9 Steps to Writing a Creative Brief

For this post we’re going to work through a practical activity that marketers will be very familiar with and something that will be required on a regular basis — the creative brief!

Image credit: Ann H

Creative briefs are incredibly useful although I have worked with people who aren’t fans. Sometimes people think the creative brief is, ironically, uncreative. It’s too longwinded, written rather than visual, and an unnecessary step to getting to the fun bit — the creating.

However, developing a creative brief is incredibly useful for a marketer to identify the task at hand, an opportunity to refine the creative project, and also a useful tool to critically review what is being asked for in the first place. Time put into a well drafted creative brief should ultimately lead to a better creative output.

Additionally, a well-crafted brief will also be incredibly useful for the creative supplier (whether internal and external) and ensures the maximum success for execution and success against objectives. I’ve commissioned work in the past without a brief and often the outputs don’t quite meet your expectations — but this shouldn’t be too surprising as you haven’t really communicated what your requirements are.

Below is an example structure of a creative brief. For this exercise we will refer to Tuten and Solomon (2015) for framework references and use the hypothetical scenario of a creative brief from a train operator (with the fictional name of Marketers’ Metro) looking to launch a campaign to improve safety and reduce accidents on and around trains (as such it has been written from the perspective of Marketers’ Metro).

1. Identifying your campaign goals and communication tasks

For Marketers’ Metro, the safety of our passengers is paramount. We would like to launch a new campaign that focuses on increasing awareness of how to behave safely in and around trains, while simultaneously reinforcing our brand’s commitment to our customers as a whole.

The goals have been identified as below:

  • Increase awareness of safety advice
  • Reduce the number of accidents on trains
  • Increase brand awareness in young people
  • Improve brand reputation for putting customer safety first

These have been further broken down as SMART goals as below:

Increase awareness of safety advice

  • Specific and Measurable: There are 10 key pieces of safety advice that we have developed but previous marketing research has shown that on average, our customers can only remember five. The goal here is to increase the average number of safety tips remember to seven. This is a 40% increase of ‘safety knowledge’.
  • Actionable: The campaign will need to detail all 10 tips of safety advice (or highlight in particular the ones not widely known or people are observed not to follow — e.g. people know largely not to cross the railway lines when a train is approaching, but are less familiar with the extreme risk to life from train surfing).
  • Realistic: Although knowing seven out of 10 safety tips compared with five out of 10 is a 40% increase, it is only two additional bits of information that could have a significant impact on total accident numbers.
  • Time-bound: This should be achieved within the first three months of the campaign launch.

Reduce the number of accidents on trains

  • Specific and Measurable: Reduce the number of accidents on trains by 10%.
  • Actionable: The campaign must highlight not only the dangers of trains but also how to behave safely.
  • Realistic: Previous campaigns had done little to move this metric, 10% seems like a fair goal to reach in the first year.
  • Time-bound: Success will be analysed after a year’s worth of data is available.

Increase brand awareness in young people

  • Specific and Measurable: Increase brand recognition in people aged 18–24 by 10%.
  • Actionable: The campaign must be tailored to this age group as they have been found to be the least likely to follow the safety advice. The campaign will need to reach this audience via key social media networks (such as YouTube or Instagram).
  • Realistic: Young people are frequent users of the train system; 10% is not a huge increase to strive for.
  • Timebound: This objective should be reached within the first six months.

Improve brand reputation for putting customer safety first

  • Specific and Measurable: Increase customer trust in brand by 25% within a year. This could be measured with a survey that includes a question along the lines of: ‘Marketers’ Metro values the safety of its customers’ — I strongly agree, I somewhat agree, I neither agree or disagree, I somewhat disagree, I strong disagree.
  • Actionable: This would require additional research into the evaluation of the campaign performance but would be actionable; with over 400,000 travellers per day, the audience base is sizeable enough to be able to receive a large number of responses quickly.
  • Realistic: There is likely a common understanding that train operators place the safety of their customers first — owing to historical promotion of such messaging but also moments of national tragedy and coverage of when accidents do happen. Typically such accidents, if the operator is deemed to be at fault, will result in much public interest and changes to policies, processes and actions. As such, a 25% increase in brand reputation for this sentiment should be achievable.
  • Time-bound: This objective should be reached within a year.

The key communication tasks can be identified as:

  1. Increase the awareness of the dangers of irresponsible behaviour around trains.
  2. Increase the awareness of the correct and safe behaviours around trains.
  3. Encourage people to pledge to be safe around trains and train stations

2. How is your brand positioned? What is unique and special about your position in the marketplace?

Marketers’ Metro is an established brand but because we are providing an essential service (public transport), there is less of an emphasis on brand positioning.

However, we are keen to establish a branding positioning to differentiate us from other train operators.

Marketers’ Metro is a newer brand competing against some very established brands. As such there is a focus on a young audience, challenging the normal conventions of public transport and trying to provide a service to meet an increasingly technologically sophisticated customer base.

Image credit: Andrea Piacquadio

Marketers’ Metro was the first train operator to install air conditioning in its trains, offer free wifi on its services, and allow passengers to get real-time service updates via a newly launched mobile app.

Being a brand geared more towards young people, the brand can be pushed in humorous and entertaining ways that other competitors shy away from.

3. Who is your target audience for this campaign? What do you want them to do and what interaction are you looking to create?

Research has shown that young people are least likely to follow the safety guidance and also to engage in potentially dangerous behaviours (such as running across tracks).

As such, the campaign should specifically target people aged 18–24. It will need to be able to reach them on the devices and social media networks they regularly engage with. The campaign should be mobile-first and we are particularly interested in video content platforms as being able to directly engage with this audience.

We would also like to build in elements of social sharing to make it easy for people to share the campaign and its messages to their peers and network to expand our reach as much as possible organically.

4. Are there any other groups of people who could help persuade your target audience to engage with the campaign?

There are train station staff who will be happy to participate in the campaign to encourage engagement within the campaign as part of the operator’s company value of customer safety first.

More broadly there are local politicians who already support this public service who have previously promoted public safety campaigns who could be asked to help share and promote the campaign.

Marketers’ Metro also has a communications and PR team with connections to local media (radio and television).

5. What are the existing creative assets and other branded media?

Marketers’ Metro does not have any pre-existing creative assets for the campaign, nor does it have any other branded media that is fit for being repurposed.

6. Are there any owned assets and communication channels?

Marketers’ Metro has several owned communication channels:

  • There is a branded Facebook page which often details offers and corporate updates
  • There is a Twitter account that is used primarily for customer services
  • There is an Instagram account that is primarily used to share pictures taken by customers and staff members
  • There is a YouTube channel that has been used to previously share old campaign videos
  • There is a corporate website
  • There is an email database of customers who have signed up for marketing messages — this has over 200,000 members
  • At the train station that service our train lines there are key marketing opportunities around customer service stations, self-serve ticket machines, and entry/exit turnstiles

7. What are the expectations around interactivity and engagement?

Using Tuten and Solomon’s (2015) categorisations of the different social media zones, the campaign should focus on the social community zone, social publishing zone and social entertainment zone.

  • Social community zone: The campaign should foster and reinforce Marketers’ Metro’s brand position of being customer-centric and committed to customer safety.
  • Social publishing zone: The campaign should make use of social media channels to create easily shareable rich media creative assets (images and videos to be shared via Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and so on).
  • Social entertainment zone: The campaign should feature an interactive element that is humorous or entertaining to reflect the brand’s personality

8. What content will be needed?

We would like the campaign to focus on the 10 safety tips that have already been developed as being the most important message to communicate. However, it’s important that the campaign can be easily engaged with by our target audience so we would like the campaign to focus on various social media platforms and have an emphasis on social sharing.

We would like the campaign to include elements of interactivity — perhaps has a game or quizzes. As the brand doesn’t have any readily accessible creative assets, we would like there to be elements of user generated content created (images or videos) that can be shared.

9. How will experience engagement be extended and shared throughout other social channels?

The campaign should feature interactivity that allows user generated content to be easily shared on the key social media channels as stated above.

Image credit: Andrea Piacquadio

My name is Colin and I am a marketer with over 10 years of experience and currently studying a marketing course as well. I hope to blog about my studies.