How to brief your marketing agency...and be less Mick Jagger

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Inspired by Mick Jagger's brief to Andy Warhol, Epiphany outline three elements for creating a clear brief.

In 1969, The Stones – specifically Mick Jagger - decided to brief Andy Warhol to design the album cover for their forthcoming album Sticky Fingers. The letter Mick Jagger wrote to Andy Warhol is infamous as one of the most open briefs in history.

Aside from providing “two boxes of material which you can use, and the record”, Jagger told Warhol “I leave it in your capable hands to do whatever you want”. In other words, surprise me!

Warhol, being a master of his craft, ultimately didn’t disappoint (give or take the absence of a zip), however he was given every opportunity to disappoint, and hit as wide of the mark that Jagger intended as possible.

In marketing terms, he received no creative guidelines, no tone of voice, no boundaries, no objectives, and no timeline.

Briefing from a marketing perspective can vary in terms of relevant detail provided, and may or may not include specific and measurable marketing objectives.

Sometimes only financial objectives are provided within the brief (i.e. deliver “£xm revenue), leaving a gap between the business goal and tactical marketing activity which informs that goal.

If the agency in receipt of the brief doesn’t ‘challenge the brief’, or in other words ask questions, seek clarification and generally be curious, then what is received back by the client in the form of a proposal or campaign plan can be anywhere between hit or miss.

The briefing stage follows the stage of developing and agreeing upon a strategy. If a strategy isn’t in place, how can we be sure our tactical choices shall be effective, and therefore how can the brief best represent the most desirable outcomes, and the attainment of the quoted financial objectives/business goal?

If a strategy is conspicuous by its absence, then a given brief could focus upon an agency helping to develop one.

So what does a strategy look like, and importantly what should be in a brief?

There are three important elements:

1. Targeting: Who is to be targeted?

If the brief focuses upon brand building (awareness, perceptions, feelings or associations toward the brand), the answer to that question may be everyone within a given category.

If so, then broadly what discrete groups are there within the category by attitudes and/or behaviours, followed by the demographic profile those groups tend to follow? In addition how large is each group, and what is the share of market and/or wallet for the brand?

If the brief focuses upon activation (driving short term sales by targeting people already in-market, or whom are existing customers) the answer to that question may be specific discrete customer groups (i.e. “we wish to target segments x & y”).

What attitudes and/or behaviours do these discrete groups display, what demographic profile do those customers tend to follow, what is the size of the target segments, and what is the share of market and/or wallet for the brand?

If any of the above information goes without saying (you’ve worked with the agency being briefed for some time), it doesn’t harm to clarify and/or provide additional information to what is already known, or which has already been discussed. If there are gaps in knowledge, seek to plug those gaps with or without the agency’s assistance.

2. The ‘position’

This is an area of marketing which can be as broad as it is long – brand DNA, brand personality, mission statements, brand value systems, brand truths, brand beliefs, reasons to believe etc.

Positioning can be simple, it could be a couple of words, but essentially it is what do you want the target audience to think of when they think of your brand.

Strong positioning is memorable, meaningful to the customer (benefits not features), has some differentiation amongst the competition (a competitor doesn’t own more of that position than you), and one which you can consistently deliver upon via every touchpoint from the website through to the approach of your customer service team.

The position is relevant within the brief as it can inform creative, channel and context. For example, one of Apple’s assumed positioning attributes is ‘simplicity’. A wordy or busy piece of creative would be out of place and not complement their position. Positioning isn’t necessarily about what you say, but how you make people feel.

3. Marketing objectives

One of the most prevalent missing persons within a brief are specific, measurable and time bound objectives.

“We want to raise awareness” – awareness amongst who? Is that unaided or aided awareness? What’s the current level of awareness, what do you want awareness to rise to, how and when shall you measure awareness?

“We want to drive conversion” – how many additional customers do you need? Do these customers need to display certain attributes or behaviours? What profitability considerations are there?

If marketing objectives are absent, are financial rather than marketing objectives, or are not specific it can leave more questions than answers. Why would anyone want to leave it to debate or conjecture as to whether the agency has proven successful or otherwise?

In summary, the benefits of an effective brief should be appreciated by all parties. Who are we targeting, what’s our offer, and what are the specific and measurable marketing objectives? If those elements are contained within a brief, then everyone should feel a little “Satisfaction”.

Andrew Crowther, Client strategist at Epiphany.

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