The 10 [Creative] Brief Commandments

By: Gary J. Nix | Reading Time: 6 min

A common theme you will see on this blog is clarity in communication. Between a brand and the consumer such clarity could very well represent the difference between gaining a customer and a person losing interest. Thus for people like me and you who provide a B2B service and brands are the consumers we convert into customers, such clarity is extremely important for us to do our job effectively. A common way to express what needs to be done in our walk of life is the creative brief. And although I could excitedly start a discussion on briefs from companies such as Nike and Apple, because this method of communication is so important, I feel it is better and helpful to point out the 10 elements, or commandments or, even better, demandments that make a creative brief more clear.

1. The Objective

Your communications should have reasoning behind it. Ask yourself questions such as, “What am I looking to accomplish?” and “What’s the point of this block of content?” After asking all of the correct questions that allow you to figure out the point of your communication in its context, then you will be able to figure out how to wrap it up in a nice package. Beautiful creative only works when it serves its purpose.

2. Define your core message

In the spirit of clarity, you don’t want to send mixed or multiple messages when communicating with consumers. If you want to put this in the context of storytelling, if your story is all over the place, people get confused and begin to lose interest. Thus, in the brief, list 3-5 points of benefit to your audience: Keep in mind, you don't want to shove the benefits down any consumer's throat with the hard sell, but your company & brand has reasons why a consumer should choose you over your competitor so that has to be communicated in a clear and concise way. 

3. Identify the theme

What theme(s) or idea(s) the creative should embrace? Is it party time? If so, you should be having a party. Whatever you do, make sure to BE CLEAR in the brief. The theme is sure to help shape the final creative so everyone must be on board. Clarity ensures that.

4. Describe your audience

Understanding who you’re communicating with and why is ALWAYS important. One of the reasons is the fact that all of the things that they need and want are very REAL to them. Another reason is the fact that it is your product or service is supposed to benefit them. Your brand serves your customers. In order to converse and, more importantly, connect with them, you must know them.

5. Define the primary takeaway

Remember the part about objectives? This is related to that. Understanding what your general aim is should help you define the end game – and don’t you dare say to make money, we know that. This is about a call to action and identifying what the audience is supposed to actually do as a result of the campaign, activation or general communications. Yes, the ultimate goal is a sale, however, there are steps to reach that goal. Know what the first step towards that goal of a sale is and where it fits in the action related to the brief.

6. Key Performance Indicators

We talk about KPIs all of the time. Why, because we need to know what success looks like. Remember, this is marketing we have to be able to measure it! If we can’t measure it, we cannot know if it worked and, more importantly, it probably didn’t work. Identifying the right KPIs is like asking all of the right questions. Know what to measure. Yes, objectives…

7. Discuss what has worked before

Is it necessary to fully reinvent the wheel? Usually it isn’t. But even if it is, there is nothing wrong with being inspired by something you’ve already seen. Not all ideas come from out of the blue and it is not necessary to make everything rocket surgery. Yes, I said rocket surgery. I’m not the first to say it and the person I heard say it inspired me to say it to others. See how this works?

8. The Style Guide

This may seem obvious, but consistency is a thing. All of your communications: voice & tone; copy; image-based; video; etc.; need to look like they come from your brand, not some otherwise unknown source. A style guide is something your brand should already have, but if you don’t, use this opportunity to create one. Because, consistency.

9. Clarify the specs

Not only does the creative have to look like it is coming from your brand, it must also fit all of the spaces you are using to communicate. If you’re doing a full page print ad in VOGUE, it cannot be delivered on a 3x5-inch index card. If you have a series of tweets as a deliverable, they cannot be 6,500 character messages no matter what Twitter says about extending the character limit. Be very clear on what the deliverables are and each deliverable’s individual specs.

10. Confirm the full schedule of deliverables

All of us agree that things need to be completed and delivered in a timely and agreed upon manner. And because time is an absolute commodity, sticking to a reasonable schedule including dates for delivery of drafts, a period for revisions and final creative delivery is imperative. As someone who worked in the music industry, one of the things that drove me absolutely crazy was when release dates got pushed back. Friends don’t let friends deliver creative late.

The key here is that preparation breeds success and preparing a sufficiently clear creative one of, if not the best way to ensure your final creative will serve its purpose. Use this list as an exercise to improve your briefs and get into the habit of performing these steps on a regular basis. Not only is it beneficial for your company and your brand, but it’s ultimately beneficial for your customers and that’s always the point.