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Table of Contents:
- What Is a Creative Brief?
- Creative Brief Template
- How to Write a Creative Brief
- Creative Brief Examples
- How to Evaluate Creative Campaigns
What Is a Creative Brief?
Creative briefs provide creative and project direction when requesting work from a creative team—either internally or when working with an external agency. But you’ll often come across different formats for creative briefs, even within a single organization. This causes inconsistency. It also creates confusion since everyone is literally working from different pages—leading to lost time and rework.
That is the exact opposite of what a creative brief is supposed to do. They’re meant to:
- Eliminate conflicting information so that everyone has a singular understanding of creative direction.
- Provide enough information to understand project scope, expectations and deliverables, including clear measures of success.
- Reduce contradictions in feedback that might arise later in the project.
To do this, all great creative briefs have three important jobs:
- Strategy—Without strategic direction, it’s unlikely you’ll produce a great creative product. Your creative brief needs to detail the strategy, which includes making specific (and sometimes tough) choices.
- Inspiration—Each brief sets an inspirational starting point, an aspiration. This is not to be confused with inspirational or creative language, which is a common mistake. You avoid misinterpretation by being clear and intentional in the language you use to convey your requirements.
- Agreement—Ultimately, the brief is an agreement between those requesting the work and those who are going to do it, becoming the single version of truth and setting expectations for what’s worthy of approval at the end of the process.
In a nutshell, a creative brief is a document that clarifies communication strategy, sets an inspirational starting point and outlines agreed-upon requirements for evaluation. Stakeholder and team alignment is essential from the very beginning.
Creative Brief Template
The ideal creative brief template places the most important information creative teams need to know up front on a single page. This eliminates the need to create a duplicate or competing brief on the part of the agency.
You can download the creative brief template below. Use it to follow along with the rest of this guide.
Creative briefs shouldn’t be written alone. Just as the development of creative work is a collaborative process, so is the creation of the brief. Including your creative team, marketing team and senior stakeholders up front will set you up for success as you work through each of the following sections:
- What are you specifically tasked with delivering? Is this a new campaign, campaign extension or one-off ad/communication?
- To whom are you speaking?
- What have you learned about the target that presents the opportunity?
- What does the consumer/customer do today that you want to change?
- What does the consumer/customer think/feel today that results in their current beliefs?
Desired Behavior (Communication Objective)
- What does the consumer/customer do today that you want to change with your campaign?
Desired Belief (Single-minded Proposition or Core Message)
- What do you need the consumer/customer to think/feel to elicit the desired behavior?
Reason to Believe (RTB)
- Why should consumers/customers believe you?
Brand Character and Tone
- In what way should you speak to the target?
How to Write a Creative Brief
Once you’ve determined the assignment, it’s time to dive deep into writing each critical component:
- Target statement
- Key insight/tension/problem
- Current and desired behavior
- Current and desired belief
- Reason to believe
- Brand character and tone statement
How to Write a Target Statement
The target statement is crucial because it answers the central question of the whole project: “To whom are you speaking (who’s your audience)?” If you’re stuck, the answers to these questions will provide you with the information you need to write a well-defined target statement.
- Are you speaking to current users or competitive users who aren’t using your products/services today? You can also consider in-category versus out-of-category. Basically, you want to figure out where the opportunity is and with whom it exists.
- What are the three most important things you would tell someone so they quickly understand the persona profile?
- What are the target users’ attitudes toward the category, your brand or product, and life in general? Attitudes create a mental picture and help you get inside their heads.
With an initial profile mapped out, there are a few additional things you’ll need to do (or not do in some cases). These aren’t just for consideration. You actually need to do them in order to write a great creative brief.
Things to do:
- Describe a single person—Write the target statement as if you’re describing a single person. It will make it easier to add the kind of detail you need to give your creative team.
- Create a mental picture—You want to do this so that anyone who reads the brief can easily picture the person.
- Use psychographics and behaviors—Go beyond demographics and geography. Diving deep into the person’s mindset and lifestyle behaviors will help your creative work resonate with your target.
Things not to do:
- Lengthy bullet lists—Long lists of bullet points are not helpful when creating a mental picture of your single target persona.
- Demographics only—The richness of the mental picture will shine through when you imagine the target holistically—attitudes, beliefs, values, etc.
- Vague language—Don’t leave room for misinterpretation. Doing so may result in final work that could easily be used by any brand.
Examples of Target Statements
Example #1 (not so good)
The first example is just a list of demographics:
- Adults 30 to 55
- $40K+ household income
- 60% women, 40% men
- Millennial moms
This type of target statement could fit any number of brands. It’s simply not very useful from a creative perspective. Your creative team won’t be able to develop ideas that are going to resonate with your audience.
Example #2 (much better)
In contrast, imagine a target statement like this one:
- “CEO mom,” head of her household and the breadwinner. She wears a power suit. She likes things in order and sticks to a routine because it makes her feel good when things run like clockwork.
That creates a much clearer and stronger mental picture. It gives you an idea of who this person is—her behaviors and mindset—which is incredibly useful when coming up with creative ideas for this specific audience.
Using these tips will lead to a much more impactful target statement, enabling your creative team to produce stronger work.
The next step is developing the key insight.
How to Write a Key Insight/Tension/Problem
When you’re writing a great creative brief, the key insight spells out your brand’s opportunity. Everything else cascades from this essential information.
Think back to the target statement you wrote, and get into the mindset of that person. Then identify the opportunity presented. Here are some ways to come up with insights:
- What are the challenges the target audience faces? Think about the target audience’s goals and the things they want to achieve. Then imagine what might stand in the way of those goals. These challenges often present opportunities that can inform your key insight.
- Identify an educational insight that you can make them aware of. What’s an important piece of information that would unlock an opportunity?
- Consider why they would care about your product or service at all. Complete this sentence: They would care because ____. This exercise typically reveals a meaningful insight that you can use.
As before, there are some things to do and not to do when including key insights in a creative brief:
Things to do:
- Be human—Consider human challenges and problems, not necessarily business ones. Always think about humans first.
- Use research—Use the consumer voice as much as possible. If you haven’t done research yet, now’s the time to do it. If you’ve heard directly from your consumers in some way, include the pertinent points as part of your key insight.
- Observations—Observing people’s behaviors gives you signals that you wouldn’t find otherwise or that you wouldn’t have found by simply asking questions and listening to their answers.
Things not to do:
- All about you—Don’t make the insight all about the brand, the business or the product. Make it about the consumer.
- More than one problem or desire—Focus on one problem, tension or desire to solve. Including more than one key insight creates issues later when you write other parts of the brief.
- Same as competition—Avoid sounding the same as the competition. Similarly, avoid solving for an insight that the competition already focused on unless you can be meaningfully better and different.
Examples of Key Insights
Example #1 (not so good)
Imagine this insight for a company that offers tax filing services:
- Customers could do their taxes more accurately with our filing services.
They’ve identified the insight as being a lack of their services. This is a poor insight because it’s all about the brand.
Example #2 (much better)
A better insight would be something like this:
- Unknowingly, most Americans make mistakes on their taxes that result in leaving behind over a billion dollars in unclaimed refunds every single year.
A couple of things make this stronger than the previous example.
First, not only are customers making mistakes that cause them to leave money on the table, but they don’t even know it. That’s an interesting insight that your team can take advantage of when coming up with creative ideas.
Second is the noteworthy fact about how much money is left behind, which also can be leveraged creatively.
This example is much more specific, making it a more meaningful insight than the first one. On to crafting the current and desired behaviors.
How to Write the Current and Desired Behaviors
The current behavior is the behavior you are trying to change—it’s what the consumer is doing today before seeing or hearing your brand’s communication.
For the desired behavior, this is the question you want to answer: “What do you want the consumer to do?” In other words, what is the response or action you want to elicit as a result of your creative communication?
Here are the things to do and not do when writing the desired behavior as part of a great creative brief.
- Action words—Use verbs. You’d be surprised how many desired behaviors get written without action words.
- One behavior—Identify the single behavior or action you want the audience to take.
Not to do:
- Business speak—Steer clear of business language. Use terms that reflect the way a consumer thinks, feels and acts.
- Business objective—Focus on the action you want the consumer to take, not on business goals like increasing sales or driving project trials.
- Being Vague—Always be specific.
Examples of Current and Desired Behaviors
This section of the brief is about translating the current behavior and contrasting it with how you want consumers to act.
Good Example #1
Revisiting the tax services firm from before this is very likely their customer’s current behavior:
- Filing their own taxes. (current behavior)
The desired behavior might be something like this:
- Switching to using our walk-in tax services. (desired behavior)
It’s important to note here that this is a very specific statement. The tax services firm is not just saying they want more sales; they’re calling out the specific behavior change that will drive those sales. This is a much better way to frame a desired behavior within a great creative brief.
Good Example #2
For this example, let’s switch to personal care products and use the Aveeno brand as an example. For illustration, let’s assume the following current behavior:
- Using home remedies and making their own soaps. (current behavior)
Maybe these are consumers interested in natural and pure products — refusing to use anything with chemicals. They make their own remedies and soaps because they believe them to be safer than the alternatives.
Knowing this, a desired behavior might be:
- Give up home remedies for Aveeno. (desired behavior)
The desire is for consumers to stop using home remedies or making their own soaps and to start using this brand’s offering. They have identified the exact action they want consumers to take, which will result in more sales. This level of specificity is important because, as you’ll see in the next section, you will use this as your basis to write the desired belief/takeaway.
How to Write the Current and Desired Beliefs
Now your task is to translate the desired behavior into a message that motivates. With the current behavior you previously wrote in hand, consider what the consumer thinks today that results in the current behavior. The answer to that question is the current belief.
Next, look at the desired behavior you previously came up with, and write down the mindset required of the consumer to actually change to that desired behavior. This new desired belief is the focal point of your communication strategy. It’s a core message that your campaign will relay to the audience.
Examples of Current and Desired Beliefs
This section of the brief is all about what you want consumers to think/feel as a result of your communication.
Good Example #1
Remember the tax services example from before? In this section, they are trying to get their audience to go from filing their own taxes to using walk-in services. The current belief might be:
- Filing taxes is simple. I can do it myself. (current belief)
Since the firm wants them to use walk-in services, this might be the desired belief:
- I might actually be leaving money on the table. (desired belief)
It’s now clear that the firm needs to open consumers’ eyes as to how much they could be missing out on.
Good Example #2
Let’s look again at the personal care example. From earlier, the company is trying to get them to give up home remedies for Aveeno body wash. The current belief might be:
- Making my own soap is the safer way to get clean. (current belief)
The company wants them to give up home remedies for Aveeno, so the desired belief might be:
- Aveeno works better than home remedies without harming my skin. (desired belief)
In this example, it becomes clear that the company will need to reassure the consumer about Aveeno’s safety.
In both examples, having specific behaviors in mind enables you to write clear and specific beliefs for communication to your audience.
Next up, the reason to believe.
How to Write a Reason to Believe
In the previous section you detailed the desired belief, which becomes the key communication takeaway. This section gives the audience the reason they should believe that takeaway is true—the proof to believe in what you’re saying.
Let me give you a few ideas for crafting your RTB statement:
- Help your target audience understand and see your product or service working at a fundamental level. Show them how it delivers what you say it does.
- Use your creative pieces to convey what’s unique about your product or service. Share the process you go through to create your products. Give them a glimpse of the framework your service uses to get results.
Of course, there are a few things to do and not to do.
- Fewer RTBs—Use as few reasons to believe as possible. This will keep your message focused and memorable.
- Credibility—Use proof points, such as testimonials or torture-test demonstrations, to enhance your credibility.
- Tie to benefits—Make sure that any reason to believe information you provide or show directly supports the key problem you’re solving with the project. If it doesn’t tie back, it’s a miss.
Not to do:
- More benefits—Don’t add too many RTBs otherwise you’ll dilute the power of your message. Your audience won’t remember anything if you overwhelm them.
- Sound like competitors—Don’t mimic others in your space. Your supporting details shouldn’t sound the same as your competitors’—be different.
- Tech speak—Avoid including technical information and jargon that your audience may not understand.
Examples of Reasons to Believe
Here are some examples of common RTB types. You can use these as a starting point to come up with your own:
- Example #1—Design/Feature: Luxurious furnishings—A hotel is trying to create a certain type of experience or make guests feel like royalty. They may use design or luxurious furnishings to create the aesthetic.
- Example #2—Mode of Action: Patented algorithm—This falls under “how it works.” Communicating at its most fundamental level is considered sharing your product’s/service’s mode of action. For example, you might have a software program that uses a patented algorithm. That’s the mode of action it uses to do what it does.
- Example #3—Ingredient: Unique combination of moisturizers—As a skincare brand, you might have a product with a unique combination of specific moisturizers.
- Example #4—Process/Source: Builder® workshop process—The process or source could be how something is developed or where it comes from. In this example, a consultant has a trademarked workshop process that’s unique to them.
- Example #5—Endorsement: 3 out of 4 recommend…—This could be external endorsements. For example, if you’re selling a dental product, you would communicate that it’s been “Recommended by 3 out of 4 dentists.”
- Example #6—Testing: In clinical studies, 85%…—Leverage clinical or scientific testing that has produced hard data.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list of the possible RTBs. It’s simply meant to spark some ideas. Use them the next time you write your creative brief.
The final piece of the brief is the brand character and tone statement.
How to Write a Brand Character and Tone Statement
You’ve gathered all the data and written your target statement, key insight, desired behavior, desired belief and reason to believe. Now you need to detail how you’ll speak to your target.
Once again, here are things to consider as you do:
- Have you ever seen brands categorized as “outlaw,” “hero,” “sage” or “lover”? Those are brand personality archetypes. You can use them as a starting point for defining your own brand character. You can also combine them if needed.
- Consider what makes your brand personality different from anyone else’s in your space. Brand personalities often sound very similar inside the same category. You want to think about how yours is different, and then lean into that differentiation.
- Make sure that your brand character inspires your creative team. Whether it’s an agency or in-house, you want the character to actually be a guiding force that will lead to excellent creative work. Remember, inspiration is one of the key components of a creative brief!
Below are things to do and not do when writing your brand character and tone statement. (You saw this coming, didn’t you?)
- Check Your Positioning—Pull out your brand’s existing positioning document (it could be an equity pyramid, a positioning statement or something else to that effect). There may be character implications within it that you can bring into your brief.
- Name or describe an actual person—Think about a single person. Otherwise, you’ll likely write an impersonal statement that lacks character entirely or that doesn’t paint a clear picture in the mind of the person reading your creative brief.
- Separate brand character from target audience—Think of the brand character as a person, who may or may not be the same as your target audience.
Not to do:
- Be vague or common—Stop doing it. As has been said several times, don’t be vague or common. Use specific language.
- Lack personality—Think of your brand character as a unique person, or risk a lack in personality… and creative work that stands out.
- Go off-equity—Reinforce your brand position or brand equity; don’t counteract it.
Let me show you a couple of examples to bring this section to life.
Example #1 (not so good)
There are many not-so-great brand character or tone statements within briefs, including listing words like these:
These are all nice-sounding words, and many brands would want to be these things, but it honestly tells your creative team a whole lot of nothing. It’s not unique. It doesn’t stand out. And it sounds like what others might want to have associated with their brands, too.
Example #2 (much better)
When you truly think about your unique voice, you’ll likely end up with a very distinct brand character. Here’s an example:
- An inspirational General Patton speaker. He’s loud, bold, brash, calculated in pace and confidently persuasive. He’s the kind of person that you would follow into any situation.
This statement is much more inspirational and specific. You can also see how it will lead your team to create advertising or communications that stand out and are unique in the marketplace—it’s definitely not vague or generic.
Creative Brief Examples
Here are two examples of completed briefs using real brand campaigns. I’ve taken each campaign and inferred what their creative brief may have looked like. Each brief is followed by the ad that goes with it.
Mountain Dew Creative Brief Example:
Mountain Dew Ad Example:
Dove Creative Brief Example:
Dove Ad Example:
How to Evaluate Creative Campaigns
Once you provide the creative brief to the creative team, your work isn’t completely done. At some point the creative ideas come back for your feedback. Here are some things to consider as you evaluate the creative work:
- Does the idea clearly dramatize (visualize) the core message/benefit (desired belief)?
- Does it only visualize the insight or problem (a watchout)? This can often be a dangerous area.
- Will it drive the desired behavior or communication objective?
- Will the idea immediately grab attention?
- Is the idea interesting enough to hold attention?
- Is the idea/story distinct among the competition?
- Does the idea build or erode equity?
- Is the idea on or off character?
- Can the idea use/reinforce visual or copy assets?
- Can the idea easily be linked back to your brand in viewers’ minds?
- Does the idea lead to other potential variations/contexts?
- Can the idea be extended to other mediums, such as radio, print or digital?
- Can the idea flex from long form to short form (e.g., :60 to :06/still)?
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Kevin Namaky is CEO at the Gurulocity Brand Management Institute, a marketing education company that trains and consults for notable brand teams including Kimberly-Clark, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Bolthouse Farms and Gorilla Brands. Kevin is a featured instructor for the American Marketing Association, lectures at the IU Kelley School of business, and has been featured in Ad Age, Forbes, Fast Company and the CMO Council. Previously Kevin worked for 20 years in the corporate and agency world growing notable brands. Follow Kevin on LinkedIn.