Write a Creative Marketing Brief

Any and all marketing materials, from advertisements and brochures to websites and packages, benefit from the use of a creative brief, a document that lays out the basic purpose and focus of a specific marketing piece and provides some supporting information that gives you grist for your creative mill.

Always include the following components in a creative brief:

  • Objective statement: State what the marketing piece is supposed to accomplish in your objective statement. Make the goals or objectives clear and specific (note that one objective is easier to accomplish than many).

    The objective statement also includes a brief description of whom you’re aiming the ad at, usually a group of customers. This target group’s reactions determine whether you accomplish an objective.

  • Support statement: Include the product’s promise and the supporting evidence to back up that promise in your support statement. You use this point to build the underlying argument for the persuasive part of your marketing piece.

    The support statement can be based on logic and fact, or on an intuitive, emotional appeal — either way, you need to include a basis of solid support.

  • Tone or character statement: A distinct character, feel, or personality is what you’re going for in your tone or character statement.

    You choose whether the statement should accentuate the brand’s long-term identity or put forth a unique tone for the ad itself that dominates the brand’s image. The choice generally flows from your objectives, such as wanting to pull in a lot of shoppers for a special Labor Day sale.

    In this case, you, as a local retailer, want to give your event a strong identity, so you need to define an appropriate tone for your ad. In contrast, a national marketer of a new health-food line of sodas should build brand identity, so her creative brief needs to focus on defining that brand identity.

  • Constraints: Perhaps you face budgetary constraints, or you need to avoid certain terms, concepts, or images that your competitors have already used. Your brand image or product personality may also constrain you to approaches that are consistent with it.

    Be sure to give your constraints careful thought and list them as clearly as possible. Ask important questions to ensure that you’re aware of any potential constraints. Such questions include the following:

    • Are there actions a designer can’t do with your logo, like change the color?

    • Are you trying to avoid looking like a particular competitor?

    • Do you have to have vector art so that all images can be scaled up for big posters and scaled down for a blog or web page?

    • Is it important to produce work that can be shown both in full color and in black and white, depending on the medium and variations in your budget, or that can be adapted easily from a still image to an animated one?

Clearly defining your constraints is perhaps the most essential part of writing your creative brief. Why? Because knowing the parameters in which your marketing piece needs to operate gives structure to your ideas and can prevent you from getting hung up on one that just won’t work.

Say that you’re asking a graphic designer to work up an ad concept. You need to let her know what the dimensions of the ad will be when it runs and what file format it needs to be submitted in. If you’re not sure, have the designer talk to the ad rep who’s selling you the ad space to make sure the design is consistent with the ad specifications.

And don’t forget that those specifications are more than just technical. They also include important do’s and don’ts related to your brand image or personality, constraints imposed by the competition and their legal protection over intellectual property (such as a branded tag line you can’t use), and so forth. (See the figure for an exercise you can do to define constraints that should be mentioned in a creative brief.)

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To put it all together, think about the task of designing a new booth for a trade show. If you write a creative brief first, you have to define what the booth should accomplish and what sort of customers you want to aim it at (the objective statement demands that you make these decisions).

You also have to review (and maybe do some creative thinking about) the evidence available to support your company’s claims to fame. What may make you stand out among exhibitors at a trade show? If you aren’t sure, then use the demands of the support statement to do some research and creative thinking.

Make sure you have your evidence at hand so your ideas for booth design can communicate this evidence effectively. Finally, you have to define the tone of your booth, or think about your company’s overall image and how the booth can reflect that image in its tone. The tone or character statement requires this step.

As this example illustrates, the creative brief forces you to do some helpful foundational thinking about the booth before you actually start designing it. As a result, you’ve made your designs more focused and objective driven than they would be otherwise.

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