The one element shared by every phenomenal campaign—regardless of how it delivers an impactful, resonant and memorable engagement—is a phenomenal campaign brief. That’s because any campaign can only be as strong as the brief behind it.
So, let’s closely examine this document that proves essential to campaign success.
Campaign briefs in brief
A campaign brief is a strategic document made to inform and continually guide campaign building and activation. It centralizes and distills the following:
- The background for the campaign and reasons for activating it
- The campaign’s target audience
- The cultural landscape influencing or competing against the campaign
- The problem the target audience faces
- The client (and solution to the problem)
- The “big idea,” or the main creative line encapsulating the campaign
- The deliverables
Campaign briefs collect synopses of these elements into a single document because the research, data analysis and other relevant information for each category likely comprises its own lengthy report—perhaps hundreds of pages long. Stakeholders and those working on the campaign need an easily accessed, collectively agreed on reference throughout campaign building, activation and performance evaluation.
Ultimately, the brief functions as the campaign’s bible. And it helps ensure:
- The campaign can house different territories—or distinct expressions or iterations (e.g., tone and creative standpoints, supporting messaging, art direction) of the campaign’s main creative idea
- That all creative work will be aligned, and any individual campaign element (e.g., copywriting, imagery, activation channel) matches brief specifications when compared
- There’s documented consensus on decisions if stakeholders or people working on the campaign have questions or concerns about direction or potential misalignment
Without the brief, your campaign ends up the result of a bunch of people acting without strategic guidance and basing their work on their individual understandings of what the campaign is, who it’s for and what it should achieve.
Who owns a campaign brief?
The strategy team owns the campaign and campaign brief, but it must be informed by the creative team. Otherwise, the brief may lack necessary information, contain unrealistic expectations and risk being too one-dimensional to house different territories.
This is because campaigns engage audiences. They’re a type of brand experience regardless of their purpose (e.g., to raise awareness, generate demand, convert customers, etc).
And as with all brand experiences, campaigns must be rooted in brand strategy to ensure that they resonate with the right target audience and that the audience recognizes a given campaign as an extension of the brand.
Pre-brief—the strategy and research underlying a campaign
Ensuring strong alignment between strategy and creative starts well before the campaign brief is produced.
First, you must establish and understand your brand positioning (i.e., the value your brand provides customers through the unique way it solves their problem). And that involves extensive research into your brand, potential competitors, target audiences (e.g., brand believers), their problems and more.
This is because your brand positioning carries substantial creative implications.
Again, the campaign must be a seamless extension of your brand—so that audiences recognize your brand and perceive it as authentic and consistent when encountering the campaign (or vice versa). That authenticity and consistency are two essential building blocks for the audiences’ brand belief and the relationships they build with brands.
Additionally, brand strategy must be consulted to determine campaign goals and applicable performance metrics. And performance evaluations benefit significantly from conducting baseline testing ahead of activation, as historical data enables brands to better quantify the campaign’s impact.
Anatomy of a campaign brief
When stakeholders and creatives collect the most salient campaign strategy points and information for the following seven elements, they’ve established the spine of a strong campaign brief.
Campaign briefs should begin with the overarching context for the brand and campaign. This section summarizes the brand and its current circumstances—specifically, those driving the campaign’s creation and activation.
That background context is essential for the creatives working on the campaign; different campaign purposes require their own approaches. For example, the territories for awareness campaigns and those aimed at building long-term relationships between brands and their target audience should pursue more emotional connections, while those aimed at increasing short-term demand and conversions can benefit from rational messages.
Along with background context, this section should also outline the campaign’s goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) to help stakeholders and creatives orient their work toward those achievements.
Merely stating who the target audience is via some limited demographic information isn’t enough to build an impactful campaign. Even within demographic categories, people remain diverse and draw motivation from myriad drivers. The campaign needs to meet the target audience with respect to those drivers to resonate with them and start or continue nurturing their relationship with the brand.
And this means knowing the audience’s psychographic motivations (i.e., the beliefs, values, traits and other factors that influence buying behavior). And this is why—at Liquid Agency—a condensed version of the brand’s believer profile and customer mindset territories informs this part of the brief.
Campaigns—like all other brand attributes and activations—don’t exist in vacuums. Your campaign competes for your audience’s attention against other brands and larger cultural, socioeconomic, political and other circumstances affecting people’s daily lives and long-term decision-making.
And as such, the campaign brief should refer to this landscape for guidance on creative territories, scheduling, marketing channels and other launch factors to ensure engagements are timely and relevant. Creating a campaign without considering the broader landscape substantially increases the risk that it comes across as “tone-deaf” or even drives away your audience.
For example, environmental consciousness remains a major topic, and according to the Pew Research Center, roughly 70% of Americans hope the country achieves carbon neutrality by 2050. So, if your brand wants to meet its audience’s psychographics by contributing to this conversation and showing support for sustainability, you likely benefit more from:
- Messages like the recyclability of products or replacing single-use plastics
- Launching campaigns over digital channels instead of physical out-of-home (OOH) media
- Choosing spokespeople who don’t fly everywhere in private jets
The most impactful campaigns present target audiences with a solution to their problem—whether that’s as significant as solving a company’s logistical challenges or as minor as quenching someone’s thirst. So the brief must present the problem from the audience’s perspective to campaign stakeholders and creatives in a simplified and easily digestible manner to ensure their firm grasp of it.
However, the problem may also be brand-specific—referring to an opportunity to capitalize on or an issue that the brand has been unsuccessful with. For example, the target audience may associate a software-as-a-service provider with a specific and dedicated application, but newly released products expand the brand’s solution suite. Without campaigns to increase awareness for the new software products, the audience never knows to consider them.
As with the brief explaining and framing problems from the audience’s perspective, it must also detail how the brand and its products provide the answer. This section needs to not only present the brand (or product or service) as the solution but do so with respect to the specific target audience and within the current cultural landscape to provide sufficient messaging framing for creatives to run with.
The big creative idea
Every campaign needs its big idea or the main creative line encapsulating it in a single phrase or sentence. When creatives produce different territories for the campaign, their messaging and design must always reflect the main line to ensure alignment and consistency.
There are virtually unlimited ways for brand stakeholders and creatives to arrive at this main line. Still, the end result must always be rooted in the gap the brand is filling for the campaign’s intended audience (i.e., a humanized intersection of strategy, positioning, the audience’s problem and the brand-delivered solution).
This section is where the adage of “the campaign brief is the contract between the client and the creative department” is most prominent.
Everyone has likely departed a conference room or virtual meeting without a plan of action at least once. So, we all recognize that gaining collective understanding and consensus about how to proceed with a campaign doesn’t help much without specifying concrete deliverables and employee assignments.
Therefore, the brief’s final section should outline the assets to produce and those responsible for them to keep campaign progress on track.
“Future brief”—Creating a campaign playbook
Jumping to a later stage of the campaign creation process—once design territories (i.e., campaign mock-ups or proof of concept for different campaign iterations) receive final go-ahead, they can be collected in a “campaign playbook.”
This is a tool that enables clients (or other partners) to activate the campaign themselves—in a sense, a campaign brief for re-launches and adjusted iterations. Perhaps they’re looking to introduce new messaging that still aligns with the campaign, launch the campaign through a different channel or target another audience segment.
With the campaign playbook, unlimited activations become accessible while ensuring they adhere to the same strategic considerations informing the first campaign: the brief.
Perfected campaign briefs perfect campaigns
As the core strategic document that collates all of the campaign-relevant strategy and research, formalizes stakeholder consensus and then guides campaign creation and launch, there’s no more important element to a successful campaign than the brief.
Therefore, if you’re looking to improve on prior campaigns or determine where your last one fell short, your campaign brief and the process for creating it should be the first things you evaluate. That examination will let you know if stakeholder decisions and the guidance provided to creatives sufficiently set the campaign up for success, if more preparation is needed or if the challenge lies in how the brief was used.
Les Binet and Peter Field. The Long and the Short of It: Balancing Short and Long-Term Marketing Strategies.
Pew Research Center. What the data says about Americans’ views of climate change.