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How to Build a Better Marketing Brief

Marketing: How to Build a better Marketing Brief


It may seem rote, but how you kick-off a marketing program is often at the root of problems that crop up later. We asked one of our favorite collaborators, Jason Thomson, principal instigator at Jigsaw and expert in helping organizations developing better solutions to marketing challenges, to write this special guest post about how marketers can start new programs on the right foot.



You just got a new project — hooray for you!

Now what?

The general answer is you dust off your traditional briefing document, toss in a few situation-specific questions and head off to meet with stakeholders. For too many companies with which I’ve worked, it feels like people hear the words “take a brief” and then go into autopilot.

That’s a mistake, and here’s why: Creating and selling your idea these days is less about the idea itself and more about the person buying your idea. As a project progresses, I see so many challenges that could have been avoided simply by taking the time to understand the buyer more during the briefing process.

Understand what you’re trying to do with the brief

Preparing a brief is so much more than trying to surface a project’s parameters (and should never be done on autopilot). You’re working to understand a whole lot — biases, buying triggers, risk tolerance, process and stakeholder requirements. 

To tackle this, start by thinking about the brief as an opportunity to understand the people involved in your project in addition to the project itself. Understanding them means the ability to reduce the miscommunications that can derail a project.

Do some research

Learn something about your stakeholder before you sit down with them. That might mean looking into the company, the brand and the people at the table. Prepare for stakeholder meetings. You’re not only trying to sketch an understanding of the stakeholder and their role, you’re trying to understand what’s happening inside their organization. What’s important to the individual and the business right now? What strategy are they pursuing? What initiatives are they investing in? What goals are they trying to hit? What’s the message they focusing on? Check out recent coverage and presentations. All of this background should influence your brief.

Include the right people

The project team is likely to include a myriad of stakeholders — account, creative and production people — so send representatives from Account, Creative and Production. Get together as a team beforehand and strategically prioritize questions. Understand what each stakeholder needs to get out of the project. Importantly, it helps ensure that each stakeholder has a clear understanding of what needs to happen during the project, and their role in delivery of the project.

Determine what it takes to win

Some version of “what are your objectives?” traditionally stands as the most important question you can ask during a briefing. But What does it take to win? is a better first question to ask. What does it take to win over the stakeholders? What does it take to win over the buyer? This question helps you understand potential challenges and pitfalls, and how you can manage the entire project. 

Test “expectations”

It’s amazing to see how often a team will “guess” what a stakeholder is looking for, rather than asking the questions that reveal expectations during the briefing process. Ensure that you understand what the stakeholder is looking for and what deliverables they want for the idea itself. To do this, don’t just ask straightforward questions – people can’t always answer straightforward questions. Ask the same question in different ways. Pose scenarios and ask the stakeholder to react to those scenarios. 

Approach it like a process, rather than an event

Meet with the stakeholder. Ask your questions. Then go away and think about what you learned. Talk to your teams, and look for gaps. What is missing? What did you not learn? Where do you need more clarity? Schedule a follow up meeting and phone call to fill in the blanks. 

The biggest mistake you can make when taking a brief is going into autopilot, drawing from the same pool of questions to generate your answers. Get meta-cognitive. Think about your brief and know that its role is far greater than revealing the size and type of the project — it’s the lynchpin to your team’s success.


Kick off Your Next Program

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