Imagine trying to write a graduate-level thesis without having graduated high school. Even if you did understand the topic at hand (“Orbital involvement in Bing-Neel syndrome,” what?), you probably wouldn’t know the structure of a traditional thesis or why you even need to write one.
You’d spend a lot of wasted time figuring out what to do, and the end result probably wouldn’t be ideal. However, if you knew what you were doing beforehand … well, writing your thesis would still be hard, but you’d at least have an idea of where to start and what to write to get your master’s degree.
Get where I’m going with this? The above idea is why your content marketing strategy needs a marketing brief.
Your brief is your treasure map; it outlines the steps you need to take in order to reach each marketing goal. Without it, you’ll get lost wandering the seven seas of endless strategy combinations, only to sink your ship and fall to the bottom of the ocean.
Let’s find out why a marketing brief is such a big deal.
What Makes a Marketing Brief Special?
The digital marketing world is overflowing with briefs. Different companies break them down in different ways, which means you have some wiggle room to decide what feels right for your brand, target audience and content creation process.
But that’s not to say that every brief is the same. Take, for example, the marketing brief and its sibling, the creative brief.
Creative Briefs Are About Creation
An effective creative brief gives your content creators or marketing agency the tools they need to make stuff — whether that “stuff” is blog posts, infographics, animations, sizzle reels or any other collateral. It can contain information like:
- Target audience.
- Brand tone and voice.
- Key differentiators.
- Key performance indicators (KPIs).
Some of this information may be mirrored in the marketing brief, but that’s because creativity and marketing go hand-in-hand.
Marketing Briefs Are About Sharing Your Creation
While content creators are hard at work using the creative brief to write that social post or build out that explainer video, they need to know how their efforts will fit into your overall digital marketing strategy. This informs all kinds of choices — such as which word has more impact on which target customer or how to schedule certain deliverables. A creative brief is about building the pirate ship; a marketing brief is about getting it out on the water.
The 9 Parts of a Good Marketing Brief
If you were to write a marketing brief for your content creators or marketing agency right now, do you think they’d be able to get started on your marketing strategy?
If the answer is a big old “no,” you’re in the right place. Let’s review what a marketing brief is and what goes into one.
In one sentence, a brief is a guideline for your marketing campaign. It outlines the game plan and goals for your strategists, tells your creative team how to complete a project and keeps your stakeholders in the loop about your marketing activity and its anticipated outcomes.
A good brief is clear, thorough and consistent. You don’t have to break your marketing plan into clear categories as outlined below, but it’s best to touch on each of these topics in some way.
1. Company Description
Yes, everyone already knows what your company does and what its values are, but it’s good to include these ideas in your brief. Doing so establishes consistency; your marketing team will always have these ideas in mind as they carry out the campaign.
2. Campaign Purpose
Your campaign purpose is different from your goals and objectives. Instead of describing clear outcomes and key performance indicators, the purpose details the overarching reasons for launching your marketing initiative:
- Increasing your social media follower count.
- Boosting engagement.
- Increasing conversions.
- Promoting a new product or service.
3. Project Summary
Describe what types of content your campaign will contain, how they will relate to each other, what platforms they’ll reside on and other significant, overarching details.
4. Goals and Objectives
This is where you’ll list specific desired outcomes like KPIs. Be detailed enough that everyone involved in the campaign knows what they’re working toward.
5. Target Audience
We’ve said this time and again, but understanding your target market and segmenting them into personas is one of the key elements to a successful marketing campaign. Describe who this particular strategy is directed toward to shape the rest of your content.
6. Campaign Strategy
This is where you’ll want to be as detailed as possible. This section also requires the most preliminary market research. Get into the nitty-gritty of your project summary and list things like required keywords, optimal content length, competitor analysis, hashtags, cross-promotion and more.
Remember, this isn’t a list of creative quirks or style choices. The brief is not the place to point out your logo or dictate whether you use the Oxford comma. That’s your creative brief!
The brief is not the place to point out your logo or dictate whether you use the Oxford comma. That’s your creative brief!
It’s likely that your campaign will include different types of content. Here, you’ll break down what you briefly described in the project summary. This section answers questions like, “How many blog posts will we write?” and “How many illustrations do we need?”
You may not have exact dates just yet, but a tentative timeline will help everyone involved stay on track and prevent delays. Unfortunately, you or your marketing team might not realize how long it takes other departments to complete a particular task. Establishing an outline ahead of starting the project should ensure everyone has enough time to complete their assignments. Timeliness is crucial, after all — especially if you’re launching your campaign quickly.
Here, you’ll list the name and roles of everyone involved in the campaign. Who is creating the strategy, and who’s responsible for making sure everything is delivered online?
Who Creates a Marketing Brief?
If you looked at all of this and panicked, thinking you’d have to generate an entire brief yourself, take a deep breath. Maybe meditate or do some yoga. Then come back and realize that your brief will be all the better if you get other departments involved (unless you operate a one-person business, that is).
So who helps create a brief?
Of course, the head of the company has a hand in directing the brief. They’re the captain of your pirate ship, after all. They should know what’s best for the company, meaning they can direct everyone toward success. Involve them in the overarching areas of the brief, such as the purpose and project summary. Still, CEOs are busy, so they may delegate a lot of their brief-creation responsibilities to …
The Head of Marketing
Whoever’s running the marketing department (or serves as the agency’s primary contact) takes the CEO’s vision and turns it into a strategy.
Don’t forget about the people who established your branding guidelines and materials. They’ll help decide the appropriate types and number of deliverables.
How do sales teams pitch products and seal deals? This information helps develop a strategy focused on the middle and end of the funnel. Your sales teams can tell you where most of your customers are (which is helpful for designing personas and targeted search material), what metrics they need to indicate performance and more.
What makes your product stand out from its competitors? Your development team surely knows. They can tell you what aspects to feature in your marketing materials. If a new launch is on the horizon, development can also help with establishing the content timeline.
Web and Social Teams
These guys know where your content will be posted, as well as tiny details that can affect your return on investment (ROI). Your web team, for example, can provide valuable input on the structure of your content (such as how title tags and metadata align with the rest of your website). Meanwhile, social knows which types of content will be most effective on which platforms. They can answer questions like, “Should we put our videos on YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram, Facebook or a combination of all four?”
Your Very Own Marketing Brief Template
Now that you know you’re not alone on this journey, it’s time to start building your brief template.
“Why a brief template?” you might be asking. “Why not a completed brief?”
Well, the thing about treasure — at least when it’s a marketing goal — is that it can be moved around by turbulent seas, unexpected headwinds and even your target audience. If your map doesn’t evolve to reflect this new information, you’ll end up on the wrong island every time.
Check out these tips for building a marketing brief template that will help you find where “X” marks the spot:
A messy brief leads to a wandering pirate ship. Help people stay focused by organizing your brief template carefully, making use of headings, bullet points, sections and more.
Pay Attention to Permissions
While everyone should have access to a marketing brief, only a select few should be able to update it. This helps clarify which responsibilities rest with whom and which stakeholders “own” the brief.
Of course, restrictions on document editing don’t equate to restrictions on improvements and support. Other people can still throw their hat in the ring when it comes to suggestions, constructive criticism, background information and more; they’ll just have to touch base with a template editor before any permanent changes are made.
Pay Attention to Your Audience
A marketing brief is a living document. It changes as your audience changes — so update your template accordingly. That means cutting sections that are no longer relevant, refreshing personas and rewording differentiators or key audience challenges where necessary.
Talk to Your “Numbers People”
Maybe you’re into numbers, or maybe you have someone to handle that for you. Either way, remember that quantitative data plays an important role in any marketing brief. Market research and a marketing budget will act as the framework for just about every creative project, so give them plenty of space.
Listen to Your Creative Team
Whether you have in-house content creators or work with one of many talented creative agencies, it’s important to get feedback from the people who actually use your marketing brief. Which part of the brief template is most helpful? What makes sense and what doesn’t?
Tracking Marketing Activity and Goals
When your marketing brief template is complete and can be reworked to your heart’s content, the hard work is over. It’s time to revel in the fruits of your labor.
Well, not quite. Now you need to make sure your marketing brief is doing its job — and that means tracking marketing activity and goals. Here are some important questions to think about:
How Does This Brief Align With Our Goals?
OK, I know what I’ve been telling you all this time, but a marketing brief isn’t exactly like a treasure map. That’s because a brief takes you to multiple treasures (such as brand awareness, engagement, conversions and more) and can include all kinds of different paths.
Naturally, this can get a little messy. To get the most out of your brief template, you need to make sure everything points in the right direction (even if there are multiple “correct” directions). For example, have you listed the steps, deliverables and stakeholders necessary to boost brand awareness, or did you get distracted talking about why brand awareness is so important in the first place?
What Do the Numbers Say?
Remember your numbers people? Call them back, because you’ve got another job for them.
This time, they need to help track the results of every brief-driven decision. If you’re seeing good numbers — such as a big boost in conversions — your marketing brief template includes the right information and is helping you pursue your overall marketing strategy. If not, it might be time to return to the drawing board.
What Happens If This Isn’t Effective?
Sometimes, a marketing brief doesn’t deliver on KPIs or significantly impact ROI. There are a few reasons for this:
- People don’t know the brief exists or aren’t using it.
- You don’t have enough information in your brief.
- You aren’t including the right details.
- You have so many details that some get missed.
- Your template is difficult to understand and use.
- Your template hasn’t been updated.
- The underlying marketing plan is flawed.
- You designed your brief without thinking about the needs of the people who use it.
Whatever the reason, underwhelming results can be frustrating. Just remember that you built a marketing brief template for a reason. You can change things as much or little as you want — as long as every change is based on market research, real results and user feedback.
Set Yourself Up for Success With a Masterful Marketing Brief
It’s possible to dive headfirst into your marketing campaign with no planning whatsoever, but think of the headache that would cause. Isn’t it much better to draft an overview of what you plan to do and accomplish?
Don’t be mean to the future you, and don’t hinder your marketing campaign. Set up a brief; you’ll thank yourself later.
In the meantime, it never hurts to have a helping hand. Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest and greatest marketing advice!
Editor’s Note: Updated November 2022.