Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Brief writing - it's harder than you think

The biggest problem with brief writing is that people think they're easy to write.

Typical Marketing Department:
"We're going to grab a sandwich. Coming?"
"Sure, give me ten minutes. Just need to get a brief to the Agency".


Typical Client Service Department:
"We're going for sushi. Coming?"
"Sure, give me ten minutes. Just need to get a brief into Traffic".

A great brief needs to be very, very clear what the resultant output should achieve. More than that it must inspire, in fact, catapult, the imagination of your creative teams. It needs to immediately conjure up ideas and angles and possibilities and excitement. 

To do that it needs to be a few simple things:

1. Be Clear.
2. Be Concise.
3. Be Clever.
4. Be Creative.
5. Be Collaborative.


Be Clear:
Who do you want to do what as a result of this piece of communication?

There's a bunch of choices in there and the catch-all target market definition usually chucked in a brief is a perfect example of lazy thinking, where no choices have been made at all. It's murky and bloated and will undoubtedly lead to obviously murky and inefficient communication output.

To exquisitely illustrate the point, watch this:


Once you've sorted the "who are we talking to" out, then what do you want them to do...as a result of engaging with this piece of communication.

Answering these questions as a "if-then" approach is helpful. Remember, they may be exposed to a whole lot of things that your brand is saying in a whole lot of channels. However - what's this one going to ask the/expect them/persuade them to do?  This is where separating out marketing objectives from communication objectives is so critical. Example, the key job of a banner ad is most likely not to increase brand awareness.

Obviously if the brief is for the BIG IDEA, and you're not down to the individual elements yet, think even more carefully about what the role of the communication will be. What will success look like? Will it (can it) be measured, if so how, and if not - how will you know it worked?

Be Concise:
Doing all of the above thinking - before you write the brief - helps you become focused in your thinking. And so the communication can be focused, and work in an integrated way with all the other bits of communication in your overall plan. If you want to ask your consumers to do ten things, you must realize that not only are you being lazy, but most consumers are. Ask us to do/think/feel/remember one thing, maybe - just maybe - we'll do it. Ten things, or even three? Sorry, what were you saying again?

A creative brief should be no more than two pages. It should tell a story and should read well. Not like a collection of marketing-speak cut and pasted from the brand plan. 

Be Clever:
Find a truly interesting and motivating and deep-seated reason why people do what they do. And find a way of connecting it to what your brand offers. Where the human truth or insight meets your brand truth or insight is where the magic starts happening. This is going to emerge in your brief as the Proposition (see next point).

An example from a recent campaign that I loved the moment I saw it (Boom! Great insight driven work always does that - connects with a Boom!), is Sanlam's One Rand Man campaign. The insight is - my words not theirs - that because we don't physically pay with cash, our money doesn't seem real. 





Be Creative:
This is the real thorn in the side. Here's why you really can't bang it out before lunch.

The inspirational bit of the brief hinges on the Proposition. Call it what you like. The Platform. The Single Minded Thought. The Elevator Pitch. The thing most likely to convince our consumer to do/think/feel what we want them to do/think/feel. This builds on the brand's Value Proposition.

Source: Tim Williams
















Usually, you can't get to a great proposition unless you have a really good Insight. Because what we want to do with the proposition is create a launch pad for ideas. The insight helps because it allows you a real understanding of consumer motivations and beliefs - the why not the what. (Insights are something that must be done, along with the Brand's Positioning Statement way before you sit down to write the brief).

The proposition requires creative writing. And understandably not every marketer or account manager is a creative writer. So this proposition can and should be written in collaboration with the agency. In agencies, account managers should be creative. But if they're not, then they should bring in a strategist or a copywriter to get that sentence. Because once you've got it - you're off. That's the catapult to a big idea and a seamless, integrated campaign.

Propositions need also to help make the brand distinctive. Why can this brand solve the tension in that insight better than anyone else? This is when a truly differentiated and distinctive product concept helps. But honestly, how many of those do we see?

So the proposition links a universal insight or truth with a brand truth with something that makes your brand distinctive from the competition or category. Note I said distinctive not differentiated. Distinctiveness is critical when we get to the communication part of the proposition. It sets us apart, maybe tonality, maybe because of an underlying purpose, maybe because of a bottle shape. 

There are a number of obvious examples here but a powerful one is Dove. The fact that a brand based on a moisturising soap can help you acknowledge your inner saboteur and encourage self-belief and self-confidence in young women, is nothing short of miraculous.

Here's how you start (I made a somewhat terribly drawn and narrated little movie):




I find a way to write good propositions is to think of them like headlines. In fact great propositions can be headlines and many end up with tiny tweaks to be payoff lines. How would you write the proposition for this ad?



Human truth: Very few women think they're beautiful (4%).
Brand truth: Dove has a range of everyday beauty products.

So, true to the brand: Dove is a real beauty product
Motivating insight: You are probably more beautiful than you think
Distinctive to the competition: Dove believes in real beauty.

Here are some options (and these take time to write, so you have to try them out until you get to one that sounds like it could create ideas).

Proposition ideas:
With Dove, you know your beauty is real.
Dove helps you be comfortable in your skin.
Dove believes your beauty is within.
Dove - real beauty is more than skin deep.
Dove is a real beauty brand that celebrates real beauty.
Dove wants you to feel more beautiful than you think.

Here's what their VP said:






So "Dove wants you to feel more beautiful than you think" feels quite on-brand and quite creatively liberating doesn't it?

That's probably an easy one, because we know what the output is. I took toothpaste (IMHO a massively undifferentiated and non-distinctive category, except for specialist toothpastes) and here's where I got:

Brand truth: Brand X makes your teeth white and your smile beautiful
Insight: I feel happier if someone smiles at me.
Distinctive: A toothpaste brand that believes in the benefit of smiling.

Proposition attempt: 
Brand X, making the world a happier place, one smile at a time.

I've never worked on a toothpaste brand, but Googling this - smiles are everywhere in toothpaste ads, So that's not distinctive. But it seems that "happiness" could carve a distinctive tonality in the category. Is this Coca Cola's territory? It is close. (Ironically). So we may need to keep working on the line to find the right word. But can you start seeing a campaign around Making the World a Happier Place, a hashtag on Instagram, a Pinterest board, some amazing content possibilities, ads? I can. It has "legs". 

The last piece about "Be Creative" is that you should consider your audience for the brief. The creative team. How can you dramatise the proposition? Where should you do the briefing session? In the boardroom? Or In Real Life somewhere?  Wherever, make it inspiring.

Be Collaborative
As I said at the beginning, briefs are hard to get right. The more heads to bounce ideas off, the better. 

But, this is not a committee. You're asking for clarity and inspiring comment, not "oh and can you add in that we now also close later on Fridays"?

Find people in your organisation that are good with words. Those right brain types. 

And, when you have your briefing session, and in discussion someone creative says "what if we said.....", and comes out with the zinger of propositions, please for the love of great communication, punch the air and say YES that's IT! Instead of "it's not what it says on the brief".

If they feel excited and you feel excited, I promise there's a better chance your consumers will too.

p.s (watch here for the 5 most common mistakes in brief writing)
_____________________________________________________________________

Adtherapy runs  Exceptional Brief Writing workshops for marketers & for account managers.  
We also facilitate Proposition Workshops, & can help you evaluate your propositions and briefs. 

The Creative Fitness programme also includes Developing Transformative Insights & other useful tools and techniques to make sure your communication is as good as it should be. 

Email gillian@adtherapy.co.za, or call 0832659099 to discuss how we can help you.

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