The Most Important Question in any Creative Brief

The Most Important Question in any Creative Brief by Ottawa Graphic Designer idApostle A recent discussion topic at the Linkedin Marketing Communication group is:

What is the best question to ask in a Creative Brief? If you were only given one question to ask a client about her business, what is the most important?

Of course, you don’t need to narrow the creative brief down to just one question but the responses given by the group members (651 at the time this was published) gave some insight into just whom they thought a creative brief was written for.

The questions submitted covered budgets, past efforts, expectations, call to action and challenges among others. Many questions were concerning marketing and strategy.

I hesitate to be so blunt, but many (many, many, many) of them are asking the wrong question.

The creative brief is not written for the marketing team. It is not written for the client. It is written for the creative team.

The creative brief is primarily a tool to inspire creativity. It is not an instrument to develop strategy. The strategy should be decided before starting work on a creative brief. While strategy, goals, deadlines, and objectives can all be part of the brief, the purpose of the document is inspiration. It should provide an emotional vocabulary defining the heart of the brand. Don’t get me wrong, I am not condoning the development of gushy, mushy, Hallmark inspired documents. All decent creative briefs are focused, short, inspiring and void of exaggerated nonsense. It must be authentic, providing true insight into the connection between a company and its customers.

For me, the one question that needs to be answered in a creative brief is:

Why should your (potential) audience care about you?

Get that right, and you will without fail provide inspiration. Follow it up by defining the objectives, audience, etc. and you would have invested your time wisely and written a creative brief for the right audience—the creative team. The creative brief is one of the biggest opportunities the client and marketing team have to influence the success of a project. Take full advantage of it.

Do you need help in developing a creative brief that inspires? Contact me.


  • DK says:
    Oct 27 at 12:13

    Yup, I noticed that thread on LinkedIn–it was really getting out of hand there all right. Thanks, Steve, for bringing this right back to center.

  • Steve Zelle says:
    Oct 27 at 09:36

    Dipiki, It really surprised me to see so many marketing and design people with a completely different view of a creative brief. Thanks for the comment.

  • Drew Force says:
    Feb 17 at 03:59

    This is really good stuff.

    Firms try to complicate the creative brief so much that, in many cases, it ends up not being brief at all.

  • Christopher Magruder says:
    Apr 21 at 02:50

    This is yet another one of your great posts. I too agree that there can be a lengthy amount of info on a questionnaire but what is most important to the designer is WHY? It can be asked a millions different ways all resulting in different answers but without these three little letters our jobs would, and often do suffer. Distilling the WHY down into something tangible is hard if the WHY is never asked.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

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