Impress Guide To: Creating a Successful Brief
How to save time and money with clarity.
Why is a clear brief so important?
In most cases, given the freedom to flex their capabilities, creatives can often propose imaginative new ideas, taking your project to exciting new places. However, it’s important to remember, you are the conductor on this journey. The creative team will transition you from A to B, but you are the one who will ultimately provide direction about where ‘B’ is. The creative team will always find it easier to efficiently meet your expectations when the brief you give them is clear, straightforward, and informative. Much like your Dad’s opinion of his jeans in the 70s, “the tighter the better!”
Let’s be clear though, no brief is perfect and the role of your Account Manager is to help you fill in the gaps. But, it always helps to close as many as you can prior to being put on the spot. Let’s start with the obvious ones, and then introduce some you may not have thought of before.
The six (brief) “rules” of great briefs:
1. It’s all about the context
Before you begin barreling down the gangplank of brief writing, ask yourself the following questions: What does your business do? What are its values? What’s the tone of voice? Why is this project necessary? Who is the competition and what sets you apart from them? Where will the creative be seen? All of these things will help the creative team make small, but critical decisions along the way to ensure the outcome delivers. If you already have an established brand bible that outlines the fonts, colours, sizes, language used for your brand, share that early. The more information you can provide upfront, the more the designers will have to work with, and the better they’ll be able to capture the essence of your business. You may also want to provide examples of other work that you like, and explain what you like about it.
Sometimes, examples provided by clients can be contradictory to the written brief that precedes it e.g. tone, values etc. Emotional brand descriptors like ‘modern,’ ‘personal,’ and ‘innovative’ can have very different interpretations between individuals. Therefore, ensure you explain your examples in detail, and help your creative team unpack your interpretation of the language used.
2. The Devil is in the details...
… and clarity is king. It’s important to be detail-oriented from the beginning. Do you want a complete overhaul of your branding, a new, interactive website or ten brochures that outline your different services? What are your deadlines? Creatives will work with you to help you define your project, but the clearer the picture in your own mind, the faster this process will be. In tandem with a clear vision for creative, is knowing your budget. This will help you identify whether your priority is efficiency or creativity. It will also impact how much time can be spent on the concept phase of a project.
Many people believe the ‘master negotiation tactic’ is to hold back your budget when providing a brief or requesting a quote, with the belief it will yield cheaper estimates. Madness! You can still aim for the moon on a small budget, you just need to meticulously plan the journey. A great agency or account manager will help plan a reasonable scope of work to the budget you have and you can be clear about what to expect from the project before you commence.
3. Define the problem and your picture of success
Steve Jobs famously said, “if you define the problem, you almost have the solution.” Understanding what you would like your project to achieve is critical information that needs to be communicated early. For example, “Please redesign my website” is a good starting point, if a little vague. It would be even better to say, “We believe our current users are not able to compare products adequately on our site currently” (the problem) and “the main thing I care about is doubling the conversion rate, which we define as purchasing a product” (what success looks like). Once familiar with your ambitions for the project, the creative solutions can be laser-focused on helping you achieve your goal.
To define a problem accurately, pay particular attention to Rule #4 (coming up), otherwise you could find the right solution for the wrong problem!
4. Live and breathe your audience
Knowing who you are talking to is important for both parties. Your precise user demographics are more useful when developing creative solutions, than a vague description. However, demographics are not a complete picture of an audience. Try to also understand behaviour and belief based descriptions that may explain an action they are taking (or not taking). A superb way to immerse a creative team in your audience is to give them a user-journey or a day-in-the-life guide of your target audience. When outlining your brief, you should try to be as specific as possible.
Everyone must fight the urge to keep the doors open to every possible audience, it’s impossible to serve everyone with the same solution. Exclude irrelevant consumers by creating a detailed explanation or profile of the core of your audience. Ask yourself if you’d prefer to deliver a safe, but ultimately unmoving message to everyone or a KILLER, action-generating message to turn more of your audience into brand advocates.
5. Keep it simple and prioritise
A difficult skill to master, but if you can keep the brief concise and informative, you’ll have creatives around the world hosting festivals in your honour. Pack all the juicy details into bite-sized chunks and be sure to highlight critical messages. Above all, remove anything distracting or not a high priority. Whittling down what you have to say to the bare essentials will save you time, money, and stress in the long run. To brazenly bastardise Voltaire, “spend more time coming up with a shorter brief.”
Prioritise everything! If you have three objectives, clearly state which objective is the most important. The same applies to your target audience. There must be one sub-group more critical to this project than another. Every creative solution has an upside and a downside, someone it will appeal to and some it will leave indifferent. You would be shocked how many times creatives are asked to deliver a solution to appeal to 18-65 year-olds, whilst also being “edgy” and “traditional.” Prioritisation of your briefing elements can be very helpful when it comes time to evaluate the creative concept options, as both yourself and the creative team have a consistent set of terms to refer back to.
Consider all the stakeholders in your business. These are people who will eventually have a say in this project and they should be consulted from the outset. It is far better to understand everyone’s needs at the beginning than to be faced with major changes to the project when it is almost complete. Internal preferences technically shouldn’t be a factor in delivering a solution for an external audience (unless the internal preferences are from members of the target audience of course!), but the reality is there often are. So plan for it now and save yourself plenty of time and money.
And one final note…
The last thing to consider when providing your brief is, what type of project owner/manager are you? Do you like to take it slow and control each step or do you allow total creative freedom and tweak at the end. Either way, an agency should adapt the project to make it work for the way you prefer. This will ultimately make it seem easier and the more you share in this space up-front, the easier it is for everyone to plan the project around these preferences. But this is a whole other story... which we will get into more detail very shortly, so watch this space!
Now it’s over to you. Do you consider yourself the Arch-Duke-Wizard of the briefing process? If so, did we miss anything from our list of handy-hints? What more could be done to help clients and agencies create the perfect partnership like camembert and quince paste?
We’d love to hear your thoughts, feelings and emotions on this one.