Is Your Brand Strategy Model Missing a Creative Brief?

The Evolution of Brand Strategy Shouldn’t Leave Creative Briefs Behind

Insight to Action regularly helps clients develop an integrated brand strategy model, including:

  • brand positioning
  • brand pillars
  • brand equity pyramid
  • brand architecture
  • brand extension zones 

Some examples from Insight to Action work that we’ve written about include McDonald’s, Quaker, Barilla and Tropicana. The brand positioning work is directly translated to a creative brief and to marketing and advertising executions. The execution varies, for instance one of our B2B software clients focused primarily on sales presentations and messaging, while a consumer products sun care brand focused on print advertising, along with digital efforts.   

We have noticed that the creative brief part of the brand strategy model appears to be on the decline. Looking at Google trends over the past 10 years as one measure substantiates this observation.  Searches for the term “creative brief” declined 46% from 2010 and 2020. The decline in “creative brief” searches has been in place over the decade, with a sharp downturn in 2020. Over the same horizon, brand strategy searches rose 36%.  

Is Your Brand Strategy Model Missing a Creative Brief?

Decline in Creative Brief as Part of Brand Strategy Model

We became curious as to why the creative brief part of the brand strategy model would be losing favor, since historically it has been critical.  To learn more, we spoke with experts who have a long-term perspective.

One of the reasons for the decline is the shift to digital marketing, according to experts. Traditionally, TV advertising required a creative brief. The brief was a critical element in the marketer’s brand strategy model. The role of the creative brief was to ensure that the brand marketing team and the agency were aligned on the purpose of the advertising with components such as the customer target, the point of difference, the differentiating benefit, the tonality and brand personality.   

Is Your Brand Strategy Model Missing a Creative Brief?

We had the opportunity to explore these trends with branding expert  Anita Puri, currently EVP and Group Account Director at Leo Burnett. Puri’s branding expertise spans traditional and digital agencies (e.g., Digitas) and client side brand leadership (i.e., PepsiCo, The Ounce of Prevention Fund). Puri made important points:

  1. Brand positioning is critical and not well understood by many of today’s marketers  
  2. Creative briefs have evolved given digital marketing’s ability to drive messaging personalization through the consumer journey

Brand Positioning is a Critical Part of Brand Strategy Model and Not Always Well Understood

Anita Puri expands on her first point:

“A critical element of any effective communications strategy is brand positioning. Without a brand point of view, a lot of brands are lost because they don’t have a firm understanding of who they are. So, how can they effectively communicate their value to a potential consumer?

Today, some marketers don’t understand that. To explain, I ask them to think about how they make their own purchase decisions, i.e., when they go to the store, why do they believe this brand is worth more? I use Quaker versus private label oatmeal as an example. Quaker has convinced people to pay $2 more per box of oatmeal because they trust that brand. Quaker took a commodity (oats) and branded it – they made the Quaker oat special by linking Quaker’s oat to premium quality – the Quaker Oat (not any oat) is a supergrain. The Quaker oat is different. Everything about the brand made it worth it. Your brand positioning helps you focus on what creates differentiation for your brand, and brings emotional and rational value. Your relationships, your spokespeople, partners, and influencers make a difference. They reinforce what your brand stands for by their own values, their followers and their consumers. So it’s critical as you build the brand, to have a clear brand positioning.”

Brand Strategy Model for Creative Briefs Has Evolved

With the shift to all or mainly digital for brands, Puri explained that creative briefs have evolved from being “brand out” to more “customer in.” We have much more data about our consumers’ real-time behaviors that we can use as leverage to develop deeper relationships. 

“We used to do a lot of one-way communication that was brand out. Digital allows us to be consumer in. We use consumer journeys to provide more personalized communications.  Messaging is delivered at the point in time the consumer is in on their path to purchase. A consumer journey is simply a collection of need states mapped from awareness to conversion. The creative brief continues to be critical. We still need to ensure we have a clear message. The brief outlines how we can connect the brand message to the consumer need states. 

For instance, a brand might send out 700 personalized emails/week. The emails are AI-generated, meaning the message a consumer gets is based on their past behaviors (i.e, the content they clicked on before). They are specific to the consumer but still reinforce the overall brand’s positioning/message. We still need a brief to guide our content development connecting our brand message to consumer need. So, the consumer gets the right message, and then we use digital tools to deliver it at the right time.”

Brand Strategy Model with Creative Brief in Audio Branding

Is Your Brand Strategy Model Missing a Creative Brief?

We also spoke with Colleen Fahey, author of Audio Branding and Managing Director of Sixieme Son. Fahey’s expert branding background spans leading brands on the client side (Star Farm) as well as deep agency experience (Publicis, Frankel). Fahey explains:

“To start the composer/sound designers on the right track, you need to pinpoint the core of the brand’s values without adding distracting business data. I find it helps a lot to also include what the brand definitely does not stand for – that gives the creative team clear guardrails.”

Here’s an example of a recent creative brief that Fahey’s team developed:

Sample Creative Brief

Situation:

The company designs and manufactures products used in industries ranging from paper to plastics and textiles to tires. Recent mergers have brought in subsidiaries that use many varied styles of communication, especially in videos. Since company will be the lead brand (“house brand”), the company is in need of tools to aid brand coherence.

Brand

An important aspect of this strategy is making sure the brand is clearly visible, which conveys a unified, focused approach creating an integrated family of materials that support the company as a global leader.

Key Brand Benefits

  • Functional benefit: Innovative technology, products and services linked together to improve industrial process performance.
  • Emotional benefit: Feeling of confidence by going with the experts

Brand Values

Reliability, Innovation, Problem-solving. Expertise that generates trust. Responsiveness. Midwestern values: straightforward, consultative, down-to-earth, approachable

Creative Notes

They don’t sell on low-cost but on being experts. They consider themselves a premium

product. The company doesn’t seek to be at the leading edge in communication but, rather, in the middle of the pack.

Narrative ideas to explore:

  • Duality: Technology with an expert human face
  • Progress: From pieces to a system/from disjointedness to clarity
  • Confidence: From solid foundation to reliable innovation

Primary Usage at Outset:

Rescoring current videos, giving them coherence and distinctive personality. Scoring new videos.

Does your brand strategy model have a creative brief? If not, we urge your branding team to take the time to develop one and to use it to guide the marketing work. If you’d like to learn more about Insight to Action’s brand strategy model, contact us.

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