Don't F-up the Brief
This is one of my earliest and most enduring lessons in marketing. A very close friend and I were working with our agency to develop creative for our seasonal pediatric brand. It was my first time leading creative development as a brand manager. The work for the master brand was great, and we generally were excited for the opportunity to build this new communications campaign. We wrote the brief, had our briefing with the agency team, and then a few weeks later had the first creative review. The problem? The work wasn’t very good.
We sent the agency out of the room to huddle because this was such an unexpected turn. Then we did what all well-trained marketers do when they have to give tough feedback; we pulled out the brief to assess which parts of the brief hadn’t been appropriately addressed in the work. During this discussion, at one magical point, my friend and I looked at each other, somewhat stunned.
“Crap, the problem isn’t the work. The problem is the brief. Our benefit and reasons to believe aren’t connected right. We f-ed up the brief.”
At this point, we called the agency back in and apologized for the issue on our end. We still reviewed what parts of the work we thought were interesting and could warrant future consideration, but ultimately, we asked for new work after we got the team a new, better brief.
How could we tell that we had a good brief the next time around?
The original problem in the first version was that while the benefit of our product was in good shape, and while the reasons-to-believe (RTBs) were factual, together, they just didn’t make much sense. And worse, when we were honest with ourselves, the RTBs were probably not really things that made a difference to Mom, who was the target. (Side note: our description of Mom was more detailed than “Mom,” but that’s for another blog post). It wasn’t such an obvious issue that it had been challenged by the agency or management, but it was still there when we really spent time thinking about it.
We wrote a bunch of different versions of the brief, and really made sure to challenge ourselves with getting all of the words on the page right. Specifically, we wanted to make sure that the Target, Insight, Benefit and RTBs were strategically sound and connected to each other. We asked ourselves:
Are these statements true? Like, really true, not, I-hope-this-is-true-because-then-this-is-easier true.
Are they meaningful? With the caveat that marketers need to have enough humility to admit that even our most ardent fans don’t walk around thinking about us like they do their jobs or families, do our statements reflect stuff that makes our target care?
Do they make sense together? Do these pieces together tell a little mini-story?
We worked with our agency partners to get to a great brief the second time around. We knew the reason behind every word on that page before we got the creative team started again.
The final TV execution that was produced scored among the top of the all-tested-ads database at the time (IPSOS-ASI, for those keeping track at home). This is certainly in part to the fact that kids were in the ad, and people love to watch kids. But it was primarily due to the fact that we got great agency work from spending the time to get the brief right up front. From that point on, I’ve made sure that the brief, whether for a tiny online campaign or for a multimillion dollar shoot, has the appropriate strategic focus and due diligence.
Lesson Learned: Don’t f-up the brief.
For an example brief and descriptions of what to write in each section, click here.
If you have a communications challenge, we’d be happy to help support you throughout briefing and creative development. Contact us.