Top Creative Brief Mistakes

Kevin Namaky
6 min readJul 25, 2023

Many brands are planning out their campaigns for 2023, which means many brand leaders will soon begin writing creative briefs for their agencies and creative teams. At this stage hopes are high, and leading new creative campaigns is supposed to be one of the fun parts of the job.

But if you aren’t careful, the process can quickly go off the rails. Unclear direction, extra rounds of rework, and settling for mediocre creative are just a few of the major pain points.

We all know a great brief is required to set the team up for success. Yet I think too many brand managers pull an old template, quickly fill it out, and send it over to the agency without putting enough thought into it.

So today I’m sharing four of the top mistakes I see brand managers (and even directors and VPs) make when it comes to writing creative briefs — and what to do instead.

MISTAKE #1: GENERAL TARGETING

When most people fill in the “target audience” box, they go straight to an existing document like a target profile or persona. But using a general target like this is a bad idea.

Most target profiles are overly long and contain too much information that isn’t useful in the context of a creative brief. This approach also involves very little of the strategic thinking required to identify a meaningful opportunity for your business.

Instead, I like to use a simple yet effective question to quickly identify the options:

With whom lies your business opportunity?

For example, if you sell face wash, your business opportunities could be with:

  • People who buy a premium competitor’s face wash
  • People who don’t buy face wash at all yet
  • People who buy private label face wash
  • People who use body wash on their face
  • People who have given up your brand

Most who write creative briefs wouldn’t have considered past the first bullet point above. Think through your options and then have a meaningful discussion with senior leadership about which opportunity to pursue.

MISTAKE #2: NO REAL COMMUNICATION OBJECTIVE

Most creative brief writers think they know what a communication objective is, but they are actually way off the mark.

Here are examples of commonly used objectives in creative briefs:

  • Increase sales
  • Take market share
  • Increase awareness
  • Drive trial
  • Increase consideration
  • Increase loyalty

These are all terrible communication objectives.

The main problem is that marketers easily confuse business and marketing goals with communication objectives. But in the creative brief, you need to identify a specific consumer/customer behavior that you seek to change. What are they doing now? And what do you want them to do in the future?

The desired action is your communication objective.

For example, when Swiffer first launched, their communication objective wasn’t to simply drive sales. Instead their communication objective was to convince consumers to give up their broom/mop for Swiffer.

That level of specificity is important and much more useful to a creative team.

MISTAKE #3: LACKING A USEFUL INSIGHT

Ask 10 marketers what an insight is and you’ll probably get 10 different answers. Some people view all new information as insights, while others will only use the term insight if it somehow reveals deep understanding.

So how will you know when you have a good insight? Good insights have two key components:

  • They are new (to the person receiving the insight)
  • They are useful in some way (you can act on them)

That’s it! A simple test, I know.

In the context of a creative brief, this translates to a single key question that never fails to elicit an insight:

What have we learned about the target that presents an opportunity?

Here are some examples of succinct insights that meet the test:

  • An ice cream brand learns that shoppers can’t tell the difference between the brand’s packaging and private label products
  • A natural skin care brand learns that most women don’t think they are beautiful
  • A gambling website learns that most people in Ohio want to gamble but think it’s illegal (even though it was recently made legal)

You can imagine how it would be beneficial for brands to create campaigns based on these insights.

MISTAKE #4: THE LAZY TAKEAWAY

Desired belief… key takeaway… single-minded proposition… It doesn’t matter what you call it. These are all the same thing, and it’s arguably the most important part of a great creative brief.

Unfortunately, most marketers commit one of two mistakes when trying to write the desired takeaway:

  1. They list out all of the important things they want to say about their brand/product.
  2. They simply refer back to the benefit line from their brand’s positioning statement.

Both of these are killers. A laundry list of talking points means your creative team will be confused, and consumers won’t remember much of anything meaningful. Meanwhile, simply using the brand’s established benefit is lazy and often doesn’t get you to a good strategy.

Do not waste your opportunity. Here’s what to do:

  1. Go back and look at your communication objective (the desired action).
  2. Think about what the target audience would need to think or feel in order to take the desired action.
  3. Write that feeling or thought in the takeaway/desired belief box using the consumer/customer’s own language.

For example, if the desired action is for consumers to give up their broom/mop for Swiffer, then appropriate takeaways/desired beliefs might be:

  • Swiffer gets the job done faster than traditional brooms and mops
  • With Swiffer I don’t have to clean up after I mop
  • Swiffer picks up dirt that brooms leave behind

All three are viable strategies depending on the key insight and positioning.

TAKE YOUR CREATIVE BRIEFS UP A NOTCH

If you’ve made it this far, you now have four ways to level-up your next creative brief. But there are so many more intricacies to writing great briefs from beginning to end, as well as successfully managing the creative development process. While I’ve tried to put a lot of value in this newsletter, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg.

So, if you’re interested in truly mastering the art of writing great creative briefs and successfully leading the creative development process, check out our in-depth on-demand course on How to Write a Powerful Creative Brief. Not only does it include tips like what you’ve read here, but it also includes recommended templates, frameworks and case study examples from world-class brands.

Regardless of if you take your learning further or not, try out the techniques from this newsletter in your next creative brief and your creative teams (and senior leaders) are sure to notice. And let me know in the comments if there are other common mistakes or frustrations you see when it comes to brief writing.

This post originally appeared on the Gurulocity Marketing Blog.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hi, I’m Kevin! I’m the founder and CEO of the Gurulocity Brand Management Institute, a consumer marketing education company that trains and consults for notable brand teams including Kimberly-Clark, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Bolthouse Farms, Ancestry.com, Johnson & Johnson, Sephora and Gorilla Brands.

I’m also a featured instructor for the American Marketing Association, lecture at the IU Kelley School of Business, and have been featured in Ad Age, Forbes, Fast Company, Business Insider and the CMO Council. I previously worked for 20 years in the corporate and agency world growing notable consumer brands.

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Kevin Namaky

Marketing strategist and educator, Founder of @Gurulocity Brand Management Institute. Super-dad by night. http://gurulocity.com