🧭 How To Guides
How to write the perfect marketing brief 🤓
January 25, 2023
The perfect marketing brief doesn’t exi—
You’re probably right, each agency likes to brief differently and each project may require a slightly different brief.
But… here are the building blocks for a perfect marketing brief.
And if you follow these 9 steps, your brief will be better than 80% of other briefs.
(Trust us, we've reviewed thousands.)
What is a marketing brief? 😬
Err… are you lost?
The marketing brief (sometimes called the client brief) is a document produced by a marketing team and given to their agency (that can be their advertising agency, their media agency, or in 2022, their influencer marketing agency).
It’s the single most important document in a campaign. Think of it as a the springboard for everything that comes next.
Yeah - all that sexy creative work started with a simple piece of paper. And if you get it wrong, only pain lies ahead.
The good news: if you follow these 9 steps, you’ll be on track to deliver a great brief.
Step 0 - Huh? 📦
That’s right. There’s a Step 0. And it’s one of the most important.
Who’s this brief going to?
And how big is the project?
What kind of campaign will it lead to?
Get all these clear in your mind before you start - if you don’t know the answers, then you’ve really got to ask yourself why you are writing this brief!
Then get your template ready.
Brief templates are a good way to organise a lot of thinking, information and instruction - so don’t be afraid to rely on a template, but don’t be a slave to it.
If you don’t already have a brief template, create your own (if you’re brave) or choose one of our free, expertly crafted ones (if you’re smart).
Step 1 - What are we trying to do here? 🤨
Ok, you’ve got a template. Now, before you start filling it in, think.
Think about what this brief actually is. If you had to summarise it in one sentence to your grandma, what would it be? And would she understand it?
Write that down on a post-it note and keep it to one side.
On another post-it note, write down the 3 problems you want this campaign to solve:
- What’s your business problem?
- What’s your marketing problem?
- What’s your consumer’s problem?
Done that? Good.
Now, let’s get filling in some boxes.
Step 2 - Set the scene 🌄
Time to explain the context: what does your agency, creative or implementation team need to know about why this brief exists?
There are 3 things you need to include:
- What is the brand or product this campaign will focus on?
- What is happening in the market (to your consumers or competitors) and how will this campaign respond to those changes?
- What problem would you like them to solve?
Keep it short and sweet, stay focused on the problem, and avoid jargon as much as possible.
You can include extra details like the brand’s tone of voice or core values - if they are particularly relevant to this campaign, or if you need to explain them to whoever will be reading this brief. Otherwise, they can always be part of an appendix.
Step 3 - Strategyyy 🧠
Of all the strategy frameworks out there, the simplest and one of the most effective for a marketing brief is Get, To, By.
- Get your target audience
- To do something that will solve your problem
- By convincing/demonstrating/encouraging/demanding/pleading/etc. that they do that thing
- Get young coffee drinkers who don’t think about the type of milk they put in their coffee
- To try oat milk in their coffee
- By showing them it is the greener way to enjoy a latte.
Keep your 3 original problems in mind, and frame your strategy around them. After all, a good strategy is simply a plan to achieving your objectives.
There is a brilliant article by Mark Pollard about how to approach strategy from an agency perspective. You don’t need to do their work for them, but understanding the processes they go through can help you write a brief that gets them to stronger insights, better ideas and more effective creative work.
Step 3.1 - Get Who 🧍
Who is your target audience?
You need to identify a clear target audience to give your campaign the best chance at resonating with a group of people. Campaigns that try to talk to everyone often speak to no one.
This might start as a demographic description, unearthed through market research, surveys, focus groups and more, including your audience’s:
- Type of job
- Hobbies and interests
But really good target audiences go a step beyond demographics - into the attitudinal and behavioural.
The first version might have more facts about the audience, but it has less useful information.
By all means include the demographic detail if you have it - there may be insights to unlock within. But as an audience definition, try to get into the heads of who you are selling to, not their government form submissions.
🔎 For more on how to identify and build a target audience for your next campaign, read our in-depth guide here
Step 3.2 - To What 🏃
What do we want them to feel, think and do?
So, now that you’ve got a target audience, you need to ask them to do something. And to do that, you need to understand what they’re doing now.
Write down what your audience currently feel about the problem you’ve identified, what they think about your brand (or others) when it comes to solving their problem, and what they ultimately do to solve it.
Now, write down how you want all of those to change. For example:
We want to move young coffee drinkers who don’t think about the type of milk they put in their coffee…
From here, we can summarise this into one action: Try oat milk in their coffee.
And it also gives us a clue as to how we can get them to do that…
Step 3.3 - By How 👟
How are we going to get our audience to change their behaviour?
We’ve got a target audience, and we’ve got an action we want them to take. We also know what they need to feel and think in order to take that action.
So now, we need to think about how we convince them to feel, think and do what we want - or as Oatly might put it, how do we brainwash them?
This starts in the brief with the key messages: the truths about the product or brand that are compelling enough to change someone’s mind.
Key messages need to be:
🏞 Simple and jargon-free
Your creative team will need to be able to write simple, elegant and persuasive copy.
But it is your task to avoid complicating the key message they need to convey.
Research from Millward Brown suggests there is a limit to how many messages someone can remember from a single ad.
That number is about 2 (sometimes it’s 1, sometimes it’s 3, but beyond that, people start forgetting what you are talking about at all).
🔎 Specific to each audience (if necessary)
If you have multiple audiences, or if there are meaningful segmentations within your audience, you might find that different things about your brand or product appeal to different people.
In this case, plan the right message against the right segment - and avoid trying to say everything to everyone.
Step 4 - What does success look like? 🎯
How will we know if we’ve succeeded? People might love your campaign, but have they changed their behaviour or attitude when it comes to your brand?
A good agency, creative or implementation team will love clear KPIs: they keep everyone honest and accountable.
Good objectives should read like a ladder, mirroring the 3 original problems you wrote down way back at the start of this process…
💼 Business Objective
Do you want to see a shift in sales? A growth in your customer base?
📈 Marketing Objective
What will deliver that growth? Do you want an uplift in brand awareness or consideration? Amongst which groups? And for which of your products?
📣 Communications Objective
How will you do that with this campaign? Do you want your audience to think a certain way? And can you measure that? Or do you want to make sure a certain number of people click through your ad to a landing page?
Good objectives are SMART objectives.
- Specific - numbers, numbers, numbers. What percentage increase do you want to see? How many new customers do you want?
- Measurable - how will you know if you’ve met this objective? Do you have tracking tools ready?
- Achievable - is this realistic, based on the size of the brand and the campaign budget?
- Relevant - does achieving this objective put the brand in a stronger place than before? Does it align to what the brand is trying to achieve in the short, medium and long-term?
- Time-Bound - how long do you have to achieve this objective?
Step 5 - Inspo or Outspo (???) 💡
You’ve gone deep into the weeds of your campaign by now. Time to lift your head up again.
Are there any campaigns you love that did something similar? Or any that you hate?
Did they speak to a similar audience, or try to change people’s minds about a similar product?
Challenge your agency to do better, and set them ambitious but realistic benchmarks about the quality of work you want.
For our fake brief about young coffee drinkers, you could include this spectacular campaign from IKEA, which focuses on showing people how the small things they do everyday with IKEA’s products can add up to something wonderful for the planet.
Keep your agency or creative team on the same page. Guidelines are your friend here, as well as any examples of work your brand has created in the past.
And make sure to be clear on your mandatories: what do you need to say, and what can you definitely not say. Whether it’s a question of legality, or abiding by an over-involved CEO’s demands, make sure you have this info ahead of time. Otherwise, you might be in for a slow, painful process further down the line... ⚰️
Step 6 - How much we talkin’? 💸
Money matters - one of the last things in the brief, but one of the most important. If you know how much budget you have, make it crystal clear.
Open budgets can be ok, especially for open ended requests. But if that’s the case, expect to quote for that.
And an indicative budget - even if it’s just based on similar work the brand has briefed in the past - is always useful.
Step 7 - Lock down the admin 🔒
Brilliant basics, amazing admin, flabbergasting fundamentals - whatever you call it, let’s get it sorted.
Make sure you’ve got the following:
- Next Steps
- Timings and deadlines
- Key Stakeholders and deadlines to present work to them
- List of deliverables
- Terms and conditions
Step 8 - Step back and admire your work 😇
We’d allot maybe 10 minutes for this.
Stare at your brief, smile at the insight you’ve brought to your core audience, frown as you fix a small typo, and smile again as you feel like your brief has come together as a tight, consistent document that can lead to some outstanding work.
Step 9 - Get sign offs and share on with your agency 📤
Send all the regular emails asking for feedback or reviews, organise the meetings and brief your agency.
Get your agency or team together (ideally in person, but let’s face it, Zoom will work just fine).
Get them as excited as you are - Business As Usual campaigns deserve the same kind of love, creativity, flair and insight as brand relaunches.
And so begins the next chapter - the creative process.