Note for agencies: How to write the perfect creative brief for startups

The client is the parent, and the agency, a babysitter. It is the agency's job to understand the client and their product's personality, and the result they are looking for, to do justice to a creative brief

Abhik Choudhury
Updated: Mar 25, 2021 09:23:22 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

At a time when copy cat solutions are leading to the birth of new startups everyday, it comes down to a great brief to find that uniquely honest brand tone. The creative edge to a business problem. But as most of you from the industry are already aware, between over-romanticising the brief done by an agency's brand team and oversimplifying it, often by an agency's creative team, it's the brief that suffers. Imagine then, the scenario of agencies especially those working with younger brands that don’t have the ability to form a detailed brief or elucidate exactly what they are looking for. The result: No work-life balance and a hundred iterations with quote-worthy, constructive feedback like ‘mazaa nahi aa raha’ (I am not feeling it bro!).

Vague concept notes in briefs like ‘eccentric overtures’, ‘minimal yet bold’, ‘creating symbiotic relationship’, ‘media-agnostic concept’ neither helps the creative team nor does it satisfy your client's expectations. The only worse thing you can do as an agency is not having a written brief at all. When someone is trusting you with their hard-earned money, it is important to value it. But please don’t wing it. At worst, you will be fired, but the young startup entrepreneur with limited resources will be stuck with your shoddy job for the next two quarters at least.

Academically speaking, the list in a brief can be as long as you want it to be. It can entail product facts, background, guidelines, audience analysis, competition study, challenges, problem identification, objectives, goals, timeline, KPI, budget and more.

But, here are some essential points a creative brief must contain in order to create something beautiful and relevant together.

Focus on the four Ps matrix: People, perception, purpose, and purse

People This is where you try to understand the personality, triggers and lingo for the brand.

The client you’re talking to might have inherited a family business at 25, they don't have a branding major, unlike the guy at that MNC you did some work for. Patent questions like ‘what are the psychographic traits and behavioral history of your audience’ will bear no fruit.

Rather try: ‘From your experience, what is the average age and education of the person who spends most on your product?’

‘Who are the people you would feel proud to have as customers?’

‘If there is one category of people you think do not belong to your brand, who are they and why?’

The people matrix is the base of the whole process and should never be skipped, literally. Doesn’t matter if you’re four years in the industry or forty. As the agency, you should have the humility to accept it is their baby and you can, at best, be the babysitter. In a nutshell, just because you have worked with one luxury client in the past doesn’t give you the authority over all luxury shoppers. For instance, behavioral patterns of opulent purchases suggest occasional or rare spenders on luxury are drawn towards electronics like smartphones and headphones while the regular splurgers go for decor and posh travels. Doesn’t this key information completely change their trigger points?

What you’re trying to find: Feelings and thoughts

Make no mistake, this step is the soul of the campaign. How do you want the audience to feel and what do you want them to think of the product when you are done? This untangles the complexities of a vague brief and also provides the necessary depth to make the campaign meaningful. In context to the brief, inquire:

‘How would you like your customers to introduce your brand to their friends?’

‘If you had all the money in the world, how would you have made your customers feel?’

While providing cues, try to make them utterly simple. Do you want them to feel powerful? Like when they could buy their dream watch? Or nostalgic, while using your product, like the way you feel every time you taste your grandmother’s recipe’?

This is, however, not to be confused with finding insight. This exercise will just give an absolute clarity of the expectations of the client. And once you know this, you will also have a map to locate the treasure. Else as I say in my classes, it is like dribbling incessantly around a huge football field with no idea about the positioning of the creative goal post.

What you’re trying to find: Rationale and intention

This isn't the 'where do you see yourself five years from now' question. On the contrary, it couldn’t be more urgent. You will need to understand why the client wants to go live right now. Not next year or even in a quarter, but now. And that desperation and the answers you will find in this exercise will make for great creatives tailored with pertinent focus points.

First understand the crucial business overview: is it clearance of underperforming items, introducing a new product line, or penetrating a new audience set? The end result of all three is increased sales, but they all branch out from very different intentions so the creative routes you engage to meet the goal will vary. Then go for the nuances to iron out the insights you get to attack the problem and arrive at what you can do differently for your client to make them stay ahead of the competition.

Allow me to recommend two questions that business owners almost intuitively know the answer to:

‘Why do you think people are drawn towards your biggest competition?’

‘If this campaign can get only one thing out there, what would you want it to be?’

What you’re trying to find: The mileage

This may be the simplest one of them all. In a cutthroat capitalistic media world, monies = mileage. You can come up with the greatest creative of all time but what are the odds of it actually going viral organically?

If you are the SMB owner, there’s something you need to know: Just because you have 50,000 followers, that post isn’t exactly reaching 50,000 people. To give you an idea, the average organic engagement by followers on social media at 2020 stands at 0.09 percent for Facebook and 1.22 percent for Instagram. This translates to your post most likely being seen by 45 people on Facebook and 610 people on Instagram. So in the best-case scenario of getting 10 percent engagement by people who actually saw it, you should expect 50 likes. Poor outreach of an idea hence isn’t always the lack of creativity on the agency's part. It also boils down to the budget you have to go to war with that campaign.

The key is to work backwards with budgeting. If it’s a digital campaign, ask about the number of leads clients are expecting, and tell them the average industry cost per lead. For example, if you want 2,000 check-ins on the first day, with the average cost of Rs 65/lead we will need a budget of Rs 1.3 lakh to successfully deliver this campaign. This is a fair and transparent way to put it across, and in eight out of ten cases, there emerges a clear mutual understanding.

Bonus: The final question for making the brief complete is always asking the client for the look and feel of any campaigns in the world they really like. Closely gauge the taste of the financier. Ask the right questions: Do you like the music of this ad? Is there any campaign of your competition you wish you would have done? No matter how random, it is a very good set of rich data for your creative team to have in the back of their mind while working.

The brief is a Russian Doll with a diamond at the center if done right. Creative teams, please put aside some time exclusively for this page your account manager has toiled so hard for. Don’t treat it like avoidable gibberish that goes to trash and directly jump to concept cracking while listening to Coke Studio. The devil is indeed in the details, in life, business and brief.

The writer is the chief strategist & founder of Salt and Paper Consulting

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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