How to write a great creative brief
Everyone seems to agree that creative briefs are important. It makes you wonder why they’re used so infrequently, considering new projects start with a creative brief only about a quarter of the time, according to the 2017 In-House Creative Industry Report.
This may be because they’re hard to get right. Lots of briefs are simply data dumps for customer research and product information. In a recent survey of 1,200 ad execs, 53% say creative briefs lack focus. A great brief takes deliberation and discipline.
Great creative briefs set off creative explosions that can result in work that alters the trajectory of a good business or brand. They accelerate the creative process by putting teams on a more direct path to breakthrough solutions. Successful briefs clarify the purpose of the project, and inspire creative thinking so teams can deliver their best work.
You simply can’t afford not to start every quality creative project with a sound briefing document. The trick is to make the process for creating one as manageable and consistent as possible.
Creative(ly) brief and to the point
Great briefs keep creative teams working in the right direction. Like a compass that points steadily north, they keep teams on the shortest route to their destination. They provide direction about where you’re going, and how to recognize when you’ve successfully arrived. They need to be focused to get to on-target creative. There are just a few rules to live by...
Get to the point. They’re called briefs, after all. A creative director I know likes to say, “a creative brief is just that.” If it doesn’t fit on one to two pages, it’s probably too long. Brevity makes a briefing document easy to read and absorb. It forces disciplined thinking. It’s easy to write a long brief. A shorter one takes more deliberation in order to be clear and direct.
Provide inspiration. One of the biggest tests when you’re writing a brief is to find a way to bring the creative challenge to life. It helps to use lively, conversational language that informs but also inspires. Inspiration often results when you get project stakeholders involved in discussion and debate about answers to the key briefing questions (more on that below). This helps to strengthen thinking and align participants in the process.
Be adaptable. Many sections of a creative brief are consistently required. But some content may need to shift from one brief to the next according to the nature of the project. Forms are great and help standardize successful briefing practices, but you can’t be a slave to a form if it isn’t the best way to serve the project.
Avoid wrong turns
A weak creative brief can doom projects to failure. At best, they’re ignored and simply waste time. At worst, they steer a creative project to the wrong answer.
The most frequent mistakes are providing either unnecessary detail or not enough information. Briefs are meant to propel the creative process forward and focus it on ideas that will deliver the biggest business impact. Unnecessary detail just slows the process with distracting detours, while a lack of focus leaves the creative team with too much ground to explore. Like they say, if you don’t know where you’re going then any road will take you there.
Insights from analysis or customer research can be the fuel that drives creative innovation. They can also be the distracting roadside attractions that keep you from getting anywhere. An insight is much more than simply restating the obvious or a fact everyone already knows. An insight is a glimmering piece of information that sparks ideas, gives you a peek into what your audience really cares about, or a problem you can solve for them. It’s not a made-up sentence from a fictitious persona that doesn’t sound like anything anyone would actually say.
Creative briefs do not need to impress anyone with the latest jargon. Keep the language clear and easy to read. If you’re working with freelancers or a new team, it can be useful to define terms and industry-specific acronyms.
The perfect creative brief hasn’t been written yet, but there is always room to improve. Have a look at our creative workflow solution. It makes creating reusable brief templates easy.