What Is a Creative Brief?
A creative brief is a one to two page communication tool that outlines a marketing or advertising project’s requirements, the client’s vision for a brand or a product, expectations, goals, and resources. While it’s called a creative brief, it is really a communication tool, and communication is one of the most important aspects (even more important than creativity) of a successful marketing campaign. It helps ensure that all stakeholders in a project are on the same page from the start (this also helps the project run smoothly, stay on schedule, and, in the end, be successful). A creative brief is commonly used in advertising and design agencies as the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of a marketing or advertising campaign, and guides the creation of communication tools such as advertisements, websites, and videos. But a creative brief is also a useful tool for projects of any size, for freelance designers and large corporations alike. The document is usually created by the account manager in consultation with the client.
In an agency setting, project stakeholders may include a marketing team, creative team, executives, and clients. For freelance designers, a creative brief is simply shared between the designer and client. This may be done as an interview, with the designer asking the client all of the questions included in the creative brief, or the client may fill out the brief and return it. While a creative brief provides a foundation for a project, it’s also a reference tool that can be modified as the project progresses.
The potential consequences of not using a creative brief include wasted time and money, miscommunication with clients, multiple revisions as the project keeps changing course, and a general lack of clarity on all sides, all of which can be avoided by using a creative brief. For a creative brief to truly be effective, it should be developed in a timely manner so that it streamlines the project timeline, rather than interfere with it.
To get you started, we’ve provided a collection of creative brief templates that you can download for free. You’ll find templates for advertising, graphic design, nonprofits, and more in Microsoft Word format, plus general creative brief templates for Microsoft Excel. We’ve also provided free creative brief templates in Smartsheet, a real-time work execution platform that makes outlining your marketing efforts easier and more collaborative than Excel.
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How to Write a Creative Brief
Writing a brief can seem daunting, but it’s really just about gathering information and putting it into a template, like the ones below. For more information about each section, see “What to Include in a Creative Brief.”
- Start with an overview of the background of the company, brand, the product, and where it falls in its category.
- Talk about the desired objectives and anticipated challenges.
- Describe the campagin’s target audience.
- Outline the core message and call to action.
- Explain the tone of the project.
- Walk through the timeline.
- Outline the budget.
- Review the competition.
- Explain the media strategy, including the marketing guidelines and marketing materials; if needed, include the image requirements.
- Finish with contact information.
What to Include in a Creative Brief
Whether you’re creating an ad campaign for a new brand, designing a logo, or developing a website, you need information. The specific information you need will vary depending on the project.
- Background Overview: Provide information about the company, service, and product to establish the client’s identity and describe the product that you’ll be marketing. Describe the business, and include any background info that is relevant (including previous marketing campaigns) and anything else about their product or service that is relevant to the current project.
- Category Overview: Explain the current market perception of the brand, the product, and its category, and how you plan to use this to sell the product. If the brand and the product perceived differently, how will you address this? Can you link to a current cultural moment value, or idea? Does the economy have an impact (i.e., should you promote value or luxury)?
- Objectives and Challenges: Goals need to be clearly defined, be linked to key performance indicators (KPIs), and also be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) because they will provide a focus for the rest of the project. Whether the client wants to sell more products, increase brand awareness, or attract more donors, it needs to be clearly stated. There may also be a call to action. Outline the anticipated challenges and a brief description of how they’ll be mitigated.
- Target Audience: This is the most important item on the list: who is the buyer or intended audience? This may include demographic information such as age, gender, education, or income level, as well as info on how often they use the client’s product or service and and psychographic data on current and desired attitudes and feelings about the brand, product, or service. Explain the value proposition for this group. Knowing your audience will shape the style and messaging of your campaign.
- Message: This is where you put the chief message of the campaign, and usually it’s a concise slogan. What’s the main idea behind the campaign?
- Tone: Describe the tone or image that suits the client’s message or brand. Are there certain colors, fonts, or images that help communicate this? Describe the tone, whether it’s sophisticated, fun, or bold, and share the color, brand, and style guidelines.
- Schedule: Having a timeline is critical for planning any project. If there’s an advertising or publishing schedule you need to track against, match the deadlines for each deliverable.
- Competition: Understanding the competition can provide a clearer picture of where your client stands in the market, which will help you shape your campaign. Describe the competition and what they offer, and what makes your client unique in comparison.
- Media Strategy: List the channels that will be used, how each will be used, and why they are expected to be effective.
- Contact Information: Compile information on the client so interested parties can reach out to learn more, as well as that of who prepared the brief.
Benefits of Creative Briefs
A brief keeps the message on brand, and provides a broad vision of the business, the brand, and the product. A creative brief also explains the context and the product or service category. In addition, they provide the following benefits and value:
- Provide outside parties with a quick overview of the project.
- Reduce conflict between the client and the agency's creative team by aligning expectations.
- Outline the criteria for success.
- Answer common questions and provide assumptions.
- Reduce scope creep and wasted time, and promote accountability by stating the parameters at the beginning of the project.
Best Practices for Writing a Creative Brief
Implementing the following practices will help ensure that your brief is effective at getting the message across to others.
- Before you begin, make sure you have a strong understanding of the brand, the product, the target audience, and the message.
- The short format helps distill the message down to its core and keep the messaging on brand. If your brief is longer than a couple pages, keep working on it.
- Get rid of jargon, marketing speak, and fluff.
- Creative briefs don’t have a fixed format — they can be text-centric or visually oriented. Use what works best for you.
- Customer quotes or insights can help guide the creative team.
- A SWOT analysis of the competition can be useful in many situations.
- Collaboration between the client, the creative team, the account team and others will ensure that everything is included.
Creative Brief Template
This template allows you to create a detailed creative brief with the functionality of a spreadsheet. All of the essentials are included, from project goals and guidelines to budget and approvals. There is room in this template for a lot of information, but it can be customized to suit any project, whether you’re working with multiple deliverables or a single task.
Download Client Creative Brief Template
Simple Creative Brief Template
There’s something to be said for simplicity. This creative brief template offers a basic outline to help you stay focused and plan efficiently. Using a simple template for your brief can remind you to focus on the most important points that need to be communicated. The generic quality of this template makes it suitable for a wide range of projects and business settings.
Download Simple Creative Brief Template
Graphic Design Creative Brief Template
This creative brief template is intended for graphic design professionals. If you’re a solo graphic designer running your own small business, a creative brief template can help set a precedent of clear communication as soon as you land a new client. This template has a simple layout that is easy to read and edit, and it includes all of the important elements of a creative design brief along with room for additional notes.
Download Graphic Design Creative Brief Template
Advertising Creative Brief Template
This advertising creative brief template is concise, but it covers all of the essentials for planning a brand advertising campaign. Objective, target audience, tone, messaging, and non-negotiables are all included, along with key advertising elements. The layout of this template allows for a lot of information in a relatively small amount of space, which can help a creative team produce an innovative and effective campaign.
Nonprofit Creative Brief Template
A nonprofit campaign may focus on boosting membership, attracting new donors, increasing public awareness, or other goals. This creative brief template is designed to get detailed information on a nonprofit organization, its marketing objectives, calls to action, and branding requirements. Use the template as is, or remove or modify any sections that are not relevant to your project.
Video Production Creative Brief Template
Plan your video production project with this creative brief template. It’s set up as a series of questions to help a client identify goals, needs, resources and constraints. Video production can be pricey, and this creative brief asks not only about budget, but also what gear, staff and other resources are available. It covers a wide range of information — from video quality to scheduling and management — to help ensure that the project runs smoothly and meets client expectations.
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