What is a Creative Brief and How Do I Complete One?

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So, you need a logo and website for your start-up. You email a few web designers, copywriters and graphic designers and wait for the quotes to roll in. It’s all rather exciting and you can’t wait to get started. But the quotes don’t arrive. You receive a creative brief template instead. Say what? It’s a monster of a document and you haven’t the slightest idea where to begin. You’re confused, a little frustrated and if you’re honest, feeling out of your depth. All you want is a quote. Do you really have to share your company’s inside leg measurement to make that happen?

In short, yes. A good marketing team or freelance creative will ask you LOTS of questions from the start — usually in the form of a creative brief. Here you’ll learn why, and how to make sure it’s an invaluable exercise for both parties.

So, what is it?

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The creative brief, or design brief, is the blueprint for your project. It pulls together key information and concepts that will shape and evolve your new logo, website, marketing video or brochure. When used effectively, it’s a dynamic tool that helps you to define your marketing goals and strategy and helps the creative team to do their job effectively.  Having a shared design brief allows your web developer, copywriter and graphic designer to take a joined-up creative approach.

Developing a strong creative brief takes a bit of time and it’s a joint effort. Some teams will ask you to complete as much of the document as you can and then flesh it out together over the phone. Others will arrange a meeting or video call. Whatever the approach, the end result should be a clear brief for the project, with clearly defined deliverables.

How do I complete it?

Firstly, don’t panic. The following 12 tips for understanding the creative brief process will help you to make informed and insightful contributions to your next creative project. You might even enjoy the process!

1. Just do what you can

When the template first lands in your inbox it can be daunting. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification and don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers. It’s not a test. The creative brief is a starting point for discussion and it is the creative’s job to help you navigate the document and identify aspects of your project that need further interrogation.

2. Understand the purpose of the document

A good creative brief will answer key questions that enable the copywriter or designer to get to work. The phrasing of the questions and the level of detail needed will vary from one team to another, but the key questions will include:

  • What is this project?

  • Who is the audience?

  • What is the purpose?

  • What needs to be done? By whom? By when?

  • What medium(s) or platform(s) will be used to deliver the project? How?

3. Don’t skimp on background information

The background summary is a crucial part of the creative process. Creative teams need to understand your business, products, services and clients to add context to the piece of work. Explain your organisation’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis). The creative can then draw on the strengths and opportunities and lessen the impact of the weaknesses and threats.  

Any research, white papers or other documents that you can supply will help the agency or freelancer to better understand your business and the project requirements.

4. Define the project… and prepare to redefine it

What is the project? What is the team designing and why? What’s the opportunity? Once you start asking yourself these questions, your ideas might shift and change. In fact, you might decide that your project should take a different form or approach all together. That’s OK. Better to realise that before starting the project than during or after it.

5. Keep your goals in sight.

It can be easy to get carried away with ideas. The design brief helps you to stay on track by naming your drivers. Remind yourself of the goal for the project and keep your objectives to a maximum of three.

6. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes

Rule number one of marketing — it’s not about your business, product or services, it’s about your target audience and what they need and want.   Who is your audience? What do they think of your business? Why should they be interested in what you have to offer? Get a clear picture of your audience before you try to appeal to them.

7. Research your competitors

Researching your competition puts you in a strong position to differentiate yourself from them. Do a SWOT analysis on them. What success are they having when it comes to engaging their (your) audience? How can you use that information to your advantage?  

8. Find the right tone

How you communicate with your audience matters. Define a tone that they will find appealing and use it consistently. The tone should reflect your brand image. Are you playful, informal, authoritative or informative?

9. Define your message

Do you have a finely tuned message, or does it need to be developed? What action do you want your reader to take? Revisit your target audience, project purpose and objectives to refine your message.

10. Think about the visual design

Do you want the designer to follow a pre-existing theme within your marketing or develop fresh and new concepts? Are you clear about the images that you want and why you want them? Even if you’re briefing a copywriter, you will need to think about the design that goes with the words.

11. Include mandatory requirements and pertinent information

It pays to be clear from the outset about any mandatory information that the project must include. Do you want to achieve specific deliverables? Are there types of language or imagery that your business wants to avoid? Does your campaign need to represent key social issues in a particular way?  How might the timeline, schedule or budget impact on the scope of the project?

12. Lines of communication

Establish lines of communication early on.  To keep the information flowing smoothly and in line with your expectations it is important to let the project manager know:

  • Who they should report to

  • Who is approving the work

  • Any milestones that you want to be reported

  • How you would like to communicate

  • Frequency of communication and best times to communicate

Remember…

The creative brief is an investment for both the client and the creative. It defines project requirements, cements the working partnership, creates accountability and enables the client to identify metrics for success.

COPYWRITINGSue Davison