How to Write an Effective Creative Brief From Brand Strategy to Execution (With a Template)

A creative brief should tell you where you’re headed, how you’re getting there, and identify important milestones along the way.


3 Big Ideas

  • A creative brief is a short document that outlines the objectives, parameters and requirements for the success of a design project.
  • A creative brief marks the end of the strategic process and the beginning of the creative process.
  • Confirming strategic alignment with stakeholders is a critical first step in developing a strong creative brief.

What is a creative brief? (And why is it essential for working with a designer?)

A creative brief should tell you where you’re headed, how you’re getting there, and identify important milestones along the way. Think of a creative brief as the Google Maps for your big idea.

Have you ever played Telephone? You might remember it from elementary school or (shudder) a corporate team-building exercise. It’s that game where you whisper a phrase into the ear of the person next to you. Then they turn and whisper to the person next to them, and so on until the phrase reaches the last person standing. The game ends with a dramatic reveal of the final phrase heard. This is often met with uproarious laughter. How could simple words, repeated a few times over, transform into such absurdity?

We’re all playing Telephone in the design world. No, we’re not literally whispering into each other’s ears. But between disciplines and expertise, we each speak a different language, and the way ideas get interpreted often strays from the original intent. Sometimes this is delightful – happy accidents do happen. Very often though, things go sideways

Whether you’re a CMO contracting a graphic designer for brand development or you’re leading a marketing campaign with your own creative team, a good creative brief mitigates confusion and protects you from bearing the responsibility of misinterpretations.

The role of a creative brief in the creative development process

British advertising tycoon David Ogilvy once famously said, “Give me the freedom of a tight brief”, and he wasn’t talking about underwear. The strategic direction of your brand and your brand positioning is too important to be left open to creative interpretation. 

The creative brief marks the end of the strategic process and the beginning of the creative process. Your brand strategy (i.e. your brand purpose, vision, value, your target market and audience, brand messaging strategy, etc.) should be clearly defined and supported by all internal company stakeholders before embarking on the creative brief development. Without this strategic brand foundation, you risk losing time and budget to a creative team lost in the spin cycle only to end up with a milquetoast result. Remember: you should always be looking for ways to differentiate your brand from the competition, not blend in. 

The act of writing a creative brief is often a great stress test for pinpointing the areas where your brand strategy needs attention, or where there is internal misalignment between key leadership and team members.

At Motive3, we use the creative brief as a way to check back in with clients — did we get this right? — and forge a clear path ahead once we’ve established common ground. Confirming strategic alignment through the creative brief is a critical first step in setting expectations and preventing rework down the line. 

How to write a good creative brief

A good creative brief is exactly that – brief! It’s concise, informative and inspiring. It leaves no room for confusion, but plenty of space for creativity. Its goal is to clarify your objectives and cover the key parameters of the project including brand identity guidelines, workflow requirements and deliverable expectations.

The elements of a good creative brief are straightforward. The secret sauce is in how you deliver the hierarchy of information.

1. Project Background

Remember what I said about keeping it brief? That applies here. It may be tempting to copy and paste your company biography into this section, however, what your designer really needs to understand is the big picture: 

  • What is your brand’s mission and vision?
  • What’s the driving need for this scope of work (i.e. Why are you writing a creative brief?)
  • What is the primary focus of the scope of work, that once unlocked, will enable everything else to fall into place? (ie. You may need a logo and a landing page design, but getting a mood board approved is the most critical for defining the project’s creative direction.)
2. Objectives

Use this section to provide a broad overview of the outputs needed from this project and how they will fuel your brand goals. 

  • What is your brand trying to achieve?
  • How does this project fit within your overall brand strategy? 
  • Is this project for new creative work or is it a necessary refresh of existing brand materials?
  • How will the outputs from this project be leveraged across paid, earned, shared and owned communications channels?
3. Target Audience

Arguably one of the most important sections of the creative brief, detail is your friend here. It is not enough to provide age and gender demographics, your designer needs to get inside your target audience’s head:

  • What’s important to your audience? What are they striving towards?
  • What pain points trigger your audience to seek out your brand?
  • Where does your target audience spend their time online and off?
  • What shared attributes connect this group of people?
4. Relevant alternatives in the market

Provide background on your brand’s competitive landscape to help your designer understand your brand’s positioning and ideate opportunities to differentiate you from the pack. Don’t limit yourself to defining direct competitors – it’s helpful to list any alternatives in the market that your audience seeks out to resolve their pain points.

5. Brand Attributes

Brand attributes are all of the characteristics and qualities that define how your brand shows up in the world. Attributes are the tangible aspects of your brand such as logo and color palette as well as the intangible qualities like brand archetype, brand personality and voice. This is a great section to include a link to your Brand Guidelines book if you have one. 

6. Key Messaging

It’s important to remember that messaging is both verbal and visual. 

  • What one message would you convey to your audience to have them think differently about your brand, product, or industry?
  • What words or values do you want your audience to associate with your brand?
  • How do you want your audience to feel when they engage with your brand?
7. Deliverables

This is the section where you itemize each deliverable required for the project along with relevant deadlines. Do you need a logo? Great - do you want a brandmark or a wordmark? Does it need to be stacked or horizontal? How many color variations? Be as explicit as possible with any relevant due dates.

8. Requirements

The remaining nitty gritty requirements for the project workflow, review and approval process go here. Do you need to see three different logo options to approve with your team internally before proceeding into other areas of the brand development? How does your team prefer to review and deliver comments? Be sure to include:

  • Sequence of priority for the project deliverable development
  • Number of design options and revisions that you’d like for each deliverable
  • Any file type requirements for the review process and final project delivery
  • Who from your team will be responsible for overseeing the project
  • The workflow for deliverable review and comment issuance
9. Addendum

Do you have a long-form brand strategy document that will add color to the creative brief? Throw it in here. Do you have a mood board or other visual references that you’d like to share with the creative team as a basis for their conceptual development? That’s great! Add it in here. 

The addendum section is perfect for including all of the supporting information your designer may need to reference throughout the project.

The Bottom Line: Even a good creative brief can go sideways

It’s important to remember that the creative brief is not the project briefing. A creative brief’s primary objective is to act as a bridge between the brand strategy and brand execution. It serves to both inspire and provoke the creative process, as well as draw clear guardrails around project expectations and requirements. 

However, the creative brief is not meant to stand alone! To help your designer get in the right frame of mind for the project, it’s important to meet with them, do a little show and tell, and introduce them to the team. Have product samples or merch? Send them over. Is there a retailer they should visit to understand the competitive landscape? Ask them to make a field trip. It’s these touch points, in combination with a well-written creative brief, that will spark your designer’s imagination and put you on the path to success.

A template for developing a strategic creative brief the Motive3 way

Download Motive3's Creative Brief Template

How to Write an Effective Creative Brief From Brand Strategy to Execution (With a Template)

A creative brief should tell you where you’re headed, how you’re getting there, and identify important milestones along the way.

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