The Four Principles of a Better Digital Brief

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by Jeff Roach
You want the best out of your digital marketing department and digital agencies. You want digital marketing that makes an emotional connection with consumers, propels your brand across technology platforms, and engages audiences in digital channels with real value to your brand.

As we continue to ask for the most out of our digital campaigns, we need to look at where it starts—with the digital brief.

Most briefs are simply too long, too specific, and too tactical. The inspired digital creative—the work that connects with audiences, propels fandom, builds brands in the digital world—doesn’t start with a technology mandatory or an app-vs.-website specificity.

At our agency we looked at our history of writing briefs and working with brands all over the world, and we distilled our observations into a set of simple, applicable guidelines that can help any marketer create a better digital brief.

Here are four principles that will lead to better digital briefs.

1. Start with an insight

You understand your product, your sales cycles, your brand strengths and challenges, and your retail channels. And, most important, you understand your consumer. So shouldn’t your brief help demonstrate that clearly?

A pure, simple universal truth about your consumer can be the single most valuable thing in your digital brief. Your ability to frame a real brand insight with your audience can provide the foundational first brick.

Doing so could be as easy as talking through questions like the following before putting pen to paper: How does your brand fill a need in their lives? What aspect of your digital channels makes your audiences life better? Why do consumers love your brand? What digital behavior most resonates with your brand values?

A clear consumer insight can help propel the big idea that can truly connect with the audience.

2. Be clear about the problem

This is so important, yet it is often missing from most digital briefs: The problem isn’t well stated. Or it’s masked beneath a myriad of technical mandatories, product details, and other jargon and clutter that clouds the potential of the brief.

Be clear on the problem. Many issues are likely apparent in your digital marketing, but try to zero in on the one issue that most affects your brands success in digital: Are consumers engaging with the brand in your digital channels in a way that supports brand growth? Is a competitor more successful in digital, and in what ways? Does content connect with consumers and support the brand DNA strongly?

Only a clearly stated problem can result in a solution that’s best suited for resolving the problem.

And it’s not surprising that attempts at identifying the problem often result in convoluted language: Clearly stating a problem often means getting honest about the weaknesses in your processes and brand image.

But putting in the internal legwork to arrive at that nugget of wisdom means the agency can focus more time on solving the problem, and less time on diagnosing it.

3. Explain why

In Briefly, a documentary about the design brief, 72andSunny’s John Boiler says, “The thing a brief needs to articulate to me is ‘Why are we doing this?'” That is, Why is this brief necessary at this moment?

Many brands can easily communicate what they do and how they do it, but sometimes they struggle with defining the “why.” A why statement can be a challenge because it requires the brand to get to the core of its DNA. But getting to the “why” brings out the clearest definition of a brand’s purpose, which is a powerful thing to state in a brief.

When agencies understand a brand’s purpose, they are better equipped to align their ideas to what really matters for the brand. The result is a guideline that is equal parts creative expression and smart business. As renowned illustrator Maira Kalman states in the same documentary, “It is a duality… it’s a deadline, and a dream.”

4. Keep it open

Briefs are, too often, too closed. Some of the best digital clients know that the best briefs are kept open. If the insight and problem are well specified, and “why” is clearly articulated, then the rest should be left as open as possible.

A brief should be written with the intent that the creative idea can come from anywhere. When a digital brief is too prescriptive, it limits the agency and can prevent it from being able to tackle the brief from every angle. And almost any creative will tell you that the best idea comes from a surprising, indirect point of view.

Remove from the brief as much rigid specification around tactics and channels as possible. Review mandatories and keep only what is necessary. Keep it open so the best creative idea and the strongest solution can shine.