How To Construct The Creative Brief

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In this opinion piece, Archetype Sydney strategy director Nigel Malone runs through the five questions that need to be asked when pulling together a creative brief.

Legendary advertising strategist Jon Steel likened his role to that of a translator for three different alien species: the client, the consumer and the creatives.

This perspective on the role of a strategist has always resonated with me. Over the years, many clients have told me they don’t really understand how ‘creative people’ do what they do. Equally I’ve seen creatives struggle with the consumer, much preferring to operate in an artistic vacuum.

For to be a successful strategist, you must be comfortable having out of body experiences. You must revel walking in other’s people’s shoes, never to assume you can know what they are thinking, but rather to fully appreciate the forces impacting them.

Next you need to be able to ask the right questions. Every significant project should begin with the strategist documenting her or his understanding of the brief that captures the client objectives and consumer context, in a way that guides and inspires creative brilliance.

There are countless templates available online you can use to construct a Creative Brief, but I’m of Jon Steel’s view that you really only need to ask and answer five key questions.

Why are we doing this?
What’s the objective of this project? Is it sales, donations, consideration or awareness, and how will you measure success? What brought about this project, was it business as usual, a new project, pivot, or a set of unprecedented circumstances?

What is the message?
Once you have context, and clarity on the objective, key messages – not final copy or headlines – can be drafted to communicate specifics of the client offering, that ideally appeal to legitimate consumer needs, or market insights. I drill deeper into this in a subsequent article on message development.

Who are we talking to?
The client and strategist will generally work closely to identify and agree primary and secondary target audiences. Often this can drive a new research project for the strategist, designed to uncover more tightly defined segments or gain deeper insight into their behaviours and preferences.

What do we know about them?
This goes directly to the strategist’s ability to walk in the consumer’s shoes. Like a method actor, the strategist needs to live and breathe the target audience, understand as much as possible about their needs and motivations, in order to form a detailed profile.

How is the best way to send the message?
The aim of the creative brief is to set the scene for the broader team to come together and brainstorm ways in which to connect with the target audience. It’s not for the strategist to provide all the answers, but rather put forward pathways and clues for Creatives to explore.

This really is at the core of the strategist’s role. To set off controlled detonations of creativity. To provide a platform for ideas that will blow a client’s mind and ensure maximum impact in the desired direction.

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