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Marketing Branding Planning

A strategist's view on why you should shred your brief

By Constance DeCherney, director of strategy

May 12, 2016 | 5 min read

“I don’t read briefs.” – creative director, 2015

Constance DeCherney

Constance DeCherney

I'm a strategist or a planner, call me whatever you'd like – I don't care much for nomenclature. But, for purposes of this story, we'll call me and my fellow practitioners strategists.

As strategists, we assess our clients’ goals, their competitive landscape, the consumers' unspoken needs, wants and desires; and we make cultural observations. Our job is to distill and deliver insights that will drive business and sales to our clients in the form of a creative brief.

For the last 10 years, I thought my written briefs gave creatives a precise, data-driven, yet emotionally-inspiring view of who the consumer is, why we care about them and how to best connect.

I have strolled through grocery store aisles, watching young mothers turn over a box for a CPG package design assignment. I’ve sat in the ER to witness those who were recently insured get care with a $2 co-pay. I’ve (not-so) reluctantly done whiskey tastings … and many beer tastings. That’s how we’ve always done this thing: compile insights and get them to creatives – in a brief.

I was doing the same routine as I had been taught by veteran planners: explore and immerse, creative partners approve the brief, clients sign off and then successful work is produced.

Doing it the way I was taught was working fine. Until a creative director told me, “I don’t read briefs.”

I was blown away. But, it got me thinking, maybe it's a force of habit that strategists still write briefs or creatives still want them as they move through ideating. But if this mode is outdated or isn’t working for your team – why force it? Adapt, get creative.

So when my agency began working with Ascent Protein, which is a new brand launching in May targeting athletes and fitness-minded people, I decided to approach things differently.

For three weeks straight, I woke up at 5:45 AM to work on the all-important brief. At first, I went through the standard steps: evaluate the target and competition; define the brand essence; dig into the culture, customs, rituals and stakeholder interviews; review large reams of data for patterns and outliers.

In thinking about marketing protein to elite athletes, I had many unanswered questions:

What does it feel like to do a 5:35 AM Crossfit workout?; What does it feel like to puke during that workout?; What does it feel like to do these workouts six days in a row?; What does it take to plan a week of meals, on a Sunday, that will support these workouts?; And, even if my insides feel like mixing cement, what does it taste like to chug a chocolate protein shake, in my car, at 6:15 AM?

That's when it hit me. To produce breakthrough, standout, standing ovation, best-work-of-your-life advertising, you need to live the brief. In order to effectively communicate Ascent’s needs to these teams, I not only needed to walk (ok … crawl, gag and shudder) through these workouts – but so did the creative teams.

Trust me, I’m aware that I’m not gaining popularity by asking creatives to do fierce, puke-worthy, exhausting workouts of 80 burpees, 80 pull ups, 80 goblet squats and 80 box jumps at 6:00 AM; and, then ask them to face near-starvation before slugging down 25 grams of protein. But, this is what our target consumer does six days a week – and so were we. This is the wall where they take their post-workout gym selfies. This is the trainer they love-hate. This is their favorite playlist. These are the people they high-five. We had to experience every aspect.

Creatives need to know the consumer as well as strategists do.

A strategist’s job is to inspire creative colleagues – award-winning, competitive, feisty, challenging, not-afraid-to-tell-me-my-brief-sucks with a capital "C" Creatives. If you’re going to ask creative teams to make the best work of their lives, start by shredding your precious brief.

What works in one agency rarely works in another. Your tension brief doesn’t work at my agency. Your juxtaposition theory makes me cringe. And, our live briefing style might be tough to pull off at your shop. So, to find the right balance, ask yourself what will inspire the next best-work-of-your-life? Of their lives?

Constance DeCherney is director of strategy at TDA_Boulder

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