Back to blog

The Digital Brief

For the past few months we’ve been discussing the role of the brief when it comes to digital marketing programs. We found that traditional creative briefs provided so little value that we just didn’t use them. We’ve been working on creating a brief from the ground up that works for digital channel.

Recently Edward Boches and Faris Yakob have raised this topic, so it seems like several of us are circling the same issue.

I thought I would share our take on the brief.

What is a brief?

The brief is an artifact of the advertising world that has crept into the digital world without much challenge. Its purpose is to:

  • Provide focus to the agency, creatives and client
  • Hold the client and agency accountable to an agreed upon “strategy”
  • Evaluate ideas against this document to see if it “meets the brief”

The typical structure of a brief is:

  • Who is the target audience?
  • What is the single-minded message that needs to be communicated to this audience?
  • What limitations, requirements or parameters must be known by the creatives for the idea to be successful?

Obviously, this is a simplification but it typifies the hundreds of briefs I’ve seen from both clients and agencies.

So what’s wrong with this?

Let’s start with the structure. A brief’s DNA is about communicating a singular message—a unique selling proposition (USP)—to a vast audience. This worked well when you could reach 80% of consumers by purchasing advertising on prime time television, but those days are gone. (I assume we all accept this reality.)

Target audience as a part of the brief has two problems.

  • Knowing a target audience (age, sex, HH income) is not very helpful. Needs, motivations and desired action are much more valuable when it comes to designing engaging experiences.
  • Most briefs will compound this problem by defining the target audience so broadly (e.g. Canadian consumers, 18-55) as to be totally meaningless. They might as well say “carbon based life forms”.

So what does a digital brief look like?

Each company needs to construct briefs that are appropriate to their unique values, processes and resources—but we think that there are a few things every digital brief should embrace:

  • Accept that users are active, not passive

    They don’t want to receive messages: they want to do something. Single-minded message and unique selling propositions need to partner with user needs and goals. Ask questions in the brief that understand and directly engage with motivations and behaviours of the user.

  • Create personas or user stories, not target audiences

    Address your users’ true context vs. just their demographic. Personas are great tools used for large scale platform projects, but they don’t very often get produced for marketing programs. We think they should.

  • Define outcomes not deliverables

    I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but all too often we focus on the deliverable (a display ad, a microsite) and not on the outcome. Focussing on an outcome can be very liberating since you can come up with solutions that aren’t predetermined.

  • Define success

    If you can define an outcome, then you should know what success looks like and how you can measure it.

We believe that building a more contextual, holistic and user-focused digital brief will help us define and design more relevant and effective digital marketing platforms and programs in 2011.

Photo courtesy of visualpanic

Jon Lax More posts by Jon Lax