Chicken or egg?


    Long Brief/Short Brief.

    brand brief

    The Brand Brief.


    When a creative person looks at a blank screen or page, and tryies to come up with an idea for a piece of marketing, there’s often an uneasy feeling. Because creativity and selling are dissimilar activities.

    That’s why God invented the brief. Often called the creative brief: a project doc that outlines the business problem, target, and hopefully some stimulating insight that can act as a catalyst for the idea. If the creative brief is too proscriptive, the creative person finds it limiting. An idea buzz kill.

    That’s why brand briefs are better for creative people. A brand brief provides a macro view of the selling premise. It introduces the environment, the language of the consumer and his/her perceptions and attitudes toward the category. It’s broad enough so as to make a creative person feel less confined. And done well a brand brief provides a fecund field in which to plant and cultivate ideas.

    The brand brief is the operative strategy and stimulus doc a creative person needs before beginning work. Each content assignment should also include a short project description outlining the chore and goal.

    Stimulate your creative team, don’t scare them off.

    For a look at a some actual brand briefs, write




    Another Use for A Brand Brief.


    I have a client with a very successful technology company. His client list is a Who’s Who of other tech companies, the likes of which anyone would be proud.  When it comes to recruiting top talent, he competes with those same companies — even though the big boys are house hold names and he has a small firm. He often wins those recruitment competitions.

    I love this company. They do so many things right. They’re growing in head count. They’re giving back to the category by sharing IP. They are working hard to be inclusive in what is typically a homogenous technology landscape. And they incentivize women to enter the business through generous programs, while not paying lip service to equality.   

    As part of the welcome packet, all new employees receive the What’s The Idea? brand brief.  Mark Pollard has said many times “Strategy is your words” and this client wants employees to understand why they do what they do. The brand brief is the backstory that culminates in the “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.”  It guides employees throughout their daily rigors. And behaviors. And deeds.

    You may call it culture. You may call it ethos. I call it brand strategy.






    Here’s a question you might hear from a financial company in a nightly news TV ad: “What are you saving for?”  More likely than not the copy will answer the question with something about hopes and dreams. 

    Hopes and dreams. Hopes and dreams.

    Advertising is filled with copy about intangibles. The most common words used in advertising today are words about intangibles. Touchy feelie brand planners care about emotions. They hunt them down. Happiness. Satisfaction. Healing.  And therein lies the problem with many brand briefs. Briefs a card-carrying existentialist would pooh-pooh.

    The best brand plans are built upon tangibles. Proofs.

    When I tell a client they are getting brand strategy comprising “One claim and three proof planks,” they know what they’re buying. When some brand planners promise clients, a “voice,” “a personality” or “brand truth,” clients often scratch their heads.

    Be tangible.



    How To Use a Brand Brief.


    If you are doing a marketing video in which you interview customers, let the customers read the brief before the camera rolls. It will help them frame the points you need. Otherwise, they’ll default to their own narrative.

    If you are asking a freelance writer to write a brochure. Give them the brief. It will create context for the writing and story.

    If decorating the office, give the designer the brief. It will guide decisions that support your business goals — not the designer’s portfolio.

    If are tired of your homepage. Give the web designer the brief on the first day.

    The brand brief is the most important tool a marketing company has. I know a CEO who shares the brand brief with every new employee.

    There are a hundred uses for a brand brief. Use it every day. Plants need water.




    What Does A Brand Brief Cost?


    At What’s The Idea? a brand brief costs $17,500. List price. The people willing to spend that type of money know it’s s steal. Having an “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging” makes every act of marketing easier. Compare $17,500 to the cost of a newspaper ad, website take-over, or a radio flight. It’s peanuts. Sadly, the word brief, in advertising and marketing has been reduced to an instructive piece of paper telling creative people what not to do. Ish.  They are often poorly written, almost all interchangeable, and not given much heed. But brand briefs – they are different story.

    For a robust brand brief I need weeks. A month actually. A good brand brief requires interviews, fieldwork, research and brain steep. If we’re talking about a brand brief for a billion dollar company there may be lots of qualitative and quantitative testing as well. Up goes the price. And money well spent.

    Done well, a brand brief informs all areas of business. If CRM is marketing template, the brand brief is its architecture. If PR is a communication template, a brand brief is its measure of success. If customer journey is a template, the brand brief is the bread crumb trail.

    If you are in the business of selling things, raise your hand. If you don’t have a brand brief you are a simple fisherman.

    For examples of brand briefs, showing claim and proof (brand tangibles), please write me at Steve at whatstheidea.




    A long in the tooth brand brief.


    I wrote a brand brief 12 years ago for an organization that helps developmentally disabled adults.  The organization wanted a logo, so I wrote a brief.

    A couple of weeks ago I read about this same group in the newspaper and decided to reach out to see how they were doing.  I sent an email over the transom to the new head of development, along with the brief.  My hope with all brand briefs is that they will live on and on. They are crafted to do so. Each brand strategy (1 idea, 3 planks) is meant to hold the value proposition together and motivate action and loyalty over time.  Even through agency changes and campaign changes.

    The women responded this morning with a lovely long missive. It seems the brand idea is still relevant. Though the organization’s mission has changed thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008, most of the brief elements are still valid, especially the idea or brand strategy. 12 years ago housing was the key goal, today it is employment. The target was broader in the original brief, while today it is focused on donors.  I’m proud of my 12 year old brief. She has grown well and strong.

    This little exercise, checking in on briefs and brands of yesteryear, is worth pursuing. In this case it proves “Campaigns come and go…a powerful brand idea is indelible.” Peace.