What's the most important question a creative brief should answer?

21 Creative Professionals Share the Most Important Question a Creative Brief Should Answer (But Frequently Doesn’t)

By Angela Stringfellow - Last updated

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A creative brief is a crucial first step in any creative endeavor, whether you’re undertaking a digital photography project, designing a logo, or developing your next big advertising campaign. There are many important elements that go into an effective creative brief – from objectives and target audience to any brand assets needed, deliverables, and more – so it’s not out of the realm of possibility to miss something important, particularly if you’re not relying on a consistent template.

In a nutshell, the creative brief serves to answer all the important questions: the who, what, when, where, why, and how of a creative project or campaign. It can serve as a central framework to guide the project, containing essentials such as the brand positioning statement, a brand style guide or brand identity guidelines (to ensure brand consistency), the project timeline and budget (to avoid common productivity hurdles and keep everyone on track), and other need-to-know tidbits that basically keep a creative project from going completely off the rails.

Because no one likes an off-the-rails creative project, we wanted to find out more about the important questions that a creative brief should answer but are often overlooked. So, we reached out to – who else? – a panel of creative professionals and asked them to answer this question:

“What’s the most important question a creative brief should answer (that it frequently doesn’t)?”

Read on to learn what important ingredients your creative briefs might be missing.


Candice FrazerCandice Frazer, Vice President of Marketing at TTI Success Insights

“Critical questions about the target audience is the most critical category…”

Within our creative briefs, we go beyond think, feel, do to examine roles, goals, watering holes, behaviors, and motivations for each segment that is targeted through our communications. Overlooking this step results in mediocre content that doesn’t perform well.


Julie AshkenaziJulie Ashkenazi, Co-Founder and Creative Lead at Small + Sole

@julieashkenazi

“Many (many, many, many) times I’ve received creative briefs that contain a good deal of creative input, such as color preferences, font selections and photography examples, but they lack…”

An overarching goal or objective for the project. While it is undoubtedly helpful to outline creative expectations and provide your designer with some basic guidelines to work from, it’s most important that you identify what your project goals are — online sales, email list growth, brand awareness, etc. — as that will help determine the best approach for your project. Additionally, while creative input is generally quite helpful, if it’s simply directional and not dictated by pre-existing brand guidelines, make sure it’s presented as such so your creative team knows where you might be open to exploring other treatments or suggestions that might prove to be a better fit for accomplishing your goals.


Sabrina RamSabrina Ram, Founder of Blu Lotus

@SabrinaRam_

“The most important question a creative brief should answer is…”

How does your request align with business goals? Communications, marketing and graphic design teams often get requests that might help an employee achieve a departmental goal, but they don’t align with the company’s business goals. For example, requesting a Halloween-themed flyer might fit their department’s goal to create more resources, but it won’t achieve or make a significant impact on the business goal of increasing customers or sales. It wastes time and resources on a tactic that isn’t the best option. By asking about business goals, it helps frame the request into something more impactful. I’ve found a high reduction in unnecessary creative requests and increase in more successful strategies when we pose this question. It helps guide the requester in a better direction.


James NuttallJames Nuttall, Content and Outreach Specialist for Healing Holidays

@JamesNuttall_

“Most creative briefs will identify the gap in the market or what the issue is the campaign intends to resolve or promote. However…”

This is only a surface analysis and doesn’t dig deep, the way it should. To really nail a creative brief, it is important to identify the need for the campaign, but also what has caused this need. If there is a gap in the market or an issue that needs to be resolved, what is the reason behind this? Why is there a gap? Why does the company or the client need this and where does this need originally stem from?

Answering this question in a creative brief will provide context behind the rationale for the campaign. It will also aid you in coming up with an all-encompassing solution to the question; instead of just patching up the issue, you can analyze ways to are able to breach this gap forever.


Charlie BrookCharlie Brook, Content Creator

“As someone who has been on both sides of the table, the most important question to me is…”

What do you not want to see? More often than not, people subconsciously know what they don’t want from their creative but don’t have the intuition or gumption to put that into words right at the beginning of the process. I think this is a mistake! When you send a brief, you want the other person to solve your problem with minimal effort on your behalf. So then, the creative brief is often sent in hopes that the other person will figure it out – only to get something back that was very obviously not what they were looking for. This does not equal minimal effort. This extra step could be avoided by obligating yourself to define what you absolutely don’t want to see, which will do wonders for the speed of the whole process. You don’t need to know exactly what you want, but it’s good to know what you don’t want. And then the creative will take it from there!


Renee BauerRenee Bauer, Lead Content Strategist at Hello Marketing Agency

 @HelloInbound

“Here’s the essential information that’s missing from many content briefs…”

What is the audience’s intent when consuming the content? What is the problem they are trying to solve or question they need to answer? Understanding that helps the writer get into the shoes of the reader and provide what the audience wants, needs and expects.


Paige Arnof-FennPaige Arnof-Fenn, founder & CEO of Mavens & Moguls

“The most important questions to answer are related to…”

The people more than the brand. Especially now in the digital age it is critical to make sure the brief is more about communicating ideas and less about the brief itself and the digital world around us. It is easy to get distracted by the tools and technologies but the key is to truly understand the people and culture that drives their purchase decisions.


Tim BrownTim Brown, Owner & Marketer at Hook Agency

@HookAgency

“What are the trust factors that ideal customers would want to see?”

So many – even very beautiful – marketing materials lack the kind of ‘trust factors’ that ideal customers need to make quick decisions. Particularly in larger B2B sales – visual representation in the form of badges, credentials, reviews, and even 5-stars / a photo of a reviewer make it easier for someone to move to the next obvious step, and adding these elements will decrease friction to a purchase or contact.


Josh RubinJosh Rubin, CEO of Post Modern Marketing

@creativecalif

“I’ve often seen creative briefs that are great, creative and comprehensive, but fail to answer the most important thing…”

What is our goal, and how do we measure success? The problem with most creative briefs is that they operate on the simple assumption that the goal is always one of a few things: to increase sales, to increase awareness, or to increase engagement. But while this is true, it’s not specific enough and not tracked.

Instead, your goal (for a digital asset) should be to get this form filled out or to collect more email addresses with this signup section or to get people to press this specific button – something very specific. Then you build your entire creative brief with that goal in mind – if your design detracts from it, no matter how great looking, it’s a poor design.

From there, you should always create the roadmap on how you are going to track success of your specific goal. You might create a gated content structure, popup, and so on, and you need to be able to account for tracking those steps and goals in analytics, conversion tracking and so on in your various tools or reporting.


Stan TanStan Tan, Digital Marketing Manager at Selby’s

@stanleytan255

“The most important question a creative brief should answer is…”

What is the message that you are trying to get across with this graphic?

It doesn’t matter how professional looking a graphic is, who designed it or how big the graphic is if it doesn’t get the message across, it is an ineffective graphic.


Marissa RyanMarissa Ryan, Co-Founder of VisualFizz

@VisualFizz

“A creative brief should not only outline the scope of work and deliverables for creative projects, but it should (and often doesn’t) include…”

An answer to the question: now what? All too often, creative work is delivered and clients are excited and eager to put what’s been delivered to good use, but they are unsure of the best ways to utilize their new creative. Especially for small to medium creative clients, a great creative brief should include methods that the client can take to go above and beyond. For example, if the creative brief includes a set list of designs and images, we at VisualFizz like to include a section outlining other ways these same designs and images can be utilized on channels like email marketing, social media, online marketing, and more. Branding doesn’t happen in a bubble, and it’s extremely beneficial for businesses to put their best designs at the front of every branded interaction. We feel that this makes our creative projects that much more valuable to those who need to use their marketing budgets wisely.


Tony NotermannTony Notermann, Owner/President of Noteworthy Web Design

@tnotermann

“Successful design projects start with a carefully crafted creative brief…”

It later serves as a checkpoint for evaluating the process of the project. Typical things found in a creative brief include: describe your product or service, scope of work, competition, target audience, main benefits, barriers to purchase, takeaway, and desired response. The one thing missing for me is how to solve the client¹s business problem. Creatives should be looking at every way possible to solve the client’s business problem. If you can’t identify the business problem, how can one provide the right solution? Allocating the appropriate amount of time to get the business problem is imperative. Do the hard work upfront establishing the correct business problem, and you have a business problem half solved.


Charlie WorrallCharlie Worrall, Digital Marketer at Imaginaire Digital

“One of the most overlooked questions in a creative brief in our experience is…”

What the client wants from this. It’s a simple question that seems to an easy one to answer, but it can be difficult. If we take a website, for example, there are so many factors that need to be addressed and so many people gloss over them. Do you want more leads for your business? Are you looking for more readers of your blog? Or do you want to see a better conversation rate?

These questions all fall under what the client wants from a website. It’s simple enough to decide what should be happening by the end of the endeavors. I would advise that the first thing to do before submitting a creative brief is to sit down and think about the outcome. Whether you need a marketing campaign, a website, or it’s a simple infographic, these things need a purpose. And that should be your first port of call.


Chris BilkoChris Bilko, Freelance Copywriter at Toffee Copy

@toffeecopy

“The single most important question a creative brief should answer is…”

Quite simply, what does the prospect think before receiving the communication? This shapes everything. For a company specializing in healthy snacks, for example, the answer might be, I’d love to lose weight but I have such a slow metabolism. Or it might be I’m at the gym five times a week but I’m not building muscle!

The gives such an incredible, succinct insight into the prospect’s inner monologue that it practically guarantees the end product is bang on the money. Clients love it. It makes the creatives’ lives a whole lot easier. And it definitely means the end product resonates with its intended audience.


Nicholas ChristensenNicholas Christensen, Founder of Lottery Critic

@lotterycritic

“Success is no accident. How do you attain it and more importantly, measure it? Most creative briefs identify goals and objectives…”

But by nature, the brevity of the brief does not allow for a lot of specificity and details. After all, this is a “brief” versus a magnum opus like A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. The bottom line is our clients want CTA results, in which the endgame outcome is an increase in revenue or brand building, or both. This is a no-brainer bullet point in a brief but we need to address how to measure it in concrete terms. We need to be on the same page with identifying key metrics such click-through and conversion rates. Often times the client’s “team” consists of one person reading the brief and perhaps not fully understanding the terminology or not providing feedback on what methods they will use to determine if the goals are met. I found the simplest way to deal with measuring success is by keeping the communication channels open. Stick to straight talk, confirm talking points via email confirmation and by all means, tweak the brief!


Nate MastersonNate Masterson, CEO of Maple Holistics

@MapleHolistics

“The most important question a creative brief should answer (that it frequently doesn’t) is…”

Possible blowback. Is this campaign going to lose me, customers? Often marketing campaigns can come off as tone deaf, or insensitive, and this may cost you, customers. If your company is going to weigh in on a controversial subject or use of a controversial spokesperson, make sure you’re ready to receive blowback for it. The best course of action is to stay on the fence in a controversy if you can.

 


Christina D. WarnerChristina D. Warner, Associate Marketing Manager at Walgreens Boots Alliance

@ChristinDWarner

“The most important question a creative brief should answer and typically does not is…”

What are the current perceptions that are driving the behaviors and what are the desired perceptions to drive the desired behaviors? And how can we drive the current perception and current behavior to the desired perception and behaviors?

I learned this from a mentor at work who actually created our internal creative briefs, and loved it!


James KoussertariJames Koussertari, Creative Manager at Cariad Marketing

@CariadMarketing

“A creative brief should clearly answer what the content will be and is trying to achieve…”

Its objectives, target market and intended promotional channels should all be taken into consideration and defined within the creative brief. Content lead design is something that is unfortunately often overlooked. Great design will always require well planned out content and strategy.


Lauren CrainLauren Crain, Graphic Designer at HealthLabs.com

@HealthLabs1

“The most important question that a creative brief should answer is…”

The goal. What’s the goal of the project? I know that there are a lot of ideas that people have about what they want, but if I don’t have a clear goal in mind (what the project is for, what problem it solves, etc.), then I can’t create something that truly communicates the meaning.


Jesse RutherfordJesse Rutherford, MarComm Manager at NOVO Engineering

“Creative briefs should always have a sine qua non! I have seen a variety of creative brief templates and formats in my career, and most of them are good, but they tend to lack…”

A crucial guardrail to keep things on track.

In my tenure as marketing and communications manager at NOVO Engineering, I have added a condition section to the creative brief template and project definition document template that we use in the marketing department. As a former copywriter myself, I know it is too easy to turn out great creative that is off strategy or a great strategy that is abstracted from business needs. Now that I am running my own program, I need a way to ensure our marketing products are completed as intended.

The section reads:
Project deliverables
The following conditions must be met, or the effort may be abandoned:

By laying the entire project on the line like this, the brief ensures that we achieve what we set out to achieve.


Ross DaviesRoss Davies, Managing Director for Strafe Creative

@StrafeCreative

“The most important question a creative brief should answer is…”

What do we want the user to do? All of the creative briefs for our projects answer one vital question: “what do we want the user to do?” It sounds like an obvious question to ask, but many creative briefs focus too much on imagery, page types, content and expected layout, and clients can sometimes forget that every project should have a clear purpose – to persuade its users to do something, be it get in touch, buy something, or something else entirely. Some clients will be happy with a project if the end result looks good for them, without considering how it appears to the target user – a site can look amazing and work for the client, but if there isn’t a clear end-goal for the user then the whole project has been a waste of money. If we can nail down the exact thing that the client wants from their user the start of the project, it will always be more successful.

For example, a client might be looking to add a “get in contact” section to their project. This is too vague – do they want their users to fill in a form, send an email, give them a call, request a call-back, or book an appointment? These are all different ways to interpret a “get in contact” feature, but each would require a drastically different approach to the design and layout of the project. It sounds pedantic, but setting out the user-oriented details of a project right from the start will mean that the it will be much more successful moving forwards.


A digital asset management solution can help you keep your creative projects firmly on the rails, providing a single source of truth for your valuable digital assets and automated workflows to save your team tons of time. Watch our webinar replay to find out how you can share DAM assets (like creative briefs) with external users safely. Or, schedule a demo today to learn why MerlinOne’s DAM solution is trusted by the world’s most iconic brands to empower their creative teams, improve creative workflows, and streamline their marketing and creative operations.

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