By now, most marketers concede that they no longer own the brand. That the most important brand conversations are not the ones taking place between the brand and consumers, but amongst consumers with the brand in absentia.
The consumer may own the brand, but marketers still own the brand communications that go out the door. And the best—the only—way you can influence that work is to ensure that it is informed and inspired by a good brief.
First, a couple of preliminary comments. One of the most common mistakes people make in communications development is handing over the positioning document to their agency partner and expecting them to miraculously ‘bring it to life’.
The brand’s positioning isn’t the communications brief. One articulates what your brand stands for; the other explores how you can best express this. One distills and differentiates. The other—if written well—engages and inspires. One provides the valuable cargo with which you can reach out to consumers; the other suggests possible routes for the journey.
The other observation I’ll make is that marketing as a discipline has changed enormously from even five years ago. Media has fragmented, social-media channels have proliferated, the marcom mix has evolved almost beyond recognition. One of the key implications for marketers is that instead of briefing our agencies as independent entities generating separate responses, we now need to brief our agencies together, and increasingly, ask them to work as an integrated team.
Now, on to the brief.
Through our work with hundreds of client organisations striving to improve their marketing effectiveness, we’ve noticed some common maladies that befall briefs. See if you recognise any of the symptoms here in the briefs you’ve written:
Like rumours, these are really non-existent briefs, merely comments or snippets of opinion shared in conversation or passed on in confidence from one stakeholder to another, until it reaches the ear of an agency rep whose job it is to make sense of it all and come back with a compelling solution. Without a written brief, you will not have a constructive way by which to judge the creative work. As advertising legend Neil French once said, “If you don’t have time to write a brief, I don’t have time to do the work.” A thought worth remembering.
By this, I’m talking about briefs that don’t convey a sense of who we should be talking to. Defining a target of "18 to 65, current customers, potential customers and employees" basically covers everyone but prisoners and tourists. Far better to focus on those who may love you, not everyone who might merely tolerate you.
But clearly identifying your target isn’t enough. You need to bring to life what makes the target tick, what role the brand plays in their life. The target for a bank, for instance, can possibly be defined by this state of mind: “I am so busy driving my kids around, I can never get to the bank during banking hours. I wish there was a bank that worked around my life, rather than me working around the bank’s life.” Doing that well can be likened to the difference between 2D and 3D printing: Suddenly, your target takes on depth and dimension.
I reckon we’ve all seen these: overgrown briefs that haven’t been tended and pruned to allow you to walk through—there’s just too much information! A jungle brief is the mark of a lazy writer, and that sloth will come back to bite you. More often than not, your agency will come back with recommendations that reflect different strategies, because your brief included everything and the kitchen sink.
So zoom in on a key message. Don’t pepper your proposition with “and”s or “but”s. And shove all background information to an appendix.
In some ways, these are the antithesis of jungle briefs, but they are even more deadly. Oddly enough, many brand managers allow too much freedom on the strategy, and exert too much control on the creative work. It should be the other way round.
Brand managers should control the strategy, not the execution. A long list of mandatories sends the signal that even though you’re fuzzy about the strategy, you do know what you want the creative to look like.
Granted, certain mandatories can’t be ignored, and they should be respected whatever the creative solution. But don’t muzzle your agency by specifying the container for the big idea, even before they come up with the idea itself. Why get a dog, then bark yourself?
If you see your past work reflected in any of these archetypes, then you know what to avoid and you’ll be on your way to writing a winning brief. A great brief serves as a fertile springboard to the most strategically sound, creatively surprising ideas.
But don’t stop there. Once you’ve written a good brief, think about delivering a good briefing.
How can you inspire your agencies to put on their A-game and deliver the goods? The story is told of a client who had to launch a rather bland polyfiller compound. Refusing to settle for equally bland advertising, he arranged for his agency to be ushered into an empty meeting room. Then he walked in with a sledgehammer, and without a word, proceeded to smash a hole in the meeting room wall. Still mute, he opened a tin of the product, applied it to the hole he had just created, and patched up the wall. Wordlessly, he then handed out briefs to the open-mouthed agency folk, and walked out. End of briefing. As you can guess, the agency responded with an outstanding campaign.
In summary, good things come in threes. If you’ve invested the effort to write a winning brief, and delivered an inspiring briefing, you can expect to be presented with outstanding creative work.
How do you judge if the work is creatively excellent? Well, that’s the subject of another story.
Hugo Saavedra is a senior consultant with EffectiveBrands, a global marketing consulting firm dedicated to unleashing global brand potential. Based in Singapore, Saavedra has experience with clients including Mead Johnson Nutrition, Johnson & Johnson, and Campbell’s.
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