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The Art of the Creative Brief
My father is a military man. His father was a military man. Growing up, picking up our rooms was referred to as having a “G.I. party” and it was all “yes, sirs” and “yes, ma’ams” whenever we met other adults. When I read Martin Weigel’s “On the necessity of briefs, client briefs, and creative briefs,” his lessons on the importance of briefing, given through the words of a military historian, resonated.
Most military metaphors in business are widely used and well known. Just about every MBA has read Sun Tzu at some point. We use a lot of military language on the creative side of marketing too, probably without even realizing it. We create briefs to launch campaigns to capture market share. And, similar to going into battle, having clear agreement and understanding of what winning looks like avoids huge, unnecessary costs and botched maneuvers.
Alignment across all involved parties—brands, agencies, partners, and vendors—starts with a good brief. The brief is the guiding light, showing the outlines of what’s possible. That’s why, this week, we’ve taken a huge step forward launching the new Percolate Campaigns feature. Campaigns put briefs, creative, and marketing executions across all channels into a single, collaborative environment. This is one of the most important features we’ve ever released to clients, and it all comes back to the brief (it even started with one).
Each element of a brief is an essential building block for the campaign that follows it:
Purpose: briefs define what winning looks like
“The creative brief has to inspire the people who are given the task of solving the problem.” – John C Jay, GX / Wieden +Kennedy
Briefs matter because they define goals and objectives. The brief helps you pick your battles. It guides how time should be spent and ultimately guides you toward victory. It focuses on the outcome, not the means.
A brief also acts as a mechanism for generating support for the campaign. It’s the rallying cry that gives your team, you superiors, and ultimately your customers a reason to care.
Audience: briefs determine the targets
“A really great brief is actually just a super smart insight around a very strategic opportunity.” – Kim Snow, Creative Director at Google
Empathy wins wars — and customers. Successful campaigns identify the target audience, but just as importantly, they care about them. A brief gives more than just market segment and demographic information. It gives insights into what the audience loves, likes, feels and needs. P&G’s “Thank You Mom” and Esurance’s “Sorta Your Mom” campaigns are exactly how a brief should consider its target.
Outcome: briefs plot the outcomes
“The best briefs I’ve ever worked on have always been the most audacious and seemingly impossible.” – John Boiler, CEO of 72&Sunny
The elements of a brief guide what your outcomes should be, both in terms of production and distribution. What’s the focus point in the campaign? What should the audience feel and how will the brand back it up? Where and how do you get your media working? Briefs can help define the sequence of events from concept to creative to customer experience.
Constraints: briefs establish the rules
“Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” – Leo Burnett
As a brand, you have certain rules to follow. Those rules are your brand guidelines, the boundaries that govern your work across creative, channels, and markets. The brief conveys what’s in and out of scope, it clarifies voice and tone, and it creates a space for teams to be creative in.
Assignments: briefs get the troops moving in the same direction
“You Nike guys, you just do it.” – Dan Wieden, Wieden + Kennedy
A brief gives the marching orders. Everyone comes to a creative endeavor with their own tastes, styles, ideas, and ways of working. The brief allows all those differences to be present and used, but it gets them all working towards the same goal. Fresh ideas are necessary for bold creative, but a single unifying goal is what makes the creative impactful and ultimately worth anything at all.
Not only does the brief establish the goal, but it assigns ownership. For brands and their agencies, this is of the utmost importance. The Association of National Advertisers recently released a survey of agencies and brands that revealed a huge disparity in sentiment regarding the agency-client relationship. Agencies largely felt dissatisfied with the briefing process, especially when it came to understanding who was responsible for what — 27% of agencies, compared to 58% of brands felt that there was clarity in the assignment process.
That dissatisfaction is justified. Having a single source of truth that acts as a compass, restricts any scope creep, removes any room for misunderstanding, and holds all parties accountable.
Charging: Introducing Percolate’s Campaigns
Ultimately briefs initiate action. They align teams to a single vision for all creative executions. They include all of the guiding strategic information and positioning materials for a team. However, there’s an entire execution side of the campaign process that can get lost when a team separates a brief from their workspace.
That’s why we’ve introduced Campaigns. By combining all of the environments where teams brief and create their marketing executions, Percolate’s Campaigns enable full marketing teams — from a brand’s manager to their agency creative director — to collaborate on all types of marketing and move seamlessly from ideation to creative execution to publishing, all while sticking to one strategic plan.