge marketing overall marketing strategy, but it’s a, it’s a specific strategy in a specific area of our marketing program.

We still want to break that down into individual tactics. We want to really think through all of the elements that it takes in order to achieve that so that when we actually get approval to go forward with whatever’s in this creative brief, we quickly understand all the pieces and parts, um, all the resources that are needed and how we’re going to kind of go forward with executing here and that the client or, or whoever’s approving the creative brief has a good understanding of everything that needs to be brought forward to make this effective. So all of the steps that will require all of the people that will need to be involved, um, all of the potential incremental things that have to be either approved or put in place, um, or made available in order to kind of get to the end results. So it’s really important to break down any sort of strategy.

I’m into bite size tactics. So there’s a clear path and a clear plan of action and the steps to be taken, um, and a feeling for how we’re gonna measure the incremental wins and losses. Uh, as we make adjustments going forward with whatever this initiative is that’s inside of the creative brief, the next really critical one, and this is kind of getting towards the end of the creative brief. Uh, we need to bring them to a point, whoever our audience is a of this creative brief, we need to put, bring them to a point where it is clear, um, how we’re defining a success. And I’m a big proponent of, okay ours, which are objectives and key results. This is a big fan of Google is probably the poster child for this. I’m actually John Doerr who kind of refined this concept, has just released a book, so definitely recommend that.

Um, but the concept is that when we go through and we define this, remember at the very top of the creative brief, I said, we’ve got a head of an objective, a problem that we’re solving at the end. Um, your defining that success. You’re saying, this is my objective and these are my key results, uh, in order to make that objective happen. And I should be able to measure those, it even numerically and, and be able to come to a conclusion on whether or not they met the objective. And so that’s how I define success. So it’s important inside of this creative brief to have some sort of mechanisms that may, it may not be okay ours, but whatever your organization uses to measure success, um, and, and hopefully they have, you know, some sort of organic method already built into their DNA. But if they don’t go ahead and use, okay, ours are real simple.

You just create an objective and you create two to three key results that you can measure and then define inside your creative brief what this is gonna look like when it succeeds and what it’ll look like potentially if it’s failing. Um, and this is going to be an important part of that brief because one, as you’re trying to get approval for it, uh, it will show whoever that decision maker is or decision makers, uh, that you have a clear understanding this, this may succeed or fail. And if it succeeds, this is what they’re going to get for it. A lot of times people talk about Roi a, depending on what part of the funnel or what part of the marketing area that you’re working in. Um, sometimes a straight roi equation isn’t the best definition of success. And so being able to sort of define it in a way that can still be tracked in a, in a measurable way is a super, a good way in order to, to, to get that creative brief to feel like, and to actually make sure that we’re delivering some value to whoever that stakeholder is and whoever that that marketing organization is.

So we’re going to define our success. And then the last part of this, uh, and super critical is it’s got to be interesting. We’re talking about a very short document. Um, I, I advocate no longer than a two to three pages, um, but it, but the documents got to be interested. We’re putting a lot of meat in here, uh, in a very concise place. And so just the, the short, the brevity of it hopefully will get them through it to read it, but it’s got to be engaged. You’ve got to pull them through a story. So you hear this a lot where people talk about storytelling. I think it’s just as important on a document like this. Let’s pull them through a story, a story that has them at the center and has them understanding what the value of this initiative is and what it’s going to do for their objectives within the organization and make that a clear, uh, engaging story as we pull through.

And the other thing that I like to do is potentially, uh, you know, have like the first two pages as, as sort of a, a, um, a dialogue or the story and, and, and it’s, and it’s written in a really nice, clean, scannable format. And then have the third page, regardless of what you’re doing, be some form of visuals. Um, if you’re trying to do something that’s very analytical and will be very data based, maybe it’s graphs and charts, um, but if it’s something that’s going to have some creative involved with it, give them some samples. Even if you haven’t really defined the campaign at this point, uh, give them some mood boards, give them some sense of what this campaign will look and feel like, and that will help them get excited. Really, when you go into a client, especially with a, with a cold idea, you’re going to need to kind of get their juices flowing around some sort of picture of what that’ll look like.

It’s really hard. Um, and you can, you’ve probably experienced this. It’s really hard to pick something up that you’ve never experienced before and get a firm vision of what the author was trying to convey a without some form of visual or without some sort of great storytelling. So I really advocate that one, it’s short and concise, uh, that the, the actual pros part of the document is very readable and scannable, we talk about this all the time in blog posts right now. Good solid headings. A nice bullet points. I’m from conclusions, a strong language. Um, and then when you get

the third page or interspersed within the document, let’s try to come up with some great visuals that give them a solid understanding of where this is going to go. All right. With that, we’re going to cut to a quick break and we’ll come back in a second. With our biggest challenges in rabbit hole.

You listening to collide coast, make the logo bigger podcast. You can find us on the web at [inaudible] dot com. K A l e I d I c o.com. Now back to the show.

All right. Welcome back. We are this particular week. There’s some ongoing things that we’re working on within our agency here at Kalydeco. And so I want to just kinda give you an idea of what some of those challenges

and what some of those, um, things that we’re working on and these are things that probably you should take a look at your own organization and see if there’s an opportunity. So I got really fascinated several months ago. I’m a big follower of the, of the Base Camp Organization, formerly 37 signals. Maybe you’ve heard of them, Jason Fried and, and, um, those folks and one of the things they talk about all the time and kind of have since the beginning of their organization, it’s definitely, um, a passion point for Jason Fried and his leadership and, and that’s the concept of a calm company and they’re talking about writing a book. They’ve retitled it at this point, um, but the original title was something along the lines of comm company, which I really Kinda liked the best, but I’ve taken that on, um, and really thought long and hard about how we can deploy that within our agency in an agency environment is naturally, I’m a frantic and frenetic environment, were largely driven, um, the activity and the agency is largely driven by all of the things that are just kinda thrown into us from clients.

The things they want to get done, the objectives, uh, there’s a great diversity to all of those task at all of those objectives. Um, and everything comes in with the utmost urgency. And so sometimes it can be a little bit challenging, um, to create, um, a, a calm working environment, which is very critical. Um, and, and you know, this within your own company probably, and maybe you’re experiencing that, maybe you’re not, um, but, but in all cases, you know, um, that a calm organization allows you to be more effective in delivering a product. Those periods of time where you have large blocks of time in order to, to think and execute and deliver and quality control. I’m a great product. A will ultimately always end in a better result than something where your day is constantly fractured by all kinds of urgent things, um, and it gets all chopped up and everybody’s kind of breathing down your neck.

And so this is something that I’ve really been trying to. And like I said, I think it’s really challenging in agency, but really trying to kind of create a, the processes and the workflows, um, to, to kind of learn how to make our agency and, and, and then hopefully execute on making our agency a little less frenetic. I’m less nervous energy and more power strokes. And so that’s what we’ve been kind of working on for the last several weeks, is really trying to figure out, um, when we get these, I’m nervous moments when we get these, um, a client task and, and, and objectives that come in with higher urgency and short timelines. Now we’re always trying to evaluate, okay, one is there another solution isn’t really as important as the client is kind of a putting on our plate. Um, are they really going to. And this happens all the time.

They come in with something that’s due to, that just absolutely positively has to be done by tomorrow. And then you find out there’s a lot of approval cycles. They’re not ready with some other component. So one of the things that we’re doing a lot of is asking questions, is everything else in place? Um, are there other things that need to be done? Um, and really gauging the priority and urgency because I can’t tell you the number of times where we’ve heard the request, hey, this has to be done in 24 hours. Um, we, we leap through all, all miracles, uh, in order to do that, we deliver it and then they’re not ready and then it sits around for two weeks, um, and maybe it doesn’t even get used. Um, and so that costs them a lot of money. It costs us a, a lot of heartache and stress.

And if we just asked a couple more questions, maybe we hate calm that out. So that’s just one kind of example of how we’re trying to do that, but that’s a big focus, um, and challenge that, that I’m constantly working on within our agency. All right. How does trends, uh, the marketing topic of the week? This is one that’s a little bit older, um, but we’re still a feeling kind of the ripples of this and that’s the backlash of Gdpr. So I know there was a lot of anxiety and angst is everybody was trying to get them to get their Gdpr privacy, a compliance in order to have everything in place in order to get all your, your email subscribers to acknowledge that they truly want and subscribed and your privacy notices and disclosures of cookies on your websites and all these sorts of things. Uh, and there were a lot of things that needed to be done and it was quite an expensive regulatory burden.

I’m on essentially all marketing departments. Um, and I think what’s interesting now as we flow through and we work with clients and everything, there’s, there’s kind of a huge backlash from the consumer. So the consumer that we’re supposed to be protected by this. It’s interesting to kind of watch the frustration level as consumers got hit with a lot of them who were maybe heavy subscribers or you know, worked, uh, and consumed a lot of the online environment. We’re just barraged with email after email after email and you can kind of see the complaints, you know, 20, 30 emails acknowledging, um, things that, that they just didn’t think was even necessary. And then every single website you hit ’em you to go through the barriers and the gateways of all the disclosures and notices and click things off and, and all that sort of thing. So, um, it’s just kind of interesting how a regulatory initiative like this meant to come to, to potentially in this kind of informs us of how to think about creating user experiences.

I mean, the regulators, we’re obviously trying to protect the consumer, but at the end of the day, because they didn’t kind of think about how all of this would be experienced. I’m on the go live date instead of maybe some incremental rialot roll out, um, or maybe some different mechanisms in order to create compliance. They literally just kind of alienated the consumer. They were trying to protect by this just awful experience for at least a couple of days straight. So it’s kind of funny to watch and read and, and see how the consumers are responding to that. Alright. Top recommendations of the, of the week. I’m a couple of kind of really good things. I’ve read, uh, several good books and I got a whole laundry list of recommendations there, but the most recent one that I’ve gone through, um, and I’m not quite to the end of it and I so want to get, uh, this gentleman on our podcast and we’re going to, we’re going to try to do that.

But a rand Fishkin has published a lost and founder, uh, is the title of the book and it’s just, it’s awesome. He’s always been kind of known, uh, as a, as a transparent individual, just kind of, uh, letting people into the depths of his soul. And I super appreciated that over the years to kind of watch him as a founder personally who’s been in an organization that’s now almost a couple decades old. Um, it’s super neat and, um, and soothing a to read through a book and, and know that other founders experience a lot of the same things that I’ve gone through and just to kind of learn from his lessons and learn from, uh, his philosophies and experience and, uh, like I said, great, great book, um, whether you’re a founder or not, there’s a lot to be learned from this gentleman and this book, so I highly encourage that last and founder by Rand Fishkin.

Uh, the other thing that I’ve been spending a lot of time on, um, and, uh, the content is awesome. Like I said, we’re big base camp fans. Um, and they’ve recently, I think in support of their new book, um, they’ve created a channel called getting real. Um, and again, I love this concept of transparency. Hopefully you guys are hearing it on the podcast. We’re trying to kind of get you behind the veil of Kalydeco and our agency so that hopefully you can learn from the things that we’re experiencing and the things that we’re learning a both strong and weak. And um, and so getting real is a channel that does something very similar so they take you behind the scenes of how they work, how they write code, how they make design decisions, and so find that youtube channel getting real, um, and just, just watch through though, there’s so much to be learned from watching other great companies and other great talented people work. Um, so if you’re a designer, if you’re a coder, if you’re a project manager or if you’re just running a company, there’s a lot to be gleaned from watching some of those youtube videos. So definitely, uh, encouraged that. All right, with that, we’re going to wrap up episode 14, we talked about the art of the creative brief. You can find that, uh, as an article as well on

the website. And then of course, we always encourage you to help us out with reviews and feedback so that we can continue to deliver exactly the kind of things that you guys are interested in. Um, so signing off, we’ll see you in episode.

About Bill Rice

Bill Rice is the Founder & CEO of Kaleidico, a digital agency. Bill specializes in providing law firms, attorneys, banks, and emerging technology clients with lead generation strategies enabled with content marketing, SEO, PPC, and email marketing.

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