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Briefs tend to be both the most important and the most neglected part of the creative process in marketing, regardless of the organization. However big or small the business, the challenge, the team, the audience, a finely crafted creative brief will provide you the opportunity to get it right the first time. The alternative can be captured in a truism echoed at the IHAF Huddle in Chicago, “There always seems to be enough time and money to do it over.” Let’s silence that echo.
Writing a brief is rarely a solo activity. The very nature of the exercise is to seek and to find agreement. So invite the input of the stakeholders at the brief stage. You’ll all be better able to judge the work at the execution stage. And confirm success or failure at the delivery stage.
Of course, one of the greatest challenges is sustaining that agreement once established. Yet we must recognize that situations do change. As long as we’ve been honest and earnest in the brief going in, we can define what changed and decide how to adjust. Or to reboot.
An effective brief both guides and inspires the team: planners, creators, even clients! Counter-intuitively, a creative person needs the brief to be as confining as it is liberating! A squishy brief invites wheel-spinning, which may even be fun for a while. But eventually (where’d the time go?) the vehicle gets stuck in its own ruts. Then you’re crying out for a tow truck. Or cat litter. Or time off. Or a better brief.
Creative Brief: Write, Review, Read, Ask
Business Situation: Do we have a sense of the business situation we are trying to address? Do we understand the challenge this communication is supposed to meet or the problem it’s supposed to solve or the opportunity on which it is meant to capitalize? Is there a metric established against which we will decide success?
The Competition: Do we need to know anything about the competitive set? Can we illustrate a key difference between this product or service and its competitors? Are the facts provided based on intuition or hunch or are they rooted in a supportable insight that truly reflects the audience?
Target Audience: Do we have a clear sense of the person the communication element is meant to engage? Can we imagine a one-to-one conversation with this person? Is the definition too broad or too generalized? Do we need to break out separate audiences?
Mindset/Behavior: Do we know something pivotal about the current mindset and behavior of our audience, supported with genuine insight (rather than intuition)? Do we have a sense of what we want that mindset or behavior to be? (Once he or she has been swept up in the persuasive power of this creative expression.)
Imaginative Selling Idea: What is the compelling lever we have at our disposal to move or affect the audience — either to reinforce a behavior or to change it? Again, is that idea rooted in insight or intuition?
Proof/Support: Do we see one clear reason why the audience should find this message incredibly credible or completely compelling? (You’ll usually see more than one, but one really good “reason to believe” is almost always a promising sign.)
Mandatories: Are there any requirements, legal or otherwise that must be honored? Are there language or style guidelines that must be represented when we get down to the actual execution of raw (but focused) ideas? Is there a time frame or geography or other condition that applies?
Brand Personality: Do we have a good feel for the tone or personality of the brand or the company? Are we providing the guidance to create a concept that contributes to the continuity and consistency of the brand itself? Are we leveraging the brand’s equity with the target audience, over and above the requirements of this particular communication element?
Deliverables: Does the brief identify in which media channel(s) the idea will be delivered? Is the client open to other, even unexpected communication channels? An integrated effort? What are the parameters? Are the ideas to be represented as sketches or as “sharpies?” Is the final product a :15 tv spot, a 1/4 magazine ad, a rich media banner, pre-roll video? A direct mail piece that must be produced and mailed for a whopping total expenditure of 50 cents a piece? Or copy for a text-link that is driven by relevance alone, defying all that wonderful branding we’ve either developed or been coached endlessly to support? Or does the team have free reign to suggest where and when this message may be delivered? Oh yeah, is there a hard and fast budget? (Back to the top, confinement can be liberating.)
Finally: Does the brief show the team how to channel creativity as well as deliver the inspiration to kickstart it? After all, how can you do something original if the brief itself is tired and routine? The brief must share the burden of originality!
Of course, there are many formats for briefs. This one serves Boom well. It may serve your needs, as well. In the new digital/social spaces, input on channel may move earlier in the sequence. In any case, this is a place to start.
Happy Briefing, Steve Wood Managing Director and Brief-Nerd Boom Ideanet
The coffee, cocoa trade and a few other precious commodities have had success drawing attention to “Fair Trade” labor practices as a way to market their products. But by and large, responsibility is a pretty mundane position to leverage in the “cool” world of branding. However, it can be a deeply meaningful one. And Boom Ideanet, which strives to host an ethical platform for the performance of work in the “crowdsourcing” space, applauds Apple for promoting “supplier responsibility.”
We talk about hosting an “ethical crowdsourcing platform.” When we do so, many listeners challenge us: “Why would a client care about that? Clients just want good stuff at a cheaper price. They don’t care how you get it. Or how many people are compensated.”
It is Boom’s position that clients in fact should care about who does the work, who is compensated and how fairly. Apple is helping to support and even define such a position. By investing their own brand cachet in that message, they license other brands to support or express such a position, as well.
While many purchasers care about “cool” to one degree or another, many also care ultimately whether or not someone was taken advantage of in its manufacture or distribution or marketing. Legitimate — responsible — brands do not want to be seen as exploitative. Such practices, when they come to light, reflect on the brand, on its trustworthiness.
Customers and brands reflect each other. And in an increasingly transparent, report-able world, we can see behind the curtain like never before. In the past, Apple has been targeted for unethical labor practices, as have many other brands (Nike, Lululemon, come to mind.). But Apple has chosen to address the issue head on. It is that proactive stance that Boom advocates.
Many crowdsourcing platforms trumpet how the client gets hundreds of ideas and then pays only one “winner.” Maybe that works now and then. After all, it is true that somewhere on this surprisingly connected planet there is someone who’ll do something for almost any amount. Consider www.fiverr.com. But that represents a churn model, not a sustainable model. And like Fair Trade Coffee arrangements, we’re better off the world over when we operate sustainable business models.
Candidly, Boom does rely on an element of competition. Participants always know the ground rules going in and choose whether to compete on the basis of their ideas or not. But Boom also compensates more contributors and pay out fees that align with the freelance market. It’s a more responsible approach that affects the value of work, the value of intellectual property, the value of the individual. We trust it’s more appealing to creative problem-solvers who are seeking challenges and while it does cost clients more, the activity reflects more positively on their brand … and, we would argue, the quality of the ideas they get to consider. And award.
Of course, Boom Ideanet is a very different kind of business than Apple. We are not a designer-manufacturer. We are more of a designer-idea-generator. Apple might figure into an economic metric that measures the creation of jobs and Boom cares more about facilitating work than creating jobs. But we do engage a work force that is distributed around the world. Boom is a supplier and the laborers we engage are themselves suppliers.
In both businesses categories, there is still very much a role for respect, ethicality and dignity. We wish to play fair, as does Apple. The more we have Fair Trade Apples, the better. And Boom Ideanet will continue working to offer Fair Trade Crowdsourcing.
Recurring Theme: Work/Life Balance
HOW focused a number of sessions at the Boston conference on freelancing. They very successfully featured speakers and panelists who are making a living out on their own and addressing the balance between work and life. Of course, if you work in the advertising industry, you easily accept that the tug-of-war between having a job and having a life is a real strain on one’s resources (talent, energy, peace of mind, among other things). But these freelancers demonstrated that if you work out of your home, achieving that balance can be even more of a challenge. As they shared their experiences, three bits of advice emerged:
1. Have a designated place of business in your home — and have a DOOR on it. You might even go so far as to post “office hours” on that door. Close it when you’re not working. And close it when you are working. The difference being which side of the door you’re on while you’re working and which side of the door you’re on when you’re living.
2. Set expectations. not just for your clients, but also for your family/housemates, and perhaps most importantly, for yourself. It’s okay. If you set expectations, publish them, and act according to them, you’ll actually earn the respect of your client. Explain that your work is/will be better if you set boundaries. After all, freelancer’s client may even benefit from enhanced work/balance as well. They may even give you credit for helping them set their own boundaries/expectations.
3. Develop the discipline to follow thru on 1 and 2.
Why share this? The members of Boom Ideanet are either freelancers or full-time employees who are tackling additional work in their “free time.” (Which might be another word for “life” time vs “work time.”) The Boom model is built on providing work opportunities (rather than job opportunities). And we talk about providing you ways in which to apply your cognitive or creative surplus. It is our hope that you indeed do manage how and when you apply your talents (or surplus). One of our goals is to give you enough time to fit work into your balanced life, but not so much time as to invite procrastination. We encourage the members of The Ideanet to apply those recommendations. Creators always choose IF & WHEN they participate. And we readily accept “no” for an answer — as easily as a “yes.”
You can check out some highlights of the HOW Design Live week here.