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Writing a creative brief? Read these tips first

PostsDesign & UX
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

January 12, 2024

Is it easier to herd cats or creatives? The jury’s out, but a creative brief should help with the latter. While it’s tempting to get swept up in ideas the second a client shares their big, exciting dream, having a strategic approach will help you and your team harness that energy more productively. And that’s exactly what a creative brief does. 

What is a creative brief?

A creative brief is a document that sets out the objectives, message, tone, target audience, and overall direction for a creative project. It’s most commonly used in advertising, marketing, and design. 

It’s not just about control, and it’s definitely not about being a killjoy: creative briefs, when they’re done well, spark inspiration and provide a guideline for the team’s output. They’re an art in themselves, and mastering them is key to getting the most out of your creatives.

  • Purpose: To inspire and guide the creation of advertising and marketing materials.
  • Origin: Developed internally by the creative or marketing team.
  • Focus: On the overall vision, message, and emotional tone.
  • Audience: Primarily used by creative teams like designers, copywriters, and art directors.
  • Key elements: Objectives, target audience, key message, tone, and deliverables.

Who needs a creative brief?

“Ugh, more documents. Do I really need a creative brief?”

We hear you. If you’re a single person doing a crafting project for fun, then probably not. But the second others get involved, be they clients or other creatives, then a little direction goes a long way. 

So, the short answer is yes. Whether you’re a big corporation or a small business, having a creative brief is a good idea if you’re doing any form of creative work either for a client or for yourself in a business or team context. But don’t stress: they’re actually very simple to make. But before we get into that, let’s take a quick look at some similar-sounding documents. 

Creative brief vs. content brief

First, some common mix-ups that you really don’t want to get mixed up. 

A creative brief outlines the deliverables of an entire creative project. A content brief is more specific, and often used for individual pieces of content or content campaigns within a broader project. 

  • Purpose: To guide the creation of specific content pieces.
  • Focus: On the topic, structure, and SEO elements of a piece of content.
  • Audience: Primarily used by content creators, such as writers, video producers, and content marketers.
  • Key elements: Topic, objectives, target audience, structure, tone, SEO keywords.

Creative brief vs. client brief

The client brief is more about the client’s perspective and less about creative execution.

  • Origin: Provided by the client at the start of a project.
  • Purpose: To communicate the client’s needs, objectives, and expectations to the creative team.
  • Focus: On the client’s business goals, target audience, and overall project requirements.
  • Audience: The creative or marketing team that will be working on the project.

How a creative brief works

Think of a creative brief as a map for your creative journey. It kicks off when someone says, ‘We need to tell our audience something important!’ That’s the moment a project is born, and it’s where the creative brief starts to take shape.

First, you gather the team — this includes the creative lot, the strategy team, and anyone else who’s got a stake in the project. Everyone gets together to chat about what the brand’s all about, what you’re trying to achieve this time around, who you’re talking to, and the specific hurdles in store.

From this brainstorming session, you distill all those thoughts and ideas down into a neat document. This isn’t just any document. It’s the creative brief that details the vision and strategy for the project.

Once your document’s finished, you share it around. It’s not just for the creatives; it’s for everyone involved, including stakeholders and the client. 

Types of creative briefs

Different projects might need different kinds of briefs. Let’s walk through the main types you might encounter (although, remember, many combine all of the below):

1. Advertising creative brief: This is the go-to for advertising campaigns. It details the campaign’s objective, the target audience, the key message, and the desired response.

2. Design creative brief: Whether it’s a new logo, a website redesign, or packaging, this brief outlines the visual goals, the emotions you want to evoke, and the brand identity that needs to shine through.

3. Digital creative brief: It covers websites, social media campaigns, and online ads. It’s where you get into the digital specifics, like user experience, SEO, and interactive elements.

4. Video creative brief: This brief is for video projects and includes details about the storyline, the style, the audience, and the message you’re aiming to deliver through those moving pictures.

The essential elements of a creative brief

A creative brief needs certain non-negotiable elements to be effective. 

1. Project overview: Start with a concise summary of the project. This should answer the basic question, ‘What are we doing and why?’ It’s the foundation that sets the context for everything that follows.

2. Objectives: Clearly articulate what you’re aiming to achieve. Are you looking to increase brand awareness, drive sales, or perhaps change public perception? Set SMART goals so everyone knows what success looks like.

3. Target audience: Understand who you’re speaking to. Beyond basic demographics, consider psychographics like interests, values, and lifestyle. The better you know your audience, the more effectively you can talk to them.

4. Key message: What’s the main thrust of your project? You need a clear and compelling statement that captures the essence of your campaign and resonates with your audience. This message will guide the creative direction.

5. Tone and brand voice: How will you communicate your message? Should it be professional and authoritative, warm and friendly, or perhaps witty and irreverent? The tone should be consistent with your brand and appropriate for your audience.

6. Deliverables: List out exactly what you need. This might include print ads, social media content, a website, or a series of videos. Being specific helps align expectations.

7. Budget and resources: Knowing the budget helps you prioritize and make smart decisions. Also, consider other resources like team skills and available technology.

8. Timeline: You’ll need a detailed timeline with key milestones and a final deadline. This helps you plan while ensuring the project moves forward.

9. Approval process: Clarify who needs to review and approve the work at different stages. Knowing this upfront helps prevent delays and bottlenecks.

Creative brief examples

Netflix Creative Brief

Source: Laura Ferrari on Behance

A more detailed creative brief by Francesca Penchant on Behance

How to make a creative brief in 10 easy steps 

Ready to get started with your own creative brief? Of course you are! First, open a ready-made brief template or blank Word doc, then follow these steps.

1. Give your project a name

Every great project starts with a name. A good name can inspire the team and provide a shorthand way to refer to the project.

Make it short, memorable, and something that encapsulates the project. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should resonate with the goals and tone. 

2. Write about the brand and backstory 

Understanding the brand’s core and the project’s backstory is like setting the stage before the main act. It gives everyone involved context, which helps align their efforts with the brand’s goals.

Start by defining the brand’s mission, vision, values, and personality. 

  • What does the brand stand for? 
  • How does it speak?
  • What’s its story? 

Next, dive into the specific background of the project. 

  • What led to the need for this project? 
  • Has anything similar been done before? 
  • What were the outcomes? 

This section should paint a clear picture of where the brand comes from and where this project fits within its larger narrative. 

3. Sum up the project’s objective

The project objective is your North Star. Be specific about what the project intends to achieve. Are you looking to increase brand awareness, drive sales, launch a new product, or perhaps change public perception? 

Define measurable goals, like ‘increase website traffic by 20%’ or ‘gain 10,000 new social media followers within three months.’ This keeps the team focused and motivated, knowing exactly what they need to achieve. 

4. Describe the target audience

Knowing your audience is the difference between choosing a gift for someone you know and someone you don’t. When you know your audience, your chances of delivering tailored perfection are way higher. 

Start with demographics like age, gender, location, and income level. Then, move into psychographics like interests, values, lifestyle, and behaviors. 

What motivates them? What are their pain points? Top tip: a user persona template is a great way to lay out all this data in a way that’s easy to digest and share.

5. Describe the competition

Who else is vying for the attention of your target audience? What are they offering, and how are they positioning themselves? Analyze their strengths and weaknesses and understand their strategies as part of a competitive landscape analysis.

Consider broader market trends, too. Are there shifts in consumer behavior, new regulations, or emerging technologies that could impact the landscape? This section should provide a clear picture of where you stand among your competitors and how you can leverage your unique selling points (USPs).

6. Define your core message 

The key message is the heart of your communication. 

  • It needs to be relevant, engaging, and memorable
  • It should also be flexible enough to be tailored across various platforms while maintaining its core essence
  • Ensure it aligns with your brand voice and the project’s objectives
  • Make sure it addresses both emotional and rational appeals (does it evoke a feeling, solve a problem, or offer a distinct benefit? 

7. Choose your USP

Selecting the key consumer benefit (aka your USP) is about pinpointing the primary advantage your product or service offers to the customer over the competition. If you can’t think of a reason someone should choose your brand over others, then it’s back to the drawing board you go! 

8. Define your personality 

Vibe, attitude…whatever you want to call it, you need to bottle it up and sell it to your creatives. 

There are several ways to approach this. Some teams like mood boards, while others like user personas. Essentially, you want to decide on the personality and emotional tone of your communications. 

Think about how you want your audience to feel when they see your campaign. Inspired? Comforted? Energized? Your chosen attitude should resonate with your target audience (while being easy for your creatives to grasp). 

9. Create a distribution plan

Your comms need to be in the right place, reaching the right people at the right time. Taking a scattershot approach might result in a few wins, but ultimately, it’s a waste of time and energy. A distribution plan outlines where and how your creative content will reach your audience in a more considered way. 

  • Think about which channels that are relevant to your target audience
  • Plan the timing of your distribution. Are there certain times of the day or year when your audience is more likely to engage? 
  • Consider the frequency of your messaging and how different channels might work together to reinforce the campaign. 
  • Make sure your distribution plan fits your budget and resource availability. 
  • Include metrics for measuring success.

10. Share the creative brief with stakeholders

Once you’re done, share it with all key stakeholders. This includes members of the creative team, marketing team, executives, and any other parties involved in the project. 

Arrange a meeting or presentation to walk through the brief, highlighting the key points and objectives. Encourage questions, feedback, and discussion to ensure clarity and address any concerns. This is also an opportunity to gauge the stakeholders’ expectations and make sure everyone’s on the same page. Listen to their insights and be prepared to make adjustments if necessary. 

By involving stakeholders in this final step, you’re not just getting approval; you’re recruiting cheerleaders who are engaged and there to support you every step of the way. 

How to write a creative brief your team will love

Writing the best creative brief is an art and science that requires clarity, empathy, attention to detail, and just a sprinkling of creativity. You’ll need to provide enough direction to guide the creative process while leaving room for exploration. Here are some tips.

  1. Start with a clear vision. This includes knowing what you want to say and, most importantly, why.
  2. Inspire, don’t dictate. Creative people need breathing room to do their best work.
  3. Understand your audience. Dedicate a significant chunk of your time to customer discovery, or be prepared to be ignored. 
  4. Speak your audience’s language: define your message’s tone, visual identity, and communication approach. 
  5. Be specific and detailed. Clear objectives and detailed deliverables keep everyone focused and on track. 
  6. Encourage creativity. This means being open to new ideas. Because sometimes the best ideas are the wildcards. 
  7. Provide examples. Your brief should include examples from past projects or competitors to help give the creative team a feel for what the client wants (or doesn’t want). This is especially useful for visual learners, which creatives often are. 
  8. Align with brand identity. Customers respond to consistency, so make sure your brief’s requests are all on-brand in terms of both looks, tone, and values.
  9. Collaborate: involve everyone, including stakeholders, and communicate regularly. This lowers the chance of communication breakdowns and nasty ‘surprise…the client doesn’t like it’ moments. 
  10. Review and reflect: After the project, review what worked and what didn’t in a project post-mortem. This will help lay the foundations for future creative briefs.
  11. Use collaboration tools. Digital user persona templates and project management tools are all worth their weight in gold when it comes to keeping everyone on track. It’s worth remembering that the creative brief process is an iterative one, so using tools that allow for easy editing and sharing will save you a lot of effort later on. Take it for a spin today! 



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