Everything in the creative field has to evolve as digital transforms marketing and the creative brief is no exception. President & Chief Strategy Officer Jeff Roach breaks down his views on the new role of the creative brief.

In 2015 I wrote a piece for MarketingProfs on The Four Principles of a Better Digital Brief. In it, I spoke about the importance of four principles that will help direct better digital marketing: 1. Start with an insight; 2. Be clear about the problem; 3. Explain why; and 4. Keep it open. Although these principles still apply, a lot has changed over the last four years in digital marketing (and, really, just marketing) and I believe the creative brief can play a new role.

So what’s changed in the last four years?

Tremendous change in a very short amount of time.

Today we go to market very differently.

  • Consumers and competitors move so fast in a digital world that planning cycles are getting shorter (often under three months) so marketing operations have to take an agile approach (flexible on priorities and highly adaptable to react to any consumer or competitor move)
  • Consumers have higher expectations for the overall brand experience and expect simplicity and ease through the customer journey (so all of your digital platforms, e-commerce, Amazon, customer service, etc. must perform at the same level or better than the DTC challengers)
  • In the past, an annual brand tracker study might provide the performance metrics to inform changes to the marketing strategy; but today we are drowning in a mountain of real-time data that brings many new insights (all of the time) into what is working on a micro level
  • Business intelligence and A.I. is being applied throughout the supply chain from predicting consumer purchases to managing real-time inventory – making it a shorter and faster path from product creation to fulfilling a consumer need
  • Digital targeting and ad unit formats impact the role of creative in advertising – there’s a greater emphasis on communicating functional benefits and driving lower-funnel purchase conversion than there is on big idea awareness driven creative campaigns that rely on the long-form emotional brand storytelling that :30s and :60s commercials used to provide

So what does that mean for the creative brief?

The creative brief can be a powerful tool when used correctly. It can be clear about the problem and explain the why behind the assignment which brings focus and purpose to the work. It can identify a key consumer or cultural insight that sparks breakthrough ideas. It can help identify the category gaps along with the consumer pain points, providing powerful information used to define a creative hook.

But in a world of real-time consumer feedback, daily e-commerce sales data, and evolving look-alike targeting the creative brief needs to play a new role. And the biggest reason is this:

Creating advertising and executing brand campaigns is no longer a linear process.

In the entertainment category – feature films and television – you used to take six months and hundreds of iterations to get to a single creative platform or IP design for your film or show. It would be set and launch and your job as an agency would be finished once you completed the styleguide and delivered the assets.

Netflix doesn’t do that. They view themselves more as a technology company than an entertainment company. So instead they think about all their different types of viewers and the various segments and personas with individual tastes and they think about how they can deliver a better brand experience by personalizing the creative to their tastes. And so an agency working on product creative for a new Netflix Originals series is tasked to make numerous different product creative IP in different styles so that customer interaction with the platform personalizes how the shows are presented and packaged to them. And this creative packaging is then being updated ongoing based on all these user data inputs, reacting and changing to customer data. It’s why sometimes scrolling through Netflix can feel so satisfying, and also why they grew by nearly 26% last year to 139 million subscribers worldwide, surpassing TV subscribers in the U.S. (76% Netflix vs 67% pay TV subscribers).

This is completely different thinking, and the impact on the creative process is significant.

Given this new, agile, real-time world of advertising today, the new role of the creative brief should surround four ideas:

1.It’s a living document that travels with the brand – The creative brief used to be the tool used in the project kick-off to brief in the assignment. That worked when the marketing campaign process ran a straight line, but now it runs in a tight circle, where insights are constantly driving updates. The new creative brief can act as a living document that lives in the cloud and is accessible by many stakeholders, versioning through updates over time. Thinking about the creative brief as a fluid document gives some room to finding great creative ideas that are designed to transition and evolve.

2.It includes KPIs and data inputs that change – The new creative brief should include the KPIs and key data points for the brand and show a historical log of how those were optimized over time. By focusing on the key metrics, it can allow us to zero in on what would be the most effective creative approach while helping direct creative ideas connected to specific end goals. And because the data is always changing, the brief should too, providing an oral history or dialogue of creative learning that can help with future growth.

3.It thinks more micro than macro – Creative briefs would often focus on inclusion of one large target audience definition (i.e. “18-34-year-old male adults”) and work to help direct into a big idea or singular campaign concept that would umbrella all communication touchpoints. As creative execution becomes more tactical and personalized, the creative brief should evolve to including segmentation and persona data and outlining the customer journey for those audiences. These make the target audience more real and pushes the creative to be more personalized and contextual.

4.It’s designed to be modular – Traditionally creative briefs were used to build a box, to create a set of rules that would help focus the creative territory. But today, creative briefs should be modular and we should expect a level of feedback from various stakeholders ongoing and have the ability to bolt on new tactics or test campaigns easily. A one-page brand brief connected to half-page individual campaign briefs is one way to make the creative brief modular.

By evolving our thinking around the creative brief as a moving document or living guide, and by thinking on a micro level, we can start to use the creative brief as a smart tool that travels with the brand journey, evolving over time. This should drive more agile thinking and more creative iterations for testing, improving performance across channels. As advertising and digital media continues to get more complex and online shopping continues to grow, it’s important for creatives and marketers to think differently and to use past tools in new ways to stay ahead.


Also published on Medium.