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Spending hours on market research, competitor analysis, and comparing color palettes to develop a creative brief may sound extraneous, especially for smaller organizations.

But although compiling a creative brief may be time-consuming, it’s far from auxiliary. In fact, it’s critical to the campaign’s success.

For content-driven projects or contracts, the creative brief should encompass the entire campaign strategy.

Proceeding without this document puts your team at risk of losing focus, misunderstanding the target audience, or chasing the wrong metrics.

Moreover, skipping the client brief makes miscommunication and inconsistency likely.

Without unified and comprehensive instructions for content creation, different departments working on the same project can misalign, and you’ll likely see wide variation between the work submitted by individual team members or freelancers.

What’s the biggest risk you assume if you skip over the creative brief in the interest of time?

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Your teams may lose sight of the client’s directives. Without a concrete creative strategy, team members can confuse contract requirements with flexible internal decisions.

Many team leads and project managers use templates to construct creative briefs. While standard templates may serve you well for small, straightforward projects, their limitations become clear with increasingly complex campaigns.

Your clients and the content deliverables are unique, and your content briefs should reflect that.

Instead of approaching a content brief as an outline to fill in, think of content brief development as an exercise with five phases, as outlined below.

Gather Information

All successful projects start with research, and creative campaigns are no different.

The first half of your creative brief should read like a client fact sheet and project strategy overview with the numbers and details to support the plan.

During the research phase, you need to collect and document the following information:

The Company or Client

Start with a brief overview of the client or organization for whom you’re producing content.

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What does that company sell or do, and what do they stand for? What makes the company different from its competitors?

The content brief introduction should describe what makes the client unique and make their value proposition clear to any team member receiving the document.

The Campaign or Project

Now, move on to the project, contract, or campaign specifics.

This section of the creative brief should include the scope of the project, all major deadlines, and basic descriptions of all deliverables expected by the client.

Objectives and KPIs

If your team members don’t understand the client’s goals, how can they meet them?

Make all client expectations clear and show your team how the success of the project will be measured.

Whether the objective is to boost page traffic, search ranking, social engagement, or sales, you need to determine what metrics to measure the campaign’s performance against.

Market and Audience Research

What clientele does your client service or hope to reach with the content you’re creating?

If the client doesn’t provide exact target demographic information, it’s up to your team to identify the ideal audience and strategize content around it.

For thorough market and audience research, you can use a variety of tools and resources like Google Trends, Google Analytics, Quantcast, AnswerThePublic, YouGov, Pew Research Center, and built-in insights from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms.

Competitor Analysis

Before you start a content campaign, you need to know what you’re up against.

Competitor analysis tools like Semrush, Buzzsumo, Ahrefs, Moz, and more can help you locate and learn from competitor content.

This analysis can inform what topics and content assets you pursue and how to do them differently (hopefully better) than others in the industry.

Create the First Draft of Your Creative Brief

With this initial research completed, you finally put pen to paper and create a complete draft.

However you decide to organize the document, it should include clear and concise summaries of all the research points listed above.

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Now comes the more creative aspect of the brief; taking the information you gathered in phase one into account, you can move on to constructing the following sections of your creative brief.

Target Personas

Based on the demographic information collected during your market and audience research, you can create personas that bring your target audience to life.

A target persona should include details like age, gender, location, education, employment, income, spending habits, internet usage, interests, challenges and pain points, motivations, and more.

Writing Guidelines

Having clear and detailed writing guidelines ensures that all content creators on the project produce congruent work.

Without them, writers will insert their own style and writing idiosyncrasies, making it obvious that multiple people penned the work.

To counteract discrepancies between team members or freelancers, provide instructions and insights on style, tone, voice, formatting, and any project-specific details the writers need to know.

Design Direction

A creative brief would be incomplete without an overview of the graphic elements associated with the project.

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The brief should identify the theme, color palette, fonts, likes and dislikes stated by the client, and any other relevant branding information.

Dos and Don’ts, Pitfalls and Challenges

A creative brief should take out any of the guesswork for writers and designers.

Be sure to include a list of explicit dos and don’ts (especially if they’re given by the client) and provide writing or design samples to exemplify these points.

Moreover, a creative brief needs to address potential challenges head-on.

Try to anticipate the stumbling blocks writers and designers might face and provide instructions for how to navigate these pitfalls.

Get Feedback and Revise Your Brief

The work doesn’t stop after the first draft. Before finalizing the brief, you need to confirm that it aligns with your client’s goals and includes input from internal team leaders.

This phase of creative brief development should be collaborative and may require numerous iterations and back-and-forth feedback.

But remember, the client and any stakeholders involved should have the final say on any strategic disagreements. This phase of development also serves as strategic confirmation and client approval.

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Think of the finalized brief as a creative agreement. If there are any lingering questions or concerns, now’s the time to flesh them out and make all decisions and expectations clear.

Submit to Your Content Teams

Once you have the green light from the client, you can distribute the creative brief to the departments or teams involved.

But don’t stop there – as the leader or project manager, you need confirmation that everyone working on the project understands the expectations.

Before any planning, writing, or design work begins, meet with individual teams to go over the creative brief in detail.

Whether it’s through a presentation or collaborative strategy session, cover the entirety of the brief with each department. To ensure understanding among team members, make this process as interactive as possible.

5. Ongoing Refinement

Too often, campaign strategists and content creators see creative briefs as set-in-stone contractual agreements.

While it’s important to involve the client and inform all team members of changes to the strategy and document, you shouldn’t treat the creative brief as law.

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Rather, look at it as a living document and communication tool.

As the project evolves and new ideas emerge, the creative brief needs to be continuously updated to reflect the new strategy and project-wide decisions.

Just make sure that all parties involved are aware of the changes made.

Creative Briefs are a Foundation for Collaboration & Communication

You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint or try a new recipe without looking up the ingredients.

In the world of marketing, advertising, social media, and SEO campaigns, the creative brief is the equivalent foundational document that coves the entire scope of the project.

However, don’t fall into the trap of treating the creative brief like a static record – content development is a creative process, and maintaining a creative brief should reflect that.

More Resources:

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Featured image by author, March 2021

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