So many marketers still underestimate the value of doing "upfront" work.
I'm talking about the work you do at the beginning of a project to make the middle and end of it easier.
This is a case of what's known as present bias, or the tendency we humans have to overvalue immediate rewards and undervalue long-term consequences.
Economists, psychologists, and marketers have been studying it and other cognitive biases since the early 20th century.
With all that marketers have studied regarding this bias, you'd think it wouldn't be so easy for us to fall for it.
Alas, we're still humans.
So we still have the tendency to undervalue the long-term consequences of, say, implementing the right systems in our marketing workflows.
Things like documenting the company's content strategy and brand voice, planning out a content calendar in advance, and preparing briefs for creative projects can have huge long-term benefits, but in the moment they just aren’t the work we want to do.
Are you guilty of putting off any of the above? Most marketers have at one point or another.
But it's never too late to start improving your marketing systems and structuring them to include more work upfront.
According to time management expert Brian Tracy, planning out your work ahead of doing it can save an estimated 25% of the time you'd spend on it. That means every 10 minutes you spend upfront planning a piece of content or other creative project, you can save over an hour of time actually completing the project.
How much time could you save if you applied that math to all of your projects?
If doing that math makes you feel both nauseous and eager to get better systems in place, take some deep breaths and read on. We're going to figure out your brand's creative briefs, once and for all.
Download Our Bonus Creative Brief Templates
To help you start better organizing your content and creative projects as soon as possible, we've put together creative brief templates in three different formats (Word, Excel, and Powerpoint) for you to customize to your team's own work.
Start filling them out for your upcoming projects now:
Why You Need a Creative Brief
You hire smart and talented people that you trust to complete their work. Is a creative brief really necessary?
A brief isn't about micromanaging your team, it's about planning and being clear on the boundaries of a project.
It creates better team alignment on projects, reduces hiccups that can make a project go astray, and ensures the creative workflow runs more smoothly in a few different ways.
A Creative Brief Defines the Project Scope
The first major way creative briefs help your marketing team is by clearly defining the scope of the project.
Scope creep can be a major problem for teams of all kinds. In fact, according to the Project Management Institute, approximately 37% of project failures are the result of a lack of "clearly defined objectives and milestones to measure progress."
Not defining the scope of a project before starting it is self-sabotaging your team's success with it.
By building a team culture of making a creative brief before kicking off a project, you ensure the team's path to the finish line is clearly laid out from the start.
By defining what a project's scope is, you're also defining what it isn't, which might be even more important. It's estimated that half of all projects experience scope creep, or letting the work grow and expand after it's already started.
Defining the project’s scope in the creative brief means no extra work because of unclear expectations.
A Creative Brief Clarifies the Project Timeline
In addition to clearly laying out the steps that need to be taken, the project's scope, a good creative brief also clearly lays out a timeline for the work to be completed.
At any given time, your team is likely juggling multiple different projects at different stages of completion.
The scope of a campaign idea often seems realistic on its own. It's only when you put it in context of the rest of your team's workload that you can get a real idea of how possible it is. A medium-sized marketing campaign might not seem daunting, but adding it to a quarter with two other medium campaigns and a huge push sure does.
This is why CoSchedule's Marketing Suite makes it so easy to schedule, view, and adjust the work of everyone on your team for any kind of marketing project.
As a manager, it's easier to see all your project timelines in one place and gauge how they'll interact together. You'll also be able to see any potential bottlenecks in the making and fix them before they happen.
On your team's end, they'll be able to easily see customized views of what work they need to be doing, when to do it, and who they need to hand it off to afterwards, thanks to built-in marketing workflow templates.
A Creative Brief Ensures Everyone's On the Same Page
Finally, a creative brief helps get everyone working on the project on the same page. Literally, it's a page or two that they can all reference.
This will mitigate so much confusion over easily mixed up dates. It will prevent miscommunications over requirements.
And best of all, it can prevent so many back and forth messages between team members that need to "just clarify one thing real quick," interrupting everyone's creative workflows.
(Cheers to focused, uninterrupted work!)
The creative brief becomes the "single source of truth" that anyone can reference to understand anything they need to about the project.
Elements of a Great Creative Brief
Like any aspect of marketing, the finer details of a creative brief will depend on things like your brand's specific content strategy, team structure, and more. But there are a few basics that most great creative briefs will all contain like the project summary, timeline, and requirements.
Let's take a closer look at each.
A project summary is a must for any project of any kind, including creative campaigns and content. Consider it the "elevator pitch" for what the project is and why it exists, before getting into more detail in the rest of the brief.
The summary should, you guessed it, summarize what's in the rest of the brief as succinctly as possible, for example:
"An ecommerce research report designed for lead generation that will help small business owners who want to grow an independent online retail brand."
Once you've put down a general description of the project, you want to go into more detail about the project's intended audience. Like all work around your company's target audience, you want to get as specific as possible in this section.
For example, if your company has put together buyer personas of your customers, specify which one the project is most intended for. Demographics are helpful, but more personal information like psychographics and behavioral or emotional patterns are even more so.
You want your team at any stage of the process to be able to read the brief and envision the "one reader" that will consume the finished piece.
Now it's time to talk about the nuts and bolts of the project. What specific deliverables are needed? What are the guidelines that need to be kept in mind? What are the copy character counts and graphic dimensions needed?
When it comes to marketing campaigns, these small details matter.
Designing a graphic with the wrong dimensions can throw off a whole campaign's launch date, since not being able to upload visual assets could hold everything else back too.
And in addition to the requirements for this specific project, this section is also where you'll want to include any requirements for your brand's creative projects in general. For example, any brand voice, tone, messaging, or visual style guide information.
Clarifying the project goal for yourself and everyone else on the team ensures everything you work on is in line with your strategic vision.
In this section, you'll want to lay out the ultimate goal of the project, both for the company and the consumer.
This helps keep that vision in mind throughout every stage of the project.
In general, you want to avoid tying projects to a bunch of different goals. But if you do have more than one goal for a project, make sure to designate one as the primary, most important goal.
You can also consider using the S.M.A.R.T. goal framework to help you create goals you know are specific and actionable enough to move forward on.
For example: "Our primary goal is to generate 5,000 new customer leads for our ecommerce platform's small business plan by July 2021 by creating a research report and follow-up email sequence that educates them on the benefits of a dedicated website. This will help create awareness of the features that make it so easy for Etsy sellers to move to the platform."
Metrics & KPIs
Once you have a specific, measurable goal, you want to lay out more on how you'll measure it.
You'll want at least one specific metric tied to each goal, and can use a framework such as OKRs to help ensure you're measuring what matters.
These numbers are how you'll determine if the project was a success.
You might also want to consider specifying both leading and lagging indicators for the project, so you can measure if the project's on track before its reached the finish line.
Process & Timeline
Here is where you'll want to go into further detail about the timeline your team will be working on to complete the work. Clearly lay out each stage of your creative process, in order.
Do drafts need to be approved by specific people before moving forward? Who should the copywriter notify once their revisions are finished? When does the designer need to join in the process?
These are all questions the process section can answer for your team. And since this is likely similar from project to project, it can be built into your creative brief template to reuse for multiple projects.
Along with the process, you'll want to specify a timeline for the project.
Start by determining your ideal deadline or launch date. Then begin to work your way through the process backwards to determine the timeline for each stage of the process and when things need to be kicked off by.
Team Members Involved
Next, which team members are going to be working on this project? Think about all the stakeholders involved, not just the main players. Consider anyone that needs to be talked to, consulted, or looped in at any stage of the project, even if it's just for a small part.
List out all the different team members from different departments and seniority levels here, and clarify what each person's role in the project is to avoid any potential confusion over who's doing what.
Finally, don't forget to clarify your budget for the project.
Include your monetary budget, of course. But you might also want to consider specifying budget for other resources too, such as employee time or meeting hours.
Be sure to include both internal and external resources in your budget as well.
Examples of Effective Creative Briefs
So, what does a creative brief look like in action? As an example, here's a preview of a template CoSchedule has used internally:
As you can see, they don't need to be pretty to be effective. However, that doesn't mean you can't make them a bit more aesthetically pleasing. Especially if you're presenting the brief in a meeting, adding a bit of design can help visually simplify things.
How to Write a Creative Brief
Aside from including the sections above, what makes a creative brief a good one? Here are a few things to keep in mind while writing it:
Be Specific About Requirements
You cannot expect the creative team to meet expectations around the project if they don't know what those expectations are. They'll either produce the wrong thing, or clarifying the requirements will create a ton of extra work throughout the project because it wasn't decided on already.
Consider the difference between these two goals:
"We will produce a PDF that gets 5,000 hits."
What's in the PDF? What's a hit? No one knows.
Compare that to:
"We will produce a research report PDF that generates 5,000 generated leads for our small business plan's email interest list."
That tells you what the PDF is, how it's being delivered, and what success actually looks like.
Use Clear and Simple Language
While you want to be specific, you still want to keep things simple. Since people from multiple teams and seniority/skill levels will likely be referencing this brief, you want to avoid area-specific jargon and acronyms the rest of the company won't understand.
If any terms do need to be used that might be unfamiliar, include context or a definition in the brief to bring outsiders up to speed.
Keep It Short
Creative briefs do include a lot of details, but it's important they're only the necessary details. You don't want to dilute the important information or make reading the brief a project in itself. Try and keep it to a page or two.
Simplifying the brief is also an exercise in simplifying the project itself, which is always a good thing.
How to Use Creative Briefs
Building a creative brief doesn't do much on its own. It helps, but the real magic is in using it as a reference as the project progresses.
Here's how to use it to keep the project on track:
Share Briefs With Everyone Involved
The creative brief is what keeps everyone, across departments and levels, on the same page throughout the project. No mixed up dates, no crossed wires about who's doing what. But for that to work, everyone involved needs to have that information in the first place.
Reference Them in Project Kickoff Meetings
It's also a great idea to make presenting the creative brief an official item on the project kickoff meeting's agenda. This encourages you to prepare them well ahead of the official kickoff, and ensures everyone involved in the project and meeting actually goes through the brief.
Keep Them Easily Accessible
Finally, make sure the brief is stored somewhere easily accessible for anyone that will need to reference it throughout the project. To make sure it's always updated and synced, upload it to your team's collaboration and project management tools.
For example, you can easily upload documents like this to projects in CoSchedule Marketing Suite so if anyone ever needs to double check a detail, they know where to look.
Now That You're Briefed...
It's time to build creative briefs into your regular campaign development process. Customize the template. Gather the resources. Get everyone on the same page and see how much smoother it makes your next project.