Marketing Lessons: The Lost Art of a Good Creative Brief

Category: Marketing Strategies & Tips

We’re all obsessed with new data and the latest changes to Adwords or Facebook’s algorithms, but lest we forget to pay homage to our roots. I’m speaking,of course, about the Creative Brief. There are those who hate it and those who love it. Regardless of the side of the fence you’re on, the brief is a necessary practice.

I have yet to see anything impact the success of a campaign more than a great creative brief. Personally, I love a good brief; but I rarely seem to be able to give the brief the time it deserves.

A great creative brief takes time. And it doesn’t need to follow the same format each time. I’d encourage others to treat their creative brief approach similarly to the pitch process. However, instead of pitching to the client, you’re pitching to the creative team.

The goal is to excite and inspire the team to draw up new solutions to solve a very specific problem.

What We Learned: The Evolution Of Our Brief

Our brief began as a simple one-pager. It covered all the foundational basics: goal, target, competitors, value proposition, key message, etc. Over the last few years, it evolved into a Frankenstein of sorts, a patchwork of visual timelines, a breakdown of the concept, a list of deliverables, and more.

Most of our Creative Team would gravitate towards the brief during execution — the brief was where most of the project information was being absorbed. Naturally, we stuffed it with a comprehensive helping of useful information.

After one of our quarterly process reviews, we realized through our desire to continually improve things throughout the quarter, we’d lost sight of the creative brief’s true purpose. Our team was using the brief more like a blueprint of the project scope and timeline, rather than their main resource for creative direction.

It didn’t frame the problem that the Creative Team was tasked with solving. Instead, the brief had become a breakdown of the Statement of Work. Creating the brief itself was the responsibility of a Project Manager — and it reflected exactly that.

Quickly, the creative brief went from one page to five pages and — depending on the project — an evolving document that was frequently added to as more details of the project revealed themselves. While the scope of work is necessary information to have, it didn’t really belong in the brief. Needless to say, our creative brief was no longer brief or creative. Our brief had become more of a management tool. It was filled with technical information instead of a framing the challenge clearly.

We were also using a general creative brief for the entire project rather than deliverable specific briefs. This created problems for our creative team who were trying to execute the deliverables. While they had an overarching picture, it was hard to decipher how the brief applied to their specific tasks.

After all, the goal of the brief is to provide a ‘brief’ summary of the project that will supply the creative team with the ammunition they need to achieve the project’s goals.

We took a step back, reviewed our creative brief template and made a whole lot of adjustments that resulted in the following 4 lessons.

The 4 Main Components Of An Effective Creative Brief

The Problem

That’s where all the challenges of the brief start unraveling. To know the problem well is to have the clients know themselves really well and communicate it concisely in the Client Brief. This is rare.

The alternative is to have a great Creative Director or Account Manager who knows the client’s problems better than the client does. They have to understand the client’s pain, the pain of the client’s management team, and the pain of the organization as a whole. From there, the findings and gatherings are distilled into a clear and concise problem. Once that’s done, you’ve got the beginnings of a great creative brief.

As an example, let’s look at a client who is looking for a new website. This is not enough information — we need to dive deeper to understand the real problem. They want a new website because all their competitors have new websites and they’ve noticed their quality leads have decreased over the past year. In this case, generating quality leads is the real challenge and the website might not be the problem. It might be brand positioning or their customer journey isn’t ideal for the quality leads they’re after. If we had gone ahead and listened to the client’s problem at face value, we would have gone down a rabbit hole of solving a surface-level problem. The client would not really be satisfied in the end and we would not have provided any real value as marketers.

The Context

If you’re anything like us, it takes a few meetings and calls to really get a solid grasp of a client. While it’s important to know the client, there’s a fine line between knowing the client well enough to market for them and knowing them a little too well.

When you know your client too closely, you may run the risk of only seeing the product through their eyes and not the customers. This is referenced from the fantastic book, “Hey Whipple..”. It has a great chapter about the brief as well.

So, how much context is too much context? This is all part of a perfect brief: it should share only what is relevant. This begs the question: “how do you decide what is relevant when you don’t yet know the context?”

Here’s how I’ve answered this: you’ll know if it’s too much when your creative team is no longer reading it and too little is when you’re not painting a clear enough picture to equip your creative team with all the relevant information that directly impacts results.

It makes more sense for a Creative — as opposed to an Account Manager — to take a look at the brief. It’s easier for a Creative to know if the information is critical to the design of the campaign. Often times, this is dictated by the goals and value proposition. What truly resonates with the target?
There are some fantastic examples of what is too much and too little in a creative brief by Black Pencil Academy in Toronto.

The Audience

Most people think of the brief as a contract with their client, a one-pager that covers the agency’s ass. While the client does need to sign off on it, the creative team is the true audience of the brief.

I was reminded of this when reading an article in Forbes by Will Burns; you’ll see he tends to agree with me. We need to keep top of mind that a creative team most likely learns and absorbs content differently than a client. In knowing this, how do we translate the information in a way that won’t make them yawn?

I’ve heard of creative ways to make briefs more interesting, like making it into a graph with colour coding, field trips, and interactive challenges. There is no one perfect answer. The answer will always be what resonates with your creative team. It simply has to be clear and understandable for them.

The Evolution

The changes to the ways we communicate and the mediums in which we communicate impact our briefs. I’d argue that briefs that follow traditional target profiles instead of communities are lacking the full picture. If not communities, there are definitely trends around building targets around value sets. For example, psychographics.

The way we look at our audience impacts the way we see the targets too. We’ve added a section in our creative brief which covers the communities the brand impacts and how messaging is customized to each. In the same way we define our targets, problems, competitors, markets, and communication mediums, our briefs must adapt along with them.


We continue to improve our creative brief, it’s the crux of a great campaign. Our briefs need to reflect the same amount of personalized care as communication becomes more customized to audiences. By putting careful attention to these 4 areas — the problem, context, audience and evolution — we are able to focus on the purpose of the brief and make a commitment to it. Put simply, by focusing on what matters and catering the brief to this, we are able to create the perfect brief for the variety of creative teams out there.

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Tammy Tsang

Tammy Tsang is the Founder of My Loud Speaker Marketing, which has been providing successful campaigns to major clients for over six years. Her company has attained glowing recommendations from prestigious organizations such as the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, University of British Columbia, BC Cancer Agency, and more. She is also the founder of XYBOOM Intergenerational Organization, which runs an annual conference on topics surrounding intergenerational relationships in the workplace.

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