We’ve got to go, go, go. Execute now.
We need to save time whenever possible.
Skipping the creative brief is one of the most common shortcuts that marketers take.
We think we are saving time up front by diving right into execution. But we are likely paying for it later with more time spent during production.
Or much worse, we are hurting quality or results.
I’ve made that mistake myself.
I said, “It’s just a quick lead gen article. Let’s just set a meeting with the agency to get to work. Besides the agency already knows what we’ll want.”
Guess what? The results were horrible. We got hundreds of views, a couple leads, and ZERO sales.
We still spent $5,000 with the agency.
To make matters worse, one lousy result caused a change our strategy. The verdict came down. Don’t waste any more time and money on content marketing this quarter. Go back to hammering our email list with discount promotions which has a diminishing, but clear ROI.
Here’s what went wrong. I skipped the creative brief.
Please don’t make that mistake on your next campaign or creative project.
Here are four common scenarios where a creative brief is needed, but is often not used.
Watch out for these situations.
Besides, you can still write a great creative brief… and fast. 15 minutes fast.
So I’m also sharing with you my simple 10-4-1 formula for how-to write a creative brief in just 15 minutes.
Disclaimer: I highly recommend that you put at least 1-2 hours into developing a comprehensive creative brief. That is always most helpful for your agency or creative team. You are much more likely to design a campaign that delivers fantastic results.
But if you are in a real time crunch, and you are thinking about skipping the creative brief – take the 15 minutes to get the core elements of the brief done well.
Times You Are Likely to Skip the Creative Brief
It’s important to recognize the common traps marketers can fall into. That way we don’t fall into them again and again.
Here are some exact quotes that I have frequently heard in the office (and admittedly have said myself).
Do you recognize any of these situations?
“It’s just a quick project.”
Big projects usually get a thorough process. Small projects usually get short-changed.
Resist the temptation to go straight to design or execution just because a piece of work is not a big campaign. Even to produce a single email, your creative agency needs a brief.
Without a creative brief that small project likely turns into a medium-sized project.
- An extra round of reviews and feedback on the messaging. Add 2 days to the schedule.
- Yucky stock photos = More time searching for the right hero image. Add 1 more day.
- Recoding or reworking the creative that was already in production. Add 2 more days.
You get the idea. An extra day here and there can quickly turn into an extra week or weeks.
Plus, your audiences are real people. They and the key messages you present to them deserve full creative attention. That is if you want that email to be opened and action to be taken.
That’s really the goal after all – not speed.
“We already know what we want.”
Outsourcing creative work is a great way to launch your campaign or project faster. However, that work is more than just production.
Fight the urge to tell your creative team exactly what to do.
Your creative resources are skilled at what they do. They want to produce great work.
Let them do it. Unleash the creative teams to develop exceptional campaigns.
Even if you are a creative genius, telling your agency what to do instead of giving them a good creative brief can limit the opportunity for a breakthrough campaign.
“Just reuse the old design brief.”
Are you designing new campaigns for the same product or service?
Avoid diminishing or mediocre results. Don’t simply reuse the same design brief again and again.
Approach the same problem from a different angle. Invest 15 minutes to refresh the content of your creative brief with each project.
If you do copy-and-paste any sections of your design brief, reuse your boilerplate brand guidelines and legal requirements.
“The agency already knows.”
Over time you will probably work with the same agency or freelancer on more than one project.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the agency already knows everything about your campaign.
Besides there are likely new or outsourced designers working behind the scenes on your latest project. They don’t have a history with your audience and key messages.
Refresh their thinking by presenting a new creative brief with every project. The creative team will stay engaged.
And you will avoid getting back ho-hum creative.
Bottom line: Don’t be surprised by poor campaign results, if you feel the creative brief is not worth the effort to update.
The 10-4-1 Formula: How-to Write a Great Creative Brief in 15 Minutes
Here is a simple formula for how to write a creative brief. I call it the “10-4-1 formula.”
You’re going to focus your energy on three things. And before you know it, you’ll have a great creative brief that’s ready to share with your creative team or agency.
1. Audience & Stories (10 minutes)
The target audience description is the most important part of the creative brief.
You’re helping to “put yourself in the audience’s shoes.” That’s critical.
So we’re going to spend a little extra time on this information. But 10 minutes should be plenty.
1. List buyer type & key demographic detail – This a quick set of 2-3 word descriptions to quickly convey the high-level, relevant audience information. This should take a minute at most.
For example, “Working mom, decision-maker, 25-40 years old, more than $100k income.” Or “Technical buyer, middle-manager, predominately male, 30-50 years old.”
2. Tell a brief problem story – Here you’ll spend a few minutes jotting down a common scenario that your audience faces. What is the biggest problem that you can solve?
If you’re really good, share the key emotions of the situation as a part of the story.
You’re goal with this story is to paint a picture. Remember, you don’t have to write a book. When you meet with your creative team, then you can elaborate on the situation and discuss in more detail.
For example, let’s say we’re promoting a local restaurant to the working mom. The story could be something like,
It’s dinner time again and the children are getting hungry. It’s pretty stressful for the working mom. She has to make a decision now… for the 3rd time this week. Not a lot in the refrigerator, especially nothing that the children will actually eat. No time to do a full grocery shop, and then cook the meal. And going to a fast food chain isn’t the healthy option she really wants for the family.
Again, nothing too in-depth. A simple story covers the core problems and the emotions of the situation.
3. Bonus: Tell a brief buying story – If you really want to offer a key insight about your customer, share what makes them act. Sometimes the why, what, and when that triggers customers to actually buy is different than the generally stated problem.
What makes them act? What channel do they learn? When do they decide? And what channel do they buy?
By giving your creative team a situation where a prospect converts into a customer, you are opening up the valuable view into key motivations.
Let’s take the local restaurant story a little further. Here are some purchase insights that could really be helpful,
It’s amazing that when we ask first time customers where they heard of us. They usually remember our coupon in the mail, but rarely have it on them (we’ll honor that anyway). And they know we sponsored the local youth sports teams. But they were just driving by and saw our sign about a block away. When they got closer saw that there were other families already inside eating. The restaurant looked clean and well lit. A nice, clean family restaurant nearby would make this one meal so much easier. So they came in and the children got exactly what they wanted to eat.
2. Key Message (4 minutes)
Now you can share your key messaging. Write down the essential messages.
In particular, if there are some key facts or proof points that give the creative extra credibility and punch.
You should already have a good idea of your messaging platform. So this should only take a few minutes to copy and tweak for the particular campaign.
You’ll want to include:
- Your value proposition statement – For example, “For working mothers, Bob’s Bistro is the family restaurant just next door that takes the stress out tonight’s dinner with great food that children love.”
- 2-3 customer benefits and the features or solutions you provide – For example, “Dine in or take out, children 5 years old and under eat free on weekdays, located next to the mega mall.”
- Facts and proof points – For example, “Voted best family restaurant since 2005!”
- Links to reference content – Share links to any relevant testimonials, case study examples, or reference creative
3. Call to Action (1 minute)
Super fast now. Answer these 2 questions to define your desired call to action:
- What action do you want the audience to take?
- Where do they go or what they need to do if they take action?
Your answer to those questions provides the basic action step that you need to give your agency. So that they know explicitly what the successful customer action is for you.
Keep it simple. For example, “Dine in at Bob’s Bistro on any weeknight.”
Yep. That simple.
Extra Savings – Eliminate These Time Wasters
However, you should also watch out for several other time wasting, yet hard-to-break habits.
Eliminating common productivity drains can probably save you 20-30 minutes when writing any creative brief.
Here are three productivity hacks that I recommend you try:
- Don’t spend any time on layout – Use a template that already has the key sections laid out for you. Ordering the sections, setting up the section headers, and moving things around can take valuable time.
Focus on filling in the content. That’s what going to be read and actually used by your agency.
- Don’t spend any time on formatting – Bold, italics, paragraph settings, numbering, and indentation. Fighting with Microsoft Word to make your document look good takes more time than you think.
Making your design brief document easy to scan is just a nice to have.
- Don’t craft perfect sentences – We’re all marketing pros. We love to write. And we’re darn good at it. However, this is no time to be a perfectionist.
Just get your thoughts down on paper to really cut down on the creative brief development time. Or even voice record your stream of consciousness and provide links in the document.
You can’t go wrong if you are using a creative brief template. Your brief won’t look sloppy. Your insights will shine through. And you will have easily eliminated some time wasters.
The REAL timesaver
I always keep a creative brief template handy. It’s perfect for when I’m about to fall into the “I don’t need to write a brief” trap.
The template is the real timesaver. Use it. No sacrificing quality or results by skipping the creative brief.
Ideally you would put 1-2 hours into developing a complete, super detailed brief. That is always most helpful to your creative agency. And you are more likely to design a breakthrough, high performing campaign.
But if you are really squeezed for time, writing your creative brief may only take 15 minutes.
We all can find that much time in our busy schedules to focus on adding highest impact content into the briefing document.
Save time on your next project or campaign.
Feel free to download the creative brief template that I use.