'Define your target'. Behind those three short words lies a whole lot of planning. Chris Whitson, planning director at Stephens Francis Whitson, explains how to deliver a well-defined creative brief.
It's common sense to suggest that before you embark on a new campaign you must start with planning. As the saying goes: ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.’ But while understanding the importance of planning, how you go about it is harder to pin down. Here I explain the work you need to do to ensure you write the perfect brief.
Why focus on the brief?
The creative brief is the bridge between the strategic campaign planning and the creative output. The best creative work invariably comes from the best brief. While we can, on occasion, rely on our creative colleagues to pull a rabbit from the hat, a well-planned brief will make their job that little bit easier (just don’t expect them to admit it).
I always consider the creative brief to be the most important piece of paper in our agency. Why? Because most of the work we do culminates in the success or failure of that piece of creative to deliver the results. There's a multitude of things we all do to make it more likely to succeed, but ultimately the best chance of success is to ensure you create the best work possible.
How do you write the perfect brief?
Absolutely crucial to a good campaign are specific and measurable objectives. If you know exactly what the piece is intended to do, it's more likely the resulting campaign will appear single-minded and clear.
Remember, in direct mail we're asking someone to do something; they have to take a specific course of action in order for us to judge the work successful. This should be at the forefront of your mind when you determine your objectives.
Tip Be realistic – it's easy to ask for the earth. I once saw a brief from a developing world charity asking for donations where the stated objective was to ‘cancel third world debt’ – an unlikely outcome from a mailing volume of 40,000.
Your objective should be achievable and measurable.
Example To introduce football fans to a new type of online football gaming and encourage them to try it for as little as £1 per week. We aim to have 10,000 trialists within four weeks of mailing. Assuming a conversion rate of 25% from trial to repeat player, we want 2,500 regular players to be created as a result of this activity.
Determine the target market
Possibly the most overlooked element of campaign planning is a useful expression of the people we're attempting to contact. Consider first how the audience you're talking to thinks about the brand and/or the market.
The worst (and laziest) briefs rely on demographic breakdowns. We may be trying to hit ABC1 women aged between 18 and 60, but as that equates to about half the adult population it doesn’t focus the mind.
Instead, find a common thread on which to hang the campaign – this is likely to be something they collectively think or feel or do.
Tip Look for one piece of real insight on which to focus your thinking.
Example We're talking to blokes who not only love football but love talking about it. Whether in the pub or at the water cooler they think they know their football and are happy to share their opinions with anyone nearby, whether they want to hear it or not. In this example, the audience could be made up of a multitude of different social backgrounds, generations or parts of the country – what unites them is they way they engage in, and positively encourage, football banter.
To determine the right target audience takes time and effort. You may have the luxury to be able to do your own qualitative research, but if not you can find insight from any number of places:
- The answer may be in the data – how have these people behaved in the past?
- The answer may be within your social circle – do you know someone who's like the audience? Picture them and what they would say or think.
Tip The answer may also be online: web 2.0 has spawned a worldwide network of consumers happy to tell you exactly what they think. There's probably a blog, a wiki or a forum out there filled with your target audience. Track them down and see how they talk, what they think and what they want.
Determine the pesky proposition
This is where you must sum up all you’ve learned. It's the marriage of your objectives with your audience and where you explain exactly what it is you want the recipient to do.
- It must give the creative teams a clear understanding of the challenge.
- It must be short, to the point and single-minded: the words ‘and’, ‘or’ have no place in a proposition.
- It must be motivating and give the creative teams a rich seam to explore.
- It should be written with a directive at its heart. That is, it must encourage the consumer to take the desired course of action.
Continuing on from our example above, the proposition could be:
- turn punditry into pounds
- make the banter matter
- turn your football knowledge into cash
Tip If you’re struggling with the proposition, think about how you'd explain the benefits of the product to your friends and family and work back from there. You’ll probably find you have a long-hand version of the proposition, now all you need to do is boil it down.
Evaluate the work
Once you’ve briefed the teams your penultimate task is to judge the creative options the creative teams have put forward. The challenge here is to remain objective. Don’t think about whether you like or dislike it – unless you're the target audience – but whether it meets the objectives you've set and has a tone and feel appropriate for the audience you've stipulated.
Tip Think about what else these people will be receiving in an average week or month. What other brands and sectors will be vying for their attention and how will your pieces fit into that portfolio. It might be OK for it to be different to create stand-out, but it shouldn’t jar.
Take your time
So now you’ve got all the things you need to write the perfect brief and plan the perfect campaign. One final bit of advice: give yourself time. This isn't a process that can be rushed; to arrive at the perfect brief you will undoubtedly have to throw away some things on the way. Don’t worry, that’s a good thing. It shows you’re determined to get it right. Good luck!