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Can't crack a communication idea? You should take another look at your brief

Updated: Mar 5

You've been through multiple rounds of creative or media development, and you just aren't cracking the brief? Your agency and your team are frustrated. Tensions are running high.

As the client, you may be questioning your agency's ability to deliver what you had in mind. In some instances, this may well be the case but before you call it quits, take another look at your brief because there is a good chance it is the cause.

A good, honest review will probably reveal one of three potential problems:

  1. You aren't clear on the job to be done, the expected outcomes & how you will measure success

  2. The length and detail of the brief mean it is too open to (incorrect) interpretation by the agency.

  3. The language used or the depth of the insights in the brief aren't inspiring enough to spark the distinctive ideas you are seeking.

As always, The Marketoonist has articulates our problem perfectly

Why is a good brief so important?

You should consider your Communications Brief as a strategic document, which is just as crucial as your Brand Positioning or your Brand Plan. The Communications Brief is the beginning of the translation of your brand strategy into consumer-facing work. It is the movie that will tell your story.

Therefore, the Communications Brief justifies the same level of attention, thinking, debate and choice-making as any other strategic document. It is not something you crack out at your computer an hour before the briefing session.

The other reason the brief is so important is it will create direction and lead a large agency team to spend a large proportion of your marketing budget. Think of the wasted head hours, production & media spend you are wasting if you don't get the brief right. Re-brief

Problem 1: Not clear on the job to be done and the outcomes expected

The role of the brief is to provide direction to agencies to produce ideas that will get attention and resonate with consumers in such a way that builds your brand, drives attitude or behaviour change, and ultimately delivers the growth and outcomes you are seeking.

Therefore, it is up to marketers to make the required strategic choices and define the job to be done and the outcomes expected. How do you want to build your brand?

What consumer attitudes or behaviour changes are you seeking? What growth are you expecting?

A brief is not an opportunity to throw some thought starters at the agency and expect them to make these decisions for you. It is your job as the brand manager to create strategic direction and make the hard choices.

Problem 2: Your brief is too long and over-complicated.

The longer the brief, the more open to (incorrect) interpretation

A brief is called a brief for a reason, and it needs to be succinct for two purposes - agency interpretation & consumer comprehension.

The brief needs to be concise to give the agency a clear understanding of the job to be done. I have seen briefs up to 25 pages long full of buzzwords, data and 'context'. However, this level of detail leaves the brief open to interpretation, and there's more than one way to cook an egg. The agency may take a different message away than you intended.

From a consumer perspective, we all know that communication needs to be single-minded and meaningful to cut through and be understood. So choices need to be made when writing the brief to ensure you are asking the agency to get one clear message across.

There may be several consumer groups you could target or multiple solutions you could offer them, but you need to choose the one most likely to make an impact. The one that will best solve your consumer's problems and drive them to take the intended action, i.e., buying your brand.

Tip - it REALLY helps to have the agency involved in making this choice. They are the communication experts and will help you decide what consumers want to hear…….not what you want to tell them.

Problem 3: Your brief is bland and uninspiring.

You want to write a brief that creatives fight to work on

Your brief needs to inspire creatives and act as a springboard for ideation that delivers their best work. You want the top creatives in the agency fighting to work on your brief and not be the brief that sits in a pile of procrastination.

This inspiration generally comes from new, juicy insights that have dug deeper than ubiquitous, surface-level observations. Insights that are meaningful and invoke a reaction. Insights that are consumer-centric and free from marketing jargon. Insights that articulate a REAL problem that a piece of communication can solve.

Tip - If you are unsure about what will inspire your creative teams, ask them! Show them your insights and get their feedback. They can help you dig deeper to find the gold nugget.

Are you sitting on a brief that just isn't delivering the work you hoped for? Or do you have a new brief to write? Try working through these six steps to write or stress test your brief

6 Steps to Writing a Succinct & Inspiring Brief

1. Be really clear on why you are writing the brief and the results you need to achieve. We advertise to grow brands. Your agency needs to know the business challenges you are facing & what your end game looks like in your eyes. What is the scale and impact expected from the work? What are both the business and marketing objectives you have set for the work? How will you ultimately measure the success of the work? Some people will be reading this tip thinking it is a given ......but it is often forgotten or really unclear.

2. Your description of your target audience should be rich with attitudinal and behavioural insight, not just a demographic profile. It should also clearly outline the degree of knowledge and interest they have of the brand/category and the mindset they will be in when they receive your communication. E.g. Where do they sit in the awareness to adoption journey? Will they be open & receptive to the messages, or do they have significant barriers that need to be overcome?

3. You have identified an unmet need or problem to be solved and have dug deep enough to articulate the REAL cause of the problem in a way that inspires the creative team to develop ideas that get noticed. Consumers are more likely to listen to brands who 'get them' and provide real solutions to their needs & problems. Communication is significantly more effective when you demonstrate a deeper level of understanding and empathy.

4. Your solution to this problem and your key communication message is meaningful to consumers. It must also be credible and backed by solid reasons to believe. This is where you will need to choose to be single-minded and not include a laundry list of possible rational and emotional benefits. You must select the benefit that will persuade your consumers to take the action you desire because it solves the motivation or tension you have outlined from point 3.

5. The outcome you want from the communications is clear. What is the specific behaviour or attitude change you want the campaign to deliver in order to grow your business? This is critical as agencies will need to gauge how emotionally charged or functionally straightforward the communication needs to be. It will determine if the communication needs to leave you with a greater affinity towards the brand or if a specific call to action is required.

6. The intended tone and personality are distinctive and authentic. To ensure the agency response is "on brand", you need to clearly describe who your brand is and how it behaves. A brands personality and the tone of their communication is a crucial strategic tool helping build brand meaning and distinction, so don't just fill this line in with a few commonly used adjectives. Bring your brand to life and support it with imagery.

Got a Communications Brief to Write….or re-write?

To get you started, we are giving you access to our Communications Brief planning tool. Click here to get it sent to your inbox.

The thinking tool is a simple, practical way to address the Six Steps, think logically and make choices to ensure your next comms brief is succinct & inspiring. Make sure you complete this tool with simple, consumer-centric language to aid agency comprehension & inspiration

This is a thinking tool to map out your strategic intent. How you bring the thinking to life when you brief your agency is up to you. You may have a Communications Brief template you need to use. As you convert this thinking tool into your brief, ensure you don't lose the brevity as you fill in boxes

And when you present the brief to the agency, be sure to engage them by telling them a story. Take them on a journey and excite them for what is possible. But remember, it is a SHORT STORY, not a novel!

Perhaps you'd like some help reviewing your briefs or building your team's capability in brief writing? If so, then please get in touch at

We can either run a workshop on a specific brief or hold a team training session on communications brief writing where we dig deeper into the tools, tips and processes for making choices to write inspiring and succinct briefs. We will be guided by engaging case studies, work on your live briefs, and takeaway proven tools and tips that are yours to keep for future briefs.

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