What’s in a brief?

HomeBlogWhat’s in a brief?

A scrap of paper, a quick email, a call or a detailed document? So, what exactly is in a brief and why are they important?

Last year the better briefs project discovered that 33% of every marketing budget is wasted on poor briefs and misdirected work.

I’m just going to let that sink in for a bit.

This is a subject close to my heart. I’ve spent hours writing briefs when I worked in-house, and even more hours on the phone with clients trying to work out what they want. Briefs are the foundation for every creative piece of marketing. And if you don’t spend enough time nailing the brief you’ll be disappointed with the result.

I bet we’ve all had a boss or colleague that’s used that phrase – work smarter, not harder! Imagine being able to save 30% of your marketing budget!?!

If you really want to get your marketing geek on be sure to read the full report. It has over 1700 responses from 70 countries. The lack of quality marketing briefs is a global problem! Here’s the key takeaways from the better briefs report:

    1. Marketers and agencies agree it’s difficult to produce good creative work without a good marketing brief
      It’s hard, because without a strong brief you’re sort of firing in the dark. You’re not sure on the exact objective. How that ties in with any wider strategy. Who the target audience is, or what you already know about them. And what you want them to think, feel and do as a result of your marketing.
    2. Both marketers and agencies agree that writing briefs is hard
      It’s hard to work without a brief. But the brief is also hard. This is about knowing your business – right? So why is that so hard…well have you ever asked every person in your business to write 2 sentences on what your business does? Try it – it’s an eye opener! Whilst pretty much every business will undoubtedly have a set of commercial objectives, many won’t have a marketing strategy that’s aligned to those. A sad but true fact – most businesses really think that marketing is just content creation.
      You have to be absolutely clear on:
      • Who you’re targeting
      • With what proposition / message
      • Why your proposition is better than (or different to) other available options
      • What evidence do you have that makes that believable
      • And of course – what’s the outcome you’re trying to achieve.
    3. 80% of marketers think they’re good at writing briefs, but only 10% of agencies think they get good briefs.
      And so the disconnect begins…the missing ingredients that agencies are crying out for are clear objectives / outcomes and clear strategy / problem definition. Even if marketers are clear on those – they’re not conveying that message to their agency. At least not in a way that their agencies are completely comfortable with.
      It’s this disconnect that’s partly responsible for an astronomical waste in budget, the other part we’ll talk about in a bit. And that’s the disconnect between marketing and the rest of the business!
    4. Most marketers think their briefs provide clear strategic direction; most agencies disagree
      It’s a standing joke that those that work with communications are often rubbish at their own. And here’s a shining example of how wrong you can get it! We all think we’re brilliant at giving briefs and most people receiving the brief completely disagree! The most interesting point on this one was the ‘clear strategic direction’. Being tactically brilliant doesn’t necessarily make you strategically strong. This isn’t only bad for the business as a whole, but it makes briefing really hard too.
    5. 90% of marketers admit that their briefs change after they’ve been briefed in
      Now we get to the disconnect between marketing and the rest of the business! Who hasn’t been here? When it comes to creative execution – yes there’s a whole set of principles that marketers apply, and we try to maximise the way to use the budget. But, wherever there are subjective elements involved you get opinions and often it’s seniority rules. If you haven’t got autonomy or the brief approved this happens all the more. I’ve even had entire projects completely reworked after ‘sign off’ just because the right people weren’t involved from the start.
    6. 60% of marketers admit to using the creative process to clarify strategy
      If you can’t get the right people involved early on because they’re too busy please don’t fall into this trap! Using the creative process to clarify strategic direction is so inefficient. If you haven’t nailed a strategy by the time you get to execution you have far bigger problems to worry about than wasting resource. You’ll be in the spiral of only ever managing to firefight daily deliverables without enough time to look at strategy. Strategic marketing is an investment – of both time and money.

So, what’s the solution? How do we nail that brief, save budget and deliver stronger marketing? Having worked both sides of the briefing fence – here’s my view:

  • Know what you want. Sounds so bloody obvious, but I’ve had so many briefs given to me that were passed on as action from someone else. So when I ask questions, my contact hasn’t got the answers. If you’re being asked to deliver something internally – step up and make it yours. Own it.
  • Have a clear sign-off group and make sure the right people are brought in. Knowing who ‘has’ to approve the work and who would ‘like’ to be involved makes feedback much easier to manage. Take others on the journey with you – so the right people are on side with what you’re trying to achieve.
  • Finally, get comfy with your creative suppliers. Comfortable enough that you could go to the pub with them! Break down formalities, and have conversations. Let them be an extension of your team – share goals, ambitions and hesitations.
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