Like cooking a meal or decorating a room, success in a branding project depends on meticulous preparation. Get the brief right, and you’re building on a solid foundation.
Brief writing isn’t often a subject for study; it tends to be a skill you acquire through experience. And it’s not something most of our clients do all the time. Collectively, we’ve accrued nearly a century of professional practice in the creative industries, so we know a good brief from a bad one. Hopefully, you can reap the benefit of this experience with our top ten brief writing tips.
1. Look to create a springboard, not a straitjacket
Clients often use their brief to describe the artefact they envisage as the solution to their problem, “We need a new website, or A4 brochure, or email campaign.” We appreciate that it’s human nature to try and resolve an issue, but what’s more helpful, as a brief, is to describe the challenge itself.
Articulating a problem isn’t always very easy but, here are four quick questions you could use as a starting point. Who do you want to communicate with? Where will you find them? What do you want to tell them? How do you want them to act once they have received your message?
2. Don’t forget the reason why
So, you have answered the questions, “Who? Where? What? and How?” but even more important is, “Why?” Can you describe what a successful outcome looks like? What are the KPIs for the project: increased sales, a higher profile; better candidates; a changed perception; a larger market share? Invaluable context helps build consensus around the expectations for a project, so all parties are aligned on what needs to be achieved.
3. Identify your audience
We know we mentioned this in number one, but it’s so important that it bears repetition. Describe in detail who you need to communicate with. Is the audience internal, external or both? Are you looking to re-engage with existing customers or approach new prospects? Where are we likely to find this audience – virtually and in real life? What media do they consume? What other brands do they admire? What are your audiences’ pain points – and how do you resolve them better than any of your competitors? What do they consider as important factors when deciding between alternative offers?
If you are uncertain about exactly who your customers are, start by identifying who you definitely don’t want to target and why. Anything that can help to narrow focus will benefit the brief.
4. Declare how much are you prepared to invest to achieve your stated goals
Recently, there has been much online discussion around whether companies should declare salaries in job vacancy adverts. Most people seem to think they should. Applying the same degree of transparency to project budgets would benefit everyone.
Be realistic; a simple brochure website will be cheaper than a total e-commerce solution; a brand strategy program involving two founders will be less costly than one that involves tens or hundreds of employees from across your lines of service. We’re not inhibited by a small budget or intimidated by a large one. Whatever the figure, we see it as our duty to make every penny work as hard as possible.
Think about what you want your return on investment to be 5x, 10x, 25x? Expecting a multi-million return on a spend of just a few thousand isn’t being honest with yourself or your potential agency partners. At least have a ballpark figure in mind so that agencies can self-select whether they can fulfil your requirements. It’s just good business manners.
5. Decide who will be involved
Be clear about the project stakeholders, their responsibilities, and their availability. Then, everyone will be clear about the role they have to play, how the client team will make decisions, and what the approval and sign-off processes will be. Getting this organised at the outset always helps to expedite the project.
6. Establish realistic timescales
Decide when you ideally want the project to start and finish. Do you need to meet a hard deadline, such as a trade show or a legally binding date or are your schedules self-imposed?
We appreciate that clients usually want to complete projects quickly as possible. Still, we urge you to consider the following: the logistical complexities involved, the number of tasks to be undertaken, the need to overcome corporate inertia, and the current workload of all your stakeholders. How much time can they commit to the project? Will they be flexible enough to adapt to any unforeseen project-related issues?
7. Identify any boundaries or restrictions
An oyster needs a bit of grit to make a pearl. Constraint fuels creativity. In reality, having no limits makes the job more difficult. Radical honesty pays dividends and helps to streamline the process. Where are the goalposts? What do we need to avoid? What have you tried before, and why did it fail? Which political nuances do we need to respect? What level of commitment and enthusiasm toward the project currently exists within your organisation?
8. Provide access to relevant resources
Are there people we should talk to, within your organisation, with relevant experience and expertise? Is there an existing library of assets that we can utilise? Do you have long-standing relationships with suppliers that could benefit the project? Effecting change is hard work; improve your chances of success by rallying allies to your cause.
9. See the brief as the start of a conversation, not the end
Agency folk are curious by nature, and most agencies also have some sort of discovery phase at the outset of a project. Knowledge leads to understanding, understanding to insight, insight to progress. There will be questions that the brief does not answer – and that is fine. After sharing the brief, be ready to make yourself available for Q&A sessions. It also gives you a chance to see if the personal chemistry feels like a good fit. Also, collate any further background material you think would be relevant and be willing to share it at an early stage. If it contains commercially sensitive information, simply ask your potential agency partners to sign an NDA. If they refuse, they have self-selected themselves out of the running.
10. Tell the agency why you have approached them
What was it about the agency that grabbed your attention? Were they recommended by someone you trust? Have they worked for other clients in your sector or solved a problem similar to the challenge you face? Explaining why you chose to approach a particular agency will help them understand what you are looking for and how they can help you.