CreativityWhy is it that writing a creative brief can sometimes be an exercise in frustration? Just when you think you’ve given your creative team all the room they need to make the magic happen, the results come back. And they’re less than magical. So, what happened? And more importantly, how can it be avoided next time?

What if I told you the way to make your designer or copywriter more creative is to put him or her in a box? With all the references to “thinking outside the box” you might believe that creative professionals appreciate limitless creative freedom. You might be slightly off-track with that belief. And here’s why, we can use a simple analogy to illustrate the point.

Let’s say you commission a painting from an artist. And your goal is to get a painting you really like, in a reasonable time frame. The only direction you decide to provide the artist is “I want a painting of the ocean.” The artist could interpret that request in an almost limitless number of ways. Next, imagine what you might get back from the artist if the conversation instead went something like this: “I want a painting of the ocean and I have 10 feet of linear wall space to work with. I want to mount it over the sofa in my living room, so it will need to be landscape orientation. I like realistic seascapes that incorporate dark and muted blues as opposed to bright blues or turquoise. And I don’t want any boats or lighthouses in the painting.” Now, based on those two sets of inputs—the very short and the longer, more detailed version—which do you think will likely get you the painting you really want?

Exactly. The detailed version conveyed more than just the high-level ask. It included specifics about the execution and desired outcome. It gave the designer concrete direction (“I like dark and muted blues”), executional requirements (“10 feet of linear wall space…landscape orientation”) and personality priorities (“…I don’t want boats or lighthouses”) that helped the artist narrow down the creative playing field and deliver a piece that was on-point. Without any mind reading.

Translating that to the creative brief, let’s look at how adding some boundaries around the creative exploration can help you and your team get back on the magic track:

  1. What are we talking about? Give a big picture description of the brand, product, service or concept and the project at hand. Include some detail on any significant opportunity, change or challenge that is driving the current project.
  2. What will success look like? Focus on 2-4 marketing objectives, plus any “blue sky” aspirations to help creatives understand the brand’s vision.
  3. Who are we talking to and what do we want them to do? Describe the audience in a narrative rather than a marketing research-oriented way. Age and gender may be important, but so are emotional needs, rational needs, life stage and state of mind. You want your creative team to have a strong picture of the target audience in their minds.
  4. Why should anyone care? Talk about key insights and unmet needs of the audience. Dig in and be thoughtful on this section. Here, you should articulate the role this product/service plays that is truly distinct. This doesn’t need to be a tagline or polished slogan, but it might be the input that inspires a great slogan.
  5. Why will they believe? These are the high-level results, core values and testimonials that prove the brand will deliver the benefits as promised and that the benefits are true and credible.
  6. What’s your personality? Is your brand’s visual identity playful and provocative? Is your tone of voice a trusted authority? Here, you’ll be clear with words that describe the brand’s personality.
  7. What must and must not be included? List the logos, imagery, colors, fonts, words or other elements that must be included. Also find out any special rules about what shouldn’t be used because of a client’s preference, competitors’ positioning, past learnings or regulatory restrictions.
  8. What’s due and when’s it due? Last, but not least, list the deliverables for the project and the key milestones.

Delivering a creative brief that outlines priorities, defines boundaries and energizes your team can mean the difference between work that fizzles and work that sizzles. As a marketer, you know how to communicate complicated concepts and information in simple terms that energize your target audience and help them make decisions. Writing an effective creative brief puts those skills to good use and helps your creative team deliver a consistent “Wow!” factor.