How to Create a Powerful Creative Brief

I’ve worked with a staggering number of creative brief formats in my career—every one of them an attempt at making a better mousetrap. Many briefs have special questions and sections created as an attempt to help sell a proprietary approach, or further some sort of agenda—sometimes helpful to the process, sometimes not. I think there is no such thing as a perfect brief question. Just perfect answers. That’s one thing I’ve gleaned from working with so many brief formats—the answers to the questions matter more than the questions themselves. Much more.

It takes an inspired client and a ruthlessly strategic writer to put together a brief that can simultaneously act as a construct for creative problem solving, yet still nurture originality. And, on top of all that, still hold true to business goals. It ain’t easy. And to inspire? That’s a lot of pressure. But it’s paramount to successful communications. It boils down to a statement addressing something like this:

• What is the most important thing we need to say?

• What is the key or main message?

• You (audience) should (action) because (reason).

This is the most important information on the brief. This is its heart.

If you have a clear, single-minded, tangible product benefit, write it down. Think of it as both a product attribute and the end-user benefit. Describe the audience and why the benefit matters to them. And congratulations. Your brief is now better than 95% out there.


If you answer these three questions in the affirmative, you’ve got a firm brief:

1. Is the benefit statement distinctive from the competition?

2. Is it relevant (both to the audience, and the product or service)?

3. Is it a focused thought that sells the product?

And yes, it needs to be “yes” to all three.

That’s the basic strategy statement fallback, and for good reason. It works pretty well. The creative team can think up new and different ways to say that over and over. The clearer the message, the more window dressing we can put on it.

But to go a step beyond that and inspire big, original, mind-blowing ideas, you need something else.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of strong feelings among creative types about what that “something else” is, exactly. And no one completely agrees or disagrees with one another.


Here’s my humble opinion on what takes a brief that extra step—a mission. A purpose. A reason your company exists to make life better, easier or happier for your target. What does the company stand for? Do we have a reason for being (besides making money)? What are we doing for our customer in his or her everyday life?

Land anywhere near a one-sentence answer to any of those questions and you’re onto something big. Start framing the thought as if it is a company mission statement.

In the past I have been completely shocked by the caliber of companies that fail to have this level of brand discussion internally. Of course, it’s easy to see why. The same type of brainpower that’s needed to make a stellar brief can challenge business strategy and objectives. The easy answer is, “We’re in this to make money! Sell more! Be the best!”

But here’s the hard truth: The buyers of your products and services don’t care about your profits. I will be the first to admit that greed sounds like a great business strategy. But really it’s the end, not the means.

To have a purpose or mission that truly resonates, a company has to reverse that thinking. Let profit be the result of a larger goal. What makes this product the best? Why does anyone care or want what you’re selling? How does this make the world a better place?

When a company nails an answer with relevance and truth, it can be ground-breaking. If it’s dead-on, it can spread through a company like a virus. In a good way. Employees, the sales force, management, even the folks in the warehouse will get behind it.

It becomes the guiding light for everything about a brand. It is mission, message and mantra rolled into one. Plus, it makes a creative brief that gets me excited enough to dance around and giggle like a schoolgirl.

A solid company mission is what holds complex brand campaigns together for years and even decades. Taglines don’t do this. Or rigid graphic standards. Or the “digital engagement strategy.” It’s a single-minded, relevant purpose that sells your brand and sustains it. PRN


This article was written by Dave Moore, creative director at Seattle-based Williams Helde Marketing Communications. He can be reached at