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Sunday, July 18, 2010





A couple of weeks ago we began a four-part series of DISPATCHES articles titled “Developing a More Productive Creative Brief.” We are using the Deepwater Horizon ecological disaster as a metaphor for what goes wrong in the development of the Creative Brief. (And what can go wrong will go wrong!) Specifically, we contend that four broad areas are emerging as contributing to the Deepwater Horizon disaster: faulty engineering; errors in human behavior; lack of oversight; and dysfunctional corporate culture. These aforementioned four areas provide us fertile ground for investigation into the failure of many marketers, and their organizations, to develop Creative Briefs that provide strategically appropriate, single-minded direction for the development of leadership advertising, and its subsequent assessment.



Part 1 addressed engineering. This consists of the design and composition of the Creative Brief. We defined the Essential Creative Brief, as providing that information that is absolutely essential for the development of leadership advertising, which consists of the following design, where form follows intended function:

  • Assignment
  • Communication Behavior Objective
  • Target Customer
  • Customer/Consumer Insight

-  Basis for Insight

-  Insight

  • Key Thought (Benefit/Belief)
  • Reasons-to-Believe
  • Brand Character
  • Legal & Regulatory Mandates
  • Client and Agency Approvals



This article, Part 2, addresses errors, or human behavior issues. While we are not competent to talk about the myriad human errors leading and/or compounding the Deepwater Horizon debacle, we are knowledgeable as it relates to the development of the Essential Creative Brief. Therefore, this deals with the role of each element in the Essential Creative Brief and tackles the most common errors in “human behavior,” that compromise marketers’ ability to develop actionable briefs.



Assignment – This should be self-explanatory. What is it that you want the agency to develop? Television advertising? Print advertising? A sales aid? Website? Integrated communication campaign consisting of alternate media vehicles that work together? A big, juicy Campaign Idea? What? In addition to the “what” of the assignment is the timing, as in when do you need it?



“What” you want the agency to develop certainly needs to be consistent with the budget and, as such, your communication media plan, which is based upon your Media Objectives (which tie to the Communication Behavior Objectives). Some marketers actually include the budget level in the assignment but we do not believe it is absolutely essential for the creative team because: a) creative personnel do not develop communications to a budget but, instead, a Communication Behavior Objective; and b) communication budgets are forever changing and if it was so essential it would, therefore, require marketers to continually update the Creative Brief, otherwise it would be rendered useless. However, if your organization feels it is absolutely essential, we would not object, strenuously. We leave it to you.



Message length can be an important component of the assignment. However, we need to be careful in managing this too. If we insist on a short message (as in 15-second TV spot) we may: a) fail to get a big Campaign Idea because the agency (or resource group) creative personnel do not believe their ideas can be executed in the short message length; and/or b) fail to communicate the Key Thought in a compelling manner. (This is a virtual certainty if your Creative Brief contains Executional Considerations, in which “considerations” is another word for “mandates.”)



Timing is critical. We need to provide the agency with enough time to throw out the bad ideas, dialogue with customers and iterate our way to successful communications. We came across a Creative Brief for an Rx pharmaceutical (i.e., prescription drug) switch to a breakthrough OTC (i.e. over the counter) drug, which promised to avoid a catastrophic cardiovascular event for the Target Customer, that provided the agency with only “one-week” to develop creative work. Insane! The agency, or creative resource team, should develop the timing. We, marketers, should be sensitive to begin creative development with sufficient time to meet our in-market dates for the communication.



The most frequent errors to avoid in handling the Assignment are: a) not clearly articulating what we want the agency to develop; and b) providing insufficient time for creative development.



Communication Behavior Objective – This is what the communication needs to accomplish. It is a specific customer “behavior” needed to achieve the brand’s Marketing Objectives (overarching behavior objectives) and, in turn, realize the Business Objectives of sales, market share and profits. The Communication Behavior Objective must be SMART: Specific (as in penetration, switching, etc.); Measureable (use numbers that can be measured with marketing research); Achievable (as in “realistic”); Relevant (ties to the Marketing Objectives and, in turn, to the Business Objectives); and, finally, Time-bound (achieved in a specific time period).



This is so very important to do correctly since it identifies the task of the communications, and making it accountable for results. What is it that you need for the communications to accomplish? Get competitive users to switch to purchasing, or prescribing, your brand? What? If the Communication Behavior Objective is penetration (i.e., using or doing something they have not done before) then the communications will need to convince the Target Customer why it is important to use or do it. On the other hand, if the Communication Behavior Objective is to get the Target Customer to switch then the communications will need to convince him that your brand is a better choice.



“Awareness” is not a Communication Behavior Objective. It is a Media Objective! If your media is $10-million and the budget is cut to $5-million can we expect to achieve the same level of awareness? Of course not! Also, the creative personnel cannot develop communications to an “awareness” level. Nor is “trial” or “sampling” a Communication Behavior Objective. These are Promotion Objectives. It is important to get this correct since the Campaign Idea must work to achieve the appropriate Communication Behavior Objective.



The most frequent errors that need to be addressed when developing the Communication Behavior Objective are: a) not having a “behavior” objective; b) stating a media, promotion or some other marketing mix element objective instead of a Communication Behavior Objective; c) having an inappropriate strategic objective (e.g. penetration versus switching); and d) the objective not being SMART.



Target Customer – This gets at who we must convince or win-over to achieve the brand’s Marketing and, ultimately, Business Objectives.  This is the target for the Communication Behavior Objective. We define the target going well beyond a media target, often referred to as the target audience. Instead, the Target Customer is much more. It is our positioning target, as articulated in the Brand Positioning Strategy Statement, or a subset of it.



It is not enough to define the target as “moms 20 – 34-years of age with children 2 – 9-years of age,” “Internists treating diabetics,” or “Orthopedic surgeons.” This tells the creative personnel little to nothing about the target; nor does it demonstrate sufficient understanding to unearth legitimate and productive customer insights. We need to define the Target Customer with several elements, which are: “demographics”; “psychographics”; “patient-condition” (for pharmaceutical and medical device products), “lifestage” or “occasion” (for consumer products); “attitudes” about their situation or the category of products; “current usage” (name brands they are using) and “dissatisfactions” (or for dissatisfactions you can insinuate given the performance of your brand); “telling behaviors” that give insights into how the Target Customer thinks, and provides support for the aforementioned elements; and “needs” – both rational and emotional (that the brand can better meet or serve).



Using all several elements provides a clear and complete picture, and demonstrates understanding, of the Target Customer. Using all several elements does not narrow the target anymore than presenting the details of your curriculum vitae narrows you. It makes the Target Customer more accessible.


It is critically important not to cite “generic” or “category” needs. These must be needs that the brand can better satisfy than competition. Importantly when these needs are satisfied by the benefit (found in the Key Thought) it will lead to the achievement of the Customer Behavior Objective. One other note, the emotional need may not be necessary. If you have a product performance advantage then go with a functional (i.e., rational) need. In this case you would not include the emotional need because to do so you would have to pay-off the emotional need with an emotional benefit. This could dilute the persuasiveness of your communications and/or increase the difficulty of developing a big Campaign Idea.



The most common errors to be addressed in defining the Target Customer group are: a) defining a media versus communication’s target; b) providing an incomplete target definition (e.g., just using demographics and overlooking each of the other important components of the target customer definition – psychographics, condition/lifestage/occasion, attitudes, current usage and dissatisfactions, telling behaviors and needs); c) identifying generic or category needs that don’t differentiate your offering; and d) employing an emotional need that is either not called for or is not realistic.



Customer Insight – This is the cornerstone of developing leadership communications. The Customer Insight must be both “legitimate” and “productive.” An insight is not a fact. Instead it is a deep-seated belief that governs customer behavior. By “legitimate” we mean it falls into one of three areas: 1) perceived or real weakness that the brand can exploit; 2) attitudinal barrier to overcome regarding your brand that if you were to remove it then it would lead to (faster) growth; and 3) untapped compelling belief that you can own through commitment and persistence. By “productive” we mean that the insight needs to be able to be paid-off by the Key Thought and achieve the Communication Behavior Objective. It is imperative that the Customer Insight be legitimate and productive.



We state the Customer Insight in three parts: 1) basis for the insight (one of the three areas mentioned in the aforementioned paragraph); 2) the insight itself as it would be expressed by the Target Customer (we write it in italics and bracket it with quotes); and 3) the Key Thought, which is the pay-off.



The Customer Insight will identify an overlooked, untapped or poorly satisfied need. It will also lead to the pay-off, which is the Key Thought. The Key Thought seeds the attitude or belief that is needed to drive the customer behavior to achieve the Customer Behavior Objective. Everything, absolutely everything, is linked.



The most common errors to be addressed when discovering and articulating the Customer Insight are: a) the insight is not “legitimate” as defined by falling into one of the three key areas mentioned above; b) the insight in not stated using all three parts – basis for the insight, insight in customer language, and the pay-off (expressed as the Key Thought); c) the customer insight is not “productive”; and d) it doesn’t tie back to the Communication Behavior Objective and/or forward to the Key Thought.



Key Thought – This is the belief or benefit that will lead the Target Customer to take the behavior specified in the Customer Behavior Objective. It cannot be generic. It must suggest either something that is better in degree, or in kind of benefit. It must lead to driving preference for your brand. It should be persuasive if it flows from a legitimate Customer Insight.



All too often there is no Key Thought but, instead, merely a benefit that is generic, puffery or unrelated to the needs of the Target Customer. All marketers must ask themselves whether the Key Thought will drive the intended customer behavior. If not, you must pass on it and search for something that is more meaningful. That search should begin with a thorough understanding of the Target Customer and the discovery of a legitimate and productive Customer Insight.



Key errors to be addressed are that the Key Thought (i.e., benefit or belief): a) is generic; b) does not flow from a “legitimate” customer insight; and c) will not drive preference and/or lead to the achievement of the Communication Behavior Objective.



Reason-to-Believe – This is the support for the Key Thought. Its purpose is to help make the Key Thought believable to the Target Customer. If you have more than one benefit articulated in the Key Thought then you need to have support for each. The Reasons-to-Believe must link to the Key Thoughts.



In virtually all cases the Reason-to-Believe needs to be an incontrovertible fact or an endorsement from a recognized authority. It cannot be more claims. Often marketers will take claims that they were not able to get into the Key Thought section of the Creative Brief (hopefully because they disciplined themselves to be choiceful) and stash them here (which means that “choicefulness” has been selective as opposed to comprehensive). If the statement is not a piece of evidence (as in being able to stand in a court of law) then it is not a Reason-to-Believe.



The best Reasons-to-Believe are those that when presented to customers allow them to immediately identify the benefit. Also, the RTB, like a benefit, needs to be meaningfully differentiated from the competition. In many cases pharmaceutical products will offer-up clinical studies that merely indicate that the product works but does not assist in stimulating customer preference for the product.



Often the only RTBs the marketer will consider are those that product research and development personnel provide to them. However, we marketers (and creative personnel) can help create marketing RTBs. For example, Jeep created the Trail Rated system, which serves as support for consumers to believe that Jeep vehicles perform best.



Finally, what worked in the past for you, or another brand, may no longer be competitive. For example, when Crest Toothpaste received the first ADA endorsement, which was a major breakthrough at the time, they were able to triple their market share. However, if a product were to get the ADA endorsement in today’s age it is highly unlikely to fuel incremental growth because the ADA endorsement is commonplace and has become a cost of entry.


Common errors in handling Reasons-to-Believe include: a) making claims in the RTB section; b) using generic (e.g., clinical studies that are the same as competitors) Reasons-to-Believe; c) not linking the RTBs to the Key Thought; d) having “floating” RTBs (i.e., don’t connect to a Key Thought; and e) limiting RTBs to only what product research and development personnel provide.



Brand Character – This states the personality of the brand. It should be lifted directly from the Brand Positioning Strategy Statement. It represents the soul of the brand and will serve to ensure that the creative communications reflect the brand positioning strategy.



It is not, nor should it be confused with, tone. Brand Character gets at the personality of the brand. It is strategic. Tone gets at a facet of Brand Character and is executional. It is about messaging, not the brand. One does not know what “tone” the advertising messaging should have since it is based up the Campaign Idea. On the other hand, we do know the personality of the brand, since it is found in the Brand Positioning Strategy Statement, and need to reflect it in all our communications.



The Brand Character (or what incorrectly passes for it) is usually a series of adjectives such as “trusted,” “caring,” “leader,” and “authority.” These are rather generic and have little meaning beyond making managers feel good that they have addressed this section of the Creative Brief. Instead we need to create a narrative that is either aspirational, and serves as a badge, or reflects the relationship of the brand to the Target Customer.



Common errors in handling the Brand Character include: a) using tone instead of Brand Character; b) not lifting it directly from the Brand Positioning Strategy Statement; c) stating the personality as a series of common adjectives, which have no real meaning, as opposed to using a narrative; and d) choosing a personality that either does not lead to “badging,” or establish the relationship of the brand to the Target Customer.



Legal/Regulatory Mandates – Now, let’s be clear on this element of the Essential Creative Brief. It is titled “Legal/Regulatory” mandates. It deals with laws (e.g., as in use of trademark) and regulations (e.g., as directed by the FDA). It is not titled “Executional Considerations or Mandates.”



Legal and Regulatory Mandates should be kept to legal and regulatory directives only. We should not, and must not, employ executional directions. Executional directions sabotage, obstruct, and thwart the development of Campaign Ideas. Now, we know that many senior managers are going to disagree with us on this issue. Executional Considerations are in virtually every Creative Brief we see. We can’t explain the logic of using Executional Considerations other than marketers have little faith in their Key Thought and/or their agency creative capability. Or, perhaps, they think they know what the advertising should look like. This is an absolute idea killer.



The only error that we are concerned with regarding Legal/Regulatory Mandates is the use of Executional Considerations, which foul the development of leadership advertising.


Approvals – This is essential to signify that the client and agency are committed to achieving the strategic direction as stated in the Creative Brief. As such, the Essential Creative Brief is signed-off by the most senior client manager responsible for approving the advertising, and the most senior agency manager responsible for delivering the advertising – before beginning creative development work.



Many of the Creative Briefs that are shared with us either have no signatories, or the only signatories are those from the client team, or the signatories are lower level managers who do not have the authority to approve the final creative work.



If we don’t have approval and commitment to achieve the Creative Brief, as indicated by the signatures of the senior client and agency manager, then it is likely that we will have strategic discussions when we should be assessing the creative work. It is also highly likely that the creative development process will take longer and be fraught with frustration. Finally, it is very likely that the client-agency relationship will be tarnished and its productivity undermined.



The errors to avoid with Approvals are: a) not noting approvals by gaining signatures; b) only having client approvals; and c) not having the senior most client responsible for approving the advertising and the senior most agency person responsible for delivering the communications sign-off on the Essential Creative Brief.





Now you know how to approach the Essential Creative Brief and what behavioral errors to avoid. But it would also be wise to consider the following:


1.    Devote your full attention to developing the Essential Creative Brief. Andy Langer, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer, Roberts & Langer Advertising, says, “The Creative Brief is the most important piece of paper in our agency.” This is a profound statement. Can we marketers say the same thing? With conviction? The Essential Creative Brief sets the table for the development of leadership advertising. Give it your full attention. Treat it as if it is the most important undertaking for the brand.


2.    Develop the Essential Creative Brief in collaboration with your agency resource team. Developing and handing-off a Creative Brief for execution does not work as well as when both client and agency collaborate. A deeper appreciation and understanding ensues. What’s more the agency has ownership in delivering against it and will hit the ground running with ideas that are bound to percolate during the Creative Brief development stage. Consider also including the creative personnel in the development of the brief. Good creative personnel are inherently strategic just as good strategic managers are inherently creative. Moreover, you will avoid a tug of war between the account and creative team.


3.    Make certain that the Creative Brief provides single-minded direction. All the parts of the Essential Creative Brief must be linked. We refer to this in our training programs as being “cohesive.” There is one link that is particularly important. We refer to it as the Strategic Triangle. This is the link between Target Customer Needs, the Customer Insight and the Key Thought. All three must point in the same direction. If they do not then this would indicate multiple directions. If you are interested in learning more about the Strategic Triangle, click here for a past DISPATCHES article on the subject.


4.    Collaborate not just with the agency but your senior management when developing the Essential Creative Brief. This will gain the advantage of their experience and insights, which may prove invaluable. Also, it will deepen their understanding and appreciation for the strategic direction, which will be invaluable in helping the creative development process run smoothly.


5.    Strengthen your capabilities to develop a strategically appropriate, single-minded Essential Creative Brief. It takes skill to develop a sound brief. Participate in one of our marketing communication training programs. The Essential Creative Brief, and the development of BIG Campaign Ideas, are the focus of both the ALPS 2 and High Impact Ad College programs. These programs are designed to enhance capabilities through actual skill development. For more information about these training programs please contact us. 


Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney

Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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