The first step in any successful project is drawing up a game plan with a clear objective. It’s one of the reasons marketers love creative briefs.
A creative brief acts as a roadmap that takes a project from ideation to completion. It ensures the scope, timeline, key stakeholders, and purpose of the project are communicated clearly. The creative brief is the single source of truth for everyone working on a project. If questions come up or tasks become unclear, the creative brief will steer things in the right direction.
If you’re just starting out in a creative role, taking on your first gig as a designer or consultant, or you simply want to get better at writing creative briefs, this article has everything you need to know to write the most effective creative briefs.
Whether you’re a consultant pitching a creative brief to a client, or a project manager presenting a brief to your team, start by speaking with the project stakeholders. These discussions will help you understand the company’s mission, project goals, and challenges your team faces. Then, you’ll have enough information to write a compelling brief that focuses on what’s really important to your company or client.
The idea of a creative brief sounds simple, but it can be hard to wrap a lot of important details into just a few pages. Therefore, a creative brief is typically made of eight sections that can fit on one to two pages.
Creative briefs are pretty standard documents within just about every marketing, advertising, or design team. But the format of every company’s creative brief might vary slightly to suit the needs of the project or client. Below is a simple outline that will be the foundation of your creative brief. It includes the most important steps in the creative process and information that’ll be relevant to stakeholders involved in the project.
Once you’re fully informed and ready to write, use the following steps to draft yours. To make it even easier, I’ve included a fill-in-the-blank template in the last step.
1. Decide on a name for the project.
The first step in developing a creative brief is deciding on a project name. This might sound simple, but it’s one of the most critical components of a creative brief. If you’re building a campaign around a brand new product or service, the campaign name will be the first time many members of your team will be introduced to it. Referring to the campaign (and therefore product or service) by the correct name prevents the game of telephone from happening. Without a specific and clear campaign name, people will make up their own terminology which can alter the intent of the campaign.
To create a project or campaign name for your creative brief, keep it creative and brief. A few words or a short sentence should work just fine. If you’re launching a product, identify what the call to action will be for the target audience, then center the name around that. Here are a few examples of fictional campaign names:
- The Search for Adventure Campaign- A scavenger hunt-themed amusement park.
- The Don’t Forget Your Memories Campaign – A photo frame company.
- The “What’s hotter than Pepperco hot sauce?” Campaign – A hot sauce brand.
2. Write about the brand and summarize the project’s background.
Another simple, yet essential section is the company background. If you work in an agency setting, this is non-negotiable as your team is likely handling several client campaigns at once. However, if you’re developing a creative brief for an in-house project, you’ll still want to include this part. New hires on your team, freelancers, and vendors will appreciate the background that your internal team is already privy to.
The company background shouldn’t be a general history of the company or a copied and pasted paragraph from the about page. Instead, tailor this to the project at hand. Set the scene with one or two sentences that sum up the brand’s mission. Follow this with a few sentences that give background on the brand and what led to the development of the project.
While some creatives have put this information all together in a quick paragraph, others separate it with headers like “Brand Statement” and “Background.”
Here are some questions to consider when writing a company background for your creative brief:
- Has the company launched a campaign like this before?
- Why is the company choosing to launch this campaign right now?
- What’s happening in the market and how will this campaign respond to it?
3. Highlight the project objective.
Here is where the creative brief gets more specific. The project objective should briefly explain the purpose of the project, the timeline, and the audience it’ll target. This can be done in a sentence or two, but you can get creative and stylize it in sections.
This part of the creative brief will be helpful in emphasizing why the project needs to happen. The goal aspects will help you and your team align on the project’s expectations. If the company or client hasn’t identified any major challenges, you can focus this section on goals and objectives. Explain what a successful project looks like and how it will benefit the company.
Pro Tip: Writing a project objective is very similar to writing a goal, so take a look at this blog post for more detail on goal and objective writing.
Here’s an example of a sample creative brief for PayPal that offers separate sections for “The Problem” and “The Goal”:
4. Describe the target audience.
Next, it’s time to define the target audience for the project. This is the segment of your market that will directly benefit from the product or service being launched. You can take audience segmentation a step further by identifying a primary and secondary audience. Doing so will give your team more freedom to explore creative ideas that might resonate with one group more than the other.
When crafting the target audience section, be sure to include the following:
- Demographics – Simple demographic information gives your team insight into exactly who the audience is. This includes data points like age, income, education, ethnicity, and occupation.
- Behaviors – Buying behaviors, trends, and other customer history make up the target audience behaviors. These provide important context to the creative brief because they explain where the customer is in their buyer journey.
- Psychographics – This is how the audience thinks and feels about your brand and the product or service you sell, in general.
- Geographics – Digital, physical, and hybrid campaigns will benefit from having geographics stated explicitly in the creative brief so that media buyers can price ad slots in each market.
Pro Tip: Your creative brief shouldn’t be too long, and this section can take up quite a bit of space. To make this section more digestible, consider using buyer personas.
Here’s how the sample brief for PayPal noted above thoughtfully explains a new product’s target audience:
5. Interpret the competitive landscape.
Knowing what your competitors are doing is advantageous for the whole team. You can use competitive data to come up with ideas that haven’t been tried yet, learn from their failed projects, or build a project that improves on a strategy they’ve used in the past.
Include a quick list of competitors with similar product or service offerings. Briefly list a few things your company has in common with them, how your brand has differentiated itself already, and a few areas where this project can help you get ahead.
6. Prepare the key message.
The key message can be the most difficult part of the creative brief to develop because just about every stakeholder will have a different opinion of what it should be. To get buy-in faster, try this simple trick. Ask yourself “We’re launching this project, so what?” The so what? is your key message. It explains why your target audience should stop what they’re doing and pay attention to your campaign.
The key message includes the pain point, what the audience’s experience might be like without the pain point, and the benefit they’ll receive as a result of your company’s solution. This framework places the customer in the spotlight of the campaign. Instead of telling them what this product or service could do for them, it positions them as the main character in the journey from problem to solution.
7. Choose the key consumer benefit.
If you’re launching a new product, there are likely several features and benefits that the target audience will experience when they decide to purchase it. However, it’s very difficult to structure a campaign around several different features. That’s why marketers and creatives use something called a key consumer benefit (KCB) in the creative brief to keep everyone aligned on the primary benefit being communicated. To choose the right KCB, you’ll want to get input from the project stakeholders and rely on consumer data to guide the decision.
Pro Tip: Your KCB won’t always be the fanciest feature of your product. The benefit that solves the biggest problem for your audience is a great choice for the KCB.
8. Select an attitude.
The tone and voice of your campaign create the overall attitude and that should be consistent throughout every creative element that’s being developed. Identifying a few adjectives that describe the attitude of the campaign can help copywriters draft copy that sends the correct message within the right context. Graphic designers can use colors and techniques to portray the tone and voice as well.
In this section of the brief, you should also note the appropriate voice for your audience. While some audiences, like those in the business world, prefer more formal language, others might engage more with a casual, relatable tone. To substantiate your decision to choose a particular brand voice and tone, you could write something like, “Our brand voice is a casual and carefree tone because it speaks to younger Gen-Z audiences.”
Pro tip: Use a thesaurus to find specific words that evoke nuanced emotions and attitudes for a hyper-targeted campaign.
9. Determine the best call to action.
Finally, your audience needs something to do once they see your campaign. The good thing about CTAs is that they don’t have to be physical actions. A CTA could have a goal to change thoughts and perceptions about your brand which doesn’t require the audience to do anything at all.
Your creative brief might include several different CTAs, especially if you have a primary and secondary target audience. But it’s a good idea to have one primary CTA that drives the project objective we talked about earlier.
10. Draft the distribution plan.
When the project is done, you’ll need to make sure your audience actually sees it. List a few channels or platforms on which you plan to announce the launch, as well as any promotional content you plan to create.
When drafting this section, think about your target audience. Don’t waste time on a promotional strategy that they won’t see. For example, if you’re promoting a project to Gen-Z, you’ll want to invest in social media rather than billboards or newspaper ads.
11. Share the creative brief with stakeholders.
Once you’ve drafted a creative brief, share it with the team you’ll be working with. You’ll also want to circulate it around the company via Slack, email, or presentations. If you’re a consultant working outside of a client’s company, encourage your clients to share the brief internally.
As you or your clients spread awareness, you should be open to answering questions or taking feedback from colleagues in case they have any great ideas. This strategy will improve team alignment, increase support of the project, and ensure that all of your colleagues are on the same page.
Creative Brief Template
Having trouble with the flow and organization of your brief? Here’s a simple template that could help. Copy and paste it into a document and fill in the blanks. You can also add to it or adjust it as needed for your project.
[Inset company or client logo at the top along with the project name.]
For ___ years, ______ [Brand Name] has been serving customers in the ____________ [group/job field/geographical area] with ____________________.
[Brand Name] has made achievements including __________,__________, and ___________. We have also launched marketing campaigns that have touched on ____________,________, and ____________. With the launch of _________ [project name] they hope to ___________.
With this project, the company aims to solve problems related to ____________________, while also expanding on ___________ and improving on _____________.
Our target audience is ____ [gender], in the age range of _ and _, and live areas like ____, _____, and ______. They enjoy _____, dislike ______, and might work in fields like _____, _____, and _____. They want more of ________ and their daily pain points include ________.
Their favorite products might include _______ and ______. They learn about these products through channels including ________, _________, and _______.
Our three biggest competitors [are/will be] ________, ________, and _______. These competitors offer _____, ______, and ______. We are ahead of them in _____ and ______, but we are behind when it comes to product offerings like __________ and _________.
The target audience is experiencing __________ [pain point], but with our newest project ___________, they’ll get to experience _________ [new experience without the pain point]. That’s what makes ______ [solution] an unrivaled solution within the market.
KEY CONSUMER BENEFIT:
________ [feature] is the best way for our target audience to experience _____ [benefit].
[Include three to five adjectives that describe the tone and voice of the project.]
CALL TO ACTION:
When the target audience sees our campaign, they will [feel/think/do] _________.
We will promote the launch on platforms and channels that our demographic regularly engages with. These will include ________, ________, and _______.
We will also release content including _______, _______, and ________ to gain attention from our audience and inform them of the project.
Below are a few messages we will use:
Types of Creative Briefs [+ Examples]
Creative briefs serve several purposes in the communications field. Marketers, designers, and advertisers use them differently. Depending on your role, your team, and the project you’re working on, one might be more effective than the other. Below are some of the most common types of creative briefs used across industries today plus examples of what they might look like.
Marketing Creative Briefs
A marketing creative brief is most commonly used to bring campaigns to market. This type of creative brief can be used for both new and existing campaigns. Broad business goals and strategies to accomplish them are usually included in this type of creative brief. It’s also not uncommon to see revenue goals and a budget included in a marketing creative brief.
Simple Marketing Creative Brief Example
Product Design Creative Briefs
Product design creative briefs outline the go-to-market strategy for a new product or feature launch. Product marketers are responsible for developing this type of brief. Developed in conjunction with the product manager, the product design creative brief will describe the features and benefits of the product and how the audience will benefit from them. Unique features of this type of creative brief include product documentation and product descriptions.
Product Design Creative Brief Example
Advertising Agency Creative Briefs
Advertising agencies develop creative briefs often for the various clients they serve. These briefs are concise and include the client’s brand guidelines as well as the specific project guidelines. A budget may also be included in the brief so that all teams can make wise decisions about the tactics they recommend for the client. An account manager or supervisor develops the creative brief and shares it with client stakeholders before the agency begins working on the project.
Advertising Agency Creative Brief Example
Streamline Projects with a Creative Brief
Scope creep happens to the best of us. Projects get bigger, stakeholders are added, and the objective of the project seems to morph as time goes on. Streamline your next product launch or marketing and advertising campaign with a creative brief. As a result, you’ll find that your team is more aligned with the project’s goals. We’ve even provided free creative brief templates to get you started — download them below.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in July 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.