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BRIEF TALK: What's in a perfect brief?

BRIEF TALK: What's in a perfect brief?

If you're a Singaporean in advertising you'd probably have heard this from a creative before:

"No brief no talk."

Image credit:  The Incumbent Agency

Image credit: The Incumbent Agency

Within our agency we're constantly trying to improve the briefing process because it truly is the basis of good work. A brief can be a huge pain poin but a necessary for alignment. A single document could save you time and money. Done right, it can inspire magic.

However, confusion often arises when we try to decide what should and shouldn't be in one, or how to even approach it. I thus invited some of my trusted friends and clients — practitioners in different aspects of the creative industry — to shed some light through a panel discussion.

What is a brief, and why is it important?

A brief summary:

  • A good brief serves as the backbone of a campaign.
  • It acts as a common language for everyone involved: clients, stakeholders, the accounts team or creatives.
  • A brief is both process and product, a result that comes from both agency and client.
  • While there are mandatory information to include; the approach vary from clients to agencies.

What makes a good brief?

In the short two-hour discussion, the consensus on the one paramount factor for a good brief emerged to be to have clear objectives. Top tips on how to do this:

  • Skip the fluff, and use facts and insights as the foundations of the ideation process.
  • Include clear and singular goals. Doing this requires clear prioritisation of your business problems to solve. For example, if your aim is to increase sales, but you know that the barrier to it is low awareness of your product; it would be more helpful to state "generating brand awareness" as the main objective of the brief instead of "increasing sales". 
  • That said, have one identified business issue or opportunity.
  • Clearly define the product or brand unique selling point.
  • Have a direct, well-described target audience.

We also discussed brief-ins not having to happen in an office environment; where everyone gets handed a piece of paper and is talked to. The best work that we've done actually always had us first experiencing products or services.

For Mae, Associate Creative Director at Dentsu X, it's about "setting the right mindset, to set off those explosions in the minds of those who can then recreate these as insights for your target audience".

She shared about the award-winning Ban the Box campaign, which started the briefing process in the prison in a full-day workshop. The experience was visceral and provoked a "powerful and genuinely insight-driven work".

"It would’ve been easy to write something about what it might be like walking in prison, but until you actually walk in, you’ll never really know," Mae says.

For us as well, experiences are paramount to our approach. For our mall clients, it's about being in the malls at different times of the day first as a consumer and then to observe and speak to the shoppers who are in the spaces. For toys, we play, we fidget, we observe the target audiences interacting with the products. For clothes, we wear, we touch, we speak to people who wear them on a daily basis to understand what value it brings to them or why a certain choice is made.

What we strive to do is to distill an irrefutable piece of insight that our work can be built upon.

The strategist or planner in an agency transforms the client brief into the creative brief, made up of the following: 

  1. A defined creative task
  2. Sharp consumer insight,
  3. Distilled insight
  4. Inspiration

"Sadly, all too often, what we see on the brief is what’s described as an insight is just a statement of the obvious, not an insight at all," shares Ruth Lim, award-winning strategist at TBWA\. Ruth stated that an insight shouldn't just be an observation, or a hypothesis of the audience.

While observations are important building blocks of insights, motivations and desired outcomes are important add-ons that create hypothesis, which then, after testing and validation, creates insights. It really is a craft and an art to write a good brief, that provides pointed insights.

"The best insights might seem obvious and a human truth, but they allow creatives to have a clear aha moment, that will provide direction for their work."

Common mistakes from strategists, planners and clients are to get too excited and add noise into the messaging. 

(This is a good article on insights vs observations.)

So then, what makes a brief bad?

Generally, when it isn't brief and is loaded with too much information instead. This is common when too many stakeholders are involved, and none of them are aligned on a single vision. Having open and honest conversations to nail down priorities, objectives and task flows is necessary, and most of the time this is most effective in a face-to-face meeting, both with clients and the rest of the team.

A clear brief isn't just on the onus of the client, suit, strategist or planner. "If the brief is confusing, overwhelming, or not inspiring, speak up," shares Mae. "It’s the backbone of your whole campaign. If you value your craft, then be responsible enough to set a solid foundation for it."

Common mistakes to avoid:

  1. Putting in more information than necessary. (It's called a brief for a reason.)
  2. Convoluted language.
  3. Duplicating (or slightly editing) a previous brief.
  4. Targeting everyone. This will only result in generic messaging.

How has the briefing process changed in the digital age?

Duo focuses a lot on content marketing on social media. Many times our briefs come in at the tail-end of the marketing planning process, and we completely understand why. It usually is the only platform that can get a campaign out ASAP; and a crucial one as well with its proximity to and intimacy with your end consumer.

Image credit:  Alexander S

Image credit: Alexander S

The expectation then on an agency like ours is to turnaround work that's fast, good, effective. However, we don't want to cut corners and produce sub-par work. How then, do we create insightful pieces of work that resonates deeply? 

Time is definitely needed to do the research, but 2 other pieces of data can help better inform a campaign if collected up front:

1. Historical Data

If the agency has had the benefit of working on always-on social media content or past campaigns, a strategist will be able to pick out behaviours on what works / doesn't with their target audience on social media. A client should also be able to share key channel and consumer insights gleaned from previous campaigns; giving the creatives a good idea on how content can be optimised. 

2. Clear Understanding the Context of Social Media

Alignment is best done when both clients and agency share the following information:
From clients: Clarity on what role it plays as a touchpoint in the marketing funnel
On both clients and agency: Target audience usage of content
From agency: platform insights on why things were designed a certain way and new channel innovations available.

We all agreed that last-minute changes, while not ideal, weren't something we could escape from. Clients and agencies are both trapped in managing this; the solution is really to communicate, manage expectations and have mutual respect. If the change caused things not to work out given the limitations, move on and figure out how to prevent this in the future. 

To conclude: Ask More Questions.

Something that all of us, whether on client or agency side, don't seem to do enough of. 

Asking questions helps to clarify, refine and understand. By asking questions, both parties can also get closer to the target consumers and gain viewpoints.

Questions can help define motivations for both parties. What the brand stands for, where the passion points are, the messaging priorities, points-of-view. This leads to content creation that makes sense for everyone involved. 

Data insights from clients can also be a platform for agencies to garner deeper insights, says Rish, who heads the digital marketing, studio entertainment at Walt Disney Company.

 "Ask for data and research. Trust that the client has done the research on their ends and use it," he says, but do your research before asking, and show through your questions that you know what you're talking about.

The kind of questions agencies ask can show clients the team know their stuff.

Image credit:  Grant Snider

Image credit: Grant Snider

TL;DR? Here's a summary of what we learnt:

Have clear objectives.
Ask lots of questions.
Do good work.

Duo Studio Team.JPG

Peace out.

This piece was co-written by Stephanie Phua and Xiangyun Lim.

#FRIYAY - 21 Jan

#FRIYAY - 21 Jan