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How to write a creative brief that’s crystal clear

A good brief can make or break a creative project.

In this complete guide, we’ll explain how creative briefs work and reveal the 9 things your next brief needs to include to be effective. Better yet, we’ll also share a free creative brief template—so you can get the ball rolling on your next project.

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A creative brief is a document that outlines the creative requirements of a project. These briefs are common in advertising or marketing, but also in video production and graphic design.

Getting creative briefs prepared correctly is vital—without a clear brief, missing deadlines is one of the major risks. Projects can also go over budget, target the wrong audience, or not hit the mark. 

Still not worried? Well, research from Deloitte shows that being late, over budget, or failing to deliver to specifications happens 42% of the time!

What should a good creative brief include?

Most creative briefs contain the following sections.

1. Project title and description

This is like the elevator pitch of the project, a clear breakdown of what you’re going to do. Be bold to grab people’s attention—and deliver an energetic, motivating title so they’re keen to learn more.

For example, imagine a hotel launching low-cost rooms—they might use a title like the “Book Beds at Better Prices Campaign.” Feel free to let your mind wander.

2. Objectives and priorities

This section adds concrete goals into your brief. Answer the questions:

  • Why is the project necessary?
  • What problem will it solve?
  • What is the timeline of the project?
  • What are the milestones of the project?
  • What is the project’s budget?
  • What will success look like?

When you have multiple objectives, you can prioritize them in the brief by ranking the objectives based on their importance or urgency—this clearly indicates the top priorities.

Visual cues like highlighting, numbering, or a distinct format for the primary objectives are other ways to do this. 

An explanation of the prioritization can help stakeholders understand the reasoning behind the chosen order too.

Using these answers, establish some goals. Using our hotel example, you might decide on “Reach 10,000 people over 3 months and book 500 rooms each month.”

Not sure where to start?

Use the GET / WHO / TO / BY template to narrow things down. It’s great for getting specific goals from nebulous ideas. Learn more in this post on LinkedIn by strategy trainer Julian Cole.

3. Target audience

You’ve hopefully already identified your company or product’s target audience, but your project may have a more defined target. By defining your target audience within your creative brief, you help the producers to understand how to adjust their deliverables toward what that audience wants or needs.

Different audiences have different priorities and needs. For example, a middle-aged parent has different needs than a young single person. Here’s an illustration that shows the contrast in values:

  Middle-aged parents Young single people
Priorities Parents want to ensure the well-being and upbringing of their children. Young people more often focus on building a career, personal growth, and development.

Parents want family-friendly homes with access to quality education, healthcare, and child-friendly environments.

Young people want affordable and convenient living spaces, with access to job markets, social activities, and more recreational activities.

Financial goals

Parents finances focus on their children's future, retirement planning, and insurance coverage for dependent family members.

Young, single people use their money for personal expenses, short-term savings goals, and more risky investment opportunities.

Use of time

Parents time is dedicated to work, parenting responsibilities, involvement in school activities, and family outings.

Young persons time usually centers on career development, personal hobbies, socializing, and pursuing their interests.

This lets you create an audience persona, which is a representation of the group who are the ideal target for the creative brief. Tailoring messages to a persona helps them resonate more.

It’s a generalization, but it shows how different people have different needs—and that your creative brief or project has to focus on them, or it’s not going to suit your target audience.

Think about the following to help define your audience:

  • Age, gender, income, profession, and other demographic identifiers
  • How these people like to buy and use products or services, like on impulse or after planning
  • Their position in the buying cycle, such as ready to buy or thinking about it
  • Platforms the audience uses, like physical/digital media—or both

You need an accurate persona that matches your dream client, which helps you tailor each aspect of your creative project toward them.

4. Competitor analysis

Look at an enviable example of a winning marketing campaign in your sector.

If you’re a luxury hotel, you might look at aspirational brands like Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons—or low-cost brands like Holiday Inn or Best Western if you’re not.

When analyzing competitors, think about the following:

  • What do they do well?
  • What can they improve upon?
  • What parts of their campaign are similar to yours?
  • How is your campaign different from theirs?

The point of competitor analysis is to find areas where you can beat the competition. A simple example is comparing company logos during a graphic design brief.

5. Core messaging and tone of voice

Solid tone and messaging can set you apart from your competition. The key is to know what your audience feels deep down—so you can tap into that emotion and trigger a response.

So how do you do that? Ways to develop a suitable tone of voice include:

  • Understanding your audience’s communication style/language, interests, and what resonates with them
  • Focusing on brand characteristics that align with the personality of your audience—like being playful/active vs authoritative/professional
  • Choosing vocabulary, sentence structure, or tone that lines up with your audience—a youthful audience may appreciate casual language, while an older audience might prefer a formal tone

The tone takes more work to pin down, but messaging is all about the facts. If you want people to book a room, buy a ticket, or something else—the messaging is just telling people how to do it.

Remember, departments need to work together to keep the tone and messaging consistent and on brand during a project.

6. Deliverables for the brief

You need to list the deliverables precisely, including the dimensions for digital and physical ads or any other variations. See this example of deliverables in a creative brief:

“Five ads for social media, using assets from our photo/video library and custom messaging for different regions, with resolutions of 250x250 500x500, 1000x1000, 1200x1200, 1500x1500.”

You can then assign deliverables. The stakeholders in your creative brief might look like this:

  • Creative team and copywriters, for ad copy, and taglines targeting each region
  • Design team, for graphic design, file creation, and version control
  • Marketing head, for pushing ads live and quality assurance (QA)

The deliverables section ensures accountability and lowers the chance of any errors. The more precise your deliverables are, the smoother they are to create!

7. Call to action

Define your call to action (CTA). What is the creative brief trying to get people to do? It might be to click through to a page, complete a form, or something else. Whatever it is, nail it down.

It’s okay to have multiple CTAs, but rank them in priority order and keep your main CTA at the forefront of your brief.

8. Rollout and distribution channels

At this point, you need to determine where your brief will end up. This might be platforms like Twitter or LinkedIn, but also email campaigns or TV ads.

Choose platforms depending on your target audience—and make sure they fit. For example—many older audiences are on Facebook, whereas TikTok is popular (mostly) for younger people.

9. Sharing the finished brief

The final step is sharing the brief and resolving queries before the work starts, which deals with problems before they arise.

Using tools like Dropbox Capture allows you to take screenshots, GIFs, and recordings of your screen—or add notes and annotations to more easily collaborate on a brief.

Share, collaborate, and create your winning brief with Dropbox.

A person drags a window and clicks a button to record, edit, and share a screen recording using Dropbox Capture.

What does a creative brief look like? Use the free Dropbox Paper template

To see a brief and start working, use the free Creative brief template in Dropbox Paper and share it with your team. You’ll get a reliable writing experience, which will help you get the best results.

Got other projects in the pipeline? Browse our templates for help with many kinds of work. You can try Dropbox Paper for free and start creating your next creative brief in a few clicks.

Creative brief FAQs

What are the different types of creative briefs?

Creative briefs exist across all industries but are most common in advertising, graphic design, video production, or photography.

Why should you use a creative brief, are they necessary?

Creative briefs are necessary for planning a creative project, which prevents delays, miscommunication, and other hassles.

Is there a shorter version of a creative brief?

Creative briefs are only 1 or 2 pages, but you can use the GET / WHO / TO / BY template or your title and description as a summary too.

How do you keep creative briefs secure?

Sharing using Dropbox is the best way to keep your creative briefs and other sensitive data secure. See our security features page for more detail.

Still don’t know where to start with your creative brief? Struggling to come up with ideas? Check out ‘How to streamline your creative process and save time’ for a dose of inspiration.

How to write a creative brief with Dropbox

Creative briefs outline a project before the work begins. The plan goes from the general to the specific, delivering a top-down view of the creative process—this will serve as a working guide.

It’s important to get a creative brief right to stay on time and within budget. You now have all you need to get writing, including a free template, and our expert guide.

Dropbox Paper is the ideal tool for collaborating, sharing, and presenting your brief. You can sign up and try it for free, along with other great Dropbox products today!