The creative or the brief?

How many times have you heard about a client being dissatisfied with the deliverables of the advertising agency or about an agency dissastisfied with a client who does not know what he/she really wants? (I am sure that this happens more than we are willing to admit.)

All those people working in the creative industry know how hard it can be sometimes to find that idea you need as to illustrate in a memorable, strong and meaningful way a message you got from the client. But inspiration does not float somewhere in a cloud waiting just to be accessed by the most privileged, it can be in the same time guided and stimulated. Maybe you should find it weird for me to talk about structure in a creative process, but the truth is that any creation that is backed by a flow of the thinking processes is more probable to score better results. And from here we get to the so often debated ”brief”. And I use this term in its broad sense, without touching specific details such as communication, creation, production brief, etc. I will talk about that document which summarizes the client’s need and objective, meant to guide the creative process of an agency, and which is usually formed of a series of big chapters: marketing or communication objective (what does the client want to achieve), messages, targeted audience, period. Sometimes the objective is accompanied by measurable indicators (“SMART goals”) which may vary quite a lot – such as the number of leads, visits on site, conversion rate or engagement rate, message recognition degree, etc., after which the agency starts working and come up with ideas. Some ideas are accepted by the client, some are rejected. Some of the possible grounds for which some ideas get rejected could be:

  • the message is not being served
  • they are too common or too complicated
  • the execution is too expensive
  • and probably one of the most common reasons – the client does not “like” them.

The last one implies a very large dose of subjectivity which most of the times leads to endless discussions or even conflicts, the main cause being the lack of clarity related to the client’s needs, his/her objectives (the marketing, not sales ones! – see here the difference), actually the lack of that one grounded document called “brief” which guides the delivery process of a campaign.

Here is a list of elements which could be part of such a brief and which could help creativity, increasing the success rate of deliverables:

  1. Context: understanding the perspective, especially in case of a new collaboration: the history and evolution of a business, the challenges and moments which changed direction, understanding consumption behaviors having triggered them.
  2. Targeted audiences: information on clients and non-clients (who are they?) and their perceptions, if monitored, such as barriers and buying interests.
  3. Data on consumption behaviors, if any: information on the interests, expectations, frustrations or tensions of potential clients related to the buying decision – most of the times this kind of fine information leads to identifying what we call “insights”, those “flashes” of deep understanding of the consumers, which usually generate the most creative and impactful ideas; observing micro-moments, actions around a buying decision, for instance, and understanding the psychological, rational or emotional mechanisms which have triggered the respective action – these are maybe one of the most valuable pieces of information for the creative process.
  4. Marketing and communication objectives: description of the change wanted (associated sometimes to the positioning objective – read here more on positioning): which is the change of behavior and possibly the change of perception wanted, which is the image to be “inoculated” to the consumers in order to obtain a behavior meant to bring them closer to purchase.
  5. Messages which must be delivered, be it long term (brand related) or tactical, short term. But do pay attention, we are not talking here about messages such as slogans and creative titles, but about the fundamental ideas that the brand wants to transmit.
  6. Budget, channels, period, deliverables – according to specifics.

The list remains open and it is up to each specific case. Communication is not a fix science, but figures do help. The more the information in the brief is coagulated, the more the chances for the creative process to bring good results and have a real impact increase. So, if the creative process can be considered a difficult one, we can say that the process of elaborating a brief is strategic. And the agency and the client should be partners in this process and each party should do his/her homework as solidly as possible. The client should be crystal clear with what he/she wants and be capable to express and explain it (the exercise of elaborating a brief in writing helps a lot mental clarifications) and the agency should be capable of putting the right questions to obtain full information necessary to elaborate the campaign.

If you liked it, you can share it with your friends or read more articles on marketing and branding on my blog.

If you want to learn more about the communication brief, measuring the results of communication but also about branding and marketing strategy and to interpret their evolution in time, you can register to the Marketing Masterclass series of 3 intensive 1-day courses (#1: Strategic Marketing, #2: Strategic Branding, #3: Branding Communication).

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