10 Points Every Creative Brief Must Contain

If you start working without a clear brief, it’s like driving with broken headlights at night. Sure, it’s still possible, but you’d have to drive slowly, and chances are high that you’ll veer off the street.

We at Filestage know that it’s tempting to rush past the creative brief. Clients are usually itching to start right away. They don’t want to waste time with the planning stages. But investing time in a good brief protects you from encountering serious problems later on down the road. Believe me, it is an investment that will pay off.

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Why do I need a creative brief?

Before we started to develop Filestage, we interviewed many professionals in the creative industry. One of our major findings was that a clear, creative brief is the most critical success factor for a project. When the brief is sloppy, creative projects have a high likelihood of failure.

A good, creative brief presents a clear picture about your client. It helps you to understand his business, his customers and his goals.
Equally important, it forces your clients to take up position. You get them to think through their goals and expectations. This means you have a reliable commitment – something you can stick to.

“Having a precise brief is like having a solid fundament. There is no shilly-shally afterwards.”

What belongs in every good creative brief?

When designing a creative brief you don’t want to end up with a large folder full of information. What you want is a short and clear brief. Try to condense the information to a maximum of 1 or 2 pages. Structure it with bullet points for increased readability. Alternatively, you can create a PowerPoint presentation with one topic per slide.

1. Background Information

If you don’t know your client yet, it’s time to get to know him. What you need are some background details. What business is your client in? How does his market work? How well known is the brand?

2. Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

The USP tells you what’s special about the product or service of your client. What distinctions separate it from others? What does your client offer that is unique?

Go further than the marketing blah-blah and find out why people really buy your client’s product. Is it the price, the unique features or maybe the good reputation?

3. Clear Objectives

“The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations.”

One significant piece of information you need to get crystal clear is your client’s goals. You can only work in the interest of a client when you know what you are aiming toward. But having your clients nail down their goals isn’t easy.

I once made the mistake of not defining clear goals. I thought this would be an easy job. When your client tells you something like ‘we just want to give it a shot’ your alarm bells should ring. It looks like an easy job, but it’s definitely not.

Just because your client hasn’t shared any goals doesn’t mean he doesn’t expect you to perform. Companies always aim for a high return on investment. Even NGOs do. The problem is that you have no clue what they’re basing your performance on. Making your client happy will be a tough challenge.

So work out clear goals. Ask questions like: Why do you want to start this project? What do you want to achieve? How do you want to measure the success?

At the end of the day you want to come away with 1 to 3 sharp objectives.

4. Target Audience of Your Client

When you have the objectives ironed out, you need to know who should buy the fish.

Who are your client’s customers? What are their characteristics? What do they believe in?

To nail this down you should go through demographics and psychographics such as age, income and behavior. Ask about data from market research. Try to have a chat with some of your client’s customers. The more you know about their clients, the better.

Personas

Personas are fictional characters that represent the goals and behavior of your target group. It helps to see personas as archetypes of customers. Personas work best as short descriptions that include behavior patterns, goals, skills and attitudes. In the best case they include personal details that make them more realistic and sticky.

Maybe your client has already created personas. Great! But what if your client has no clue? In this case, you can play the role of good fairy. No costume required. Just ask your client what their ideal customer would be like. This is usually a good starting point.

5. Position and Major Competitors

Now it’s time to look at your client in relation to other organizations in his industry. What separates your client from their competitors? What’s their position? What is the position of its major competitors? How do they stick out?

Most clients have already prepared a SWOT analysis. It usually provides a good overview about the position. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threads. Here is how to do a SWOT.

6. Deliverables

It happens often that clients already have ideas in their mind when contacting you. They think they need a modern website, an impressive corporate film or a hip Facebook page. Maybe they’ve seen certain approaches done by competitors, and they want to try it as well.

One of your jobs is to consult your client in the best possible way. Ask yourself if what the client wants is actually the right choice to reach their objectives. If there are better ways, be open about it. If you want a happy client, help them select the tools that bring the best results.

Choose the right tools to reach your client's objectives.
Choose the right tools to reach your client's objectives.

7. Tone of Voice

So you know what your client expects and what makes him unique. But what is your client’s tone of voice? Try to get a feeling of your client’s tonality and style.

The easiest way is to think of your client’s company or brand as a personality. If it were a person, what would they be like? Try to come up with about 3 strong and distinct values.

A good way to extract the values is to reference any marketing materials your client is proud of. Do they have a logo, brochures or design guidelines they are fond of? Try to analyze these materials at different levels. Do any of these marketing materials offer a valuable indicator for the tonality and the taste of your client?

You could also ask yourself how the relationship between your client and his customers looks like. Is it usually a one-time contact or a constant relationship? Do they communicate at a highly professional level or do they talk more casually?

My final piece of advice would be to be honest, keep it simple and don’t overthink your client’s tone of voice.

8. Likes and Dislikes

I often recognize that clients have trouble expressing what they like when it comes to things such as design, video or audio. This is particularly the case with clients who don’t work in marketing on an everyday basis.

But have no worries. A best practice approach is to ask your clients for samples they like and dislike. Let them pick YouTube videos, explore Behance portfolios and browse through Flickr galleries. Put together a mood-board and make a list of do’s and dont’s.

Having a whitelist and a no-go list gives you clear borders. It marks your corridor and makes it easier to have a starting point. Later on these lists will serve as a solid reference point when you need to defend things you’ve created or choices you’ve made. Last but not least, it prevents you from producing outcomes that nobody wants.

In my experience, mood boards are worth a thousand words.
In my experience, mood boards are worth a thousand words.
(Photo by David Wall / CC BY)

9. Budget

Having all other things in place, it should be easy to calculate costs, right? Actually, not yet. You need one more detail. Is your client looking for a Ferrari or for a cheap subcompact? Don’t be shy. Ask for a budget. That’ll make life easier for you.

Secret Weapon:

A powerful strategy to find your client’s budget is presenting different budget options. Explain the pros and cons of each option, and how the result will differ depending on the investment. This encourages your client to tell you which budget option is the most realistic.

10. Timeline and Milestones

Sure, the job has to be done fast. But before you finally start, agree on a clear schedule. Ask for deadlines and definite milestones. State out what’s realistic. Let your client know about the process and points of no return.

Key Takeaways

It’s easy to skip the creative brief because everybody wants to get started. But there is a big chance that it will come back and bite you later on in the project. So it’s best to do your homework.

To get the best results, you should work out a clear, creative brief. It builds trust and reliability.

10 Points Every Creative Brief Should Contain

  1. Background Information – What business is your client in?
  2. Unique Selling Proposition (USP) – What makes your client’s service or product special?
  3. Objectives – What are the goals for the project? When is it a success?
  4. Target Audience – Who are the customers of your client?
  5. Position and Major Competitors – How is your client positioned compared to his competitors?
  6. Deliverables – What should you deliver?
  7. Tone of Voice – What is the company’s (or brand’s) personality?
  8. Likes and Dislikes – What are examples of things your client likes and dislikes?
  9. Budget – How much is your client willing to invest?
  10. Timeline and Milestones – When is the final deadline? What are the milestones?

I am sure you have developed a great routine when it comes to a brief. What’s your feeling? What are the points that every creative brief should contain?

I am looking forward to your opinion.

Please feel free to share, like and comment this article.

And by the way: Are you working in advertising, design or in the film industry? Then you should check out Filestage. It’s a great software that makes design and video reviews with clients and co-workers easy.

4 Comments
  • Tobias Brockow
    Posted at 15:57h, 08 June Reply

    Great article Niklas! Another interessting point is to ask your client for his principles. Just let him finish the following sentence: I would completely let other people do the project, as long as … This is also an effective way to define the principles for your own projects.

    • Niklas Dorn
      Posted at 18:37h, 08 June Reply

      Thanks a lot for your additional thoughts Tobias! This sounds like a great way to get more insights from your clients.

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