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What is a creative brief? 4 key things you ought to know

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Draft custom proposals with creative briefs using templates from Bonsai.
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Updated on:
December 11, 2022
December 11, 2022
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Draft custom proposals with creative briefs using templates from Bonsai.
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So you’ve landed a new contract for a creative project after drafting a winning scope of work template - congratulations! Whether you’re designing a logo, a website, a series of social media graphics or even a video, the first thing you have to do is understand what your new client needs.

Figuring out where to start on a new creative project can be daunting. Whether it’s your first or 100th project, you will always have new questions about what your client expects. A creative brief is a great way to set those expectations in a clear, mutually-agreed-upon way -- but what is a creative brief, exactly, and what is the best approach to writing one?

1. What is a creative brief?

The official definition of a creative brief, according to the Business Dictionary, is:

“A document produced by a requesting party to be used by professionals operating within an inventive field to produce various useful deliverables.”

Let’s break that down a little bit in a less technical way. What is a creative brief, and when might you need one?

Think about your creative brief as a map for your creative project. It should outline all of the information you need to get from point A (the client’s briefing) to point B (the delivery of the project).

A creative brief may be provided to you in advance of a creative project. This is particularly true if you’re working as a contractor for a large design agency, or if your client has worked with freelance designers before and is familiar with the process. However, sometimes you’ll also want (and need) to prepare a creative brief yourself.

Don’t be fooled by the name “creative”: there are no creative deliverables in your creative brief. Instead, the brief covers everything your client wants you to communicate, without specifically outlining what your deliverables will look like.

Your creative brief should be sent to the client after you’ve already signed your freelance contract (use Bonsai's online signature maker to sign documents electronically), to ensure you’re not investing too much time and effort in a project that might not actually be confirmed.

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2. Why you should use a creative brief

Once you understand how to write an inspired creative brief, you’ll never look back. Creative briefs offer the perfect solution to delivering a project both you and your client will be happy with. Here are just some of the benefits of writing a creative brief:

  1. It ensures you’re all on the same page. Your creative brief can give you the peace of mind that you’re working on deliverables your client actually wants, and according to guidelines that they’re happy with.
  2. It’s a constant source of reference. Your creative brief allows you to keep all the information you need in one place. You can refer back to it over and over again, rather than reaching out to the client every week for missing information.
  3. It helps you deliver a better product. Because you have the information you need to back up your decisions, you can be confident that you’ve done a great job and produced something that will resonate with your client’s audience and market.
  4. It will strengthen your client relationships. Sending a creative brief shows your client that you really want to understand what they’re looking for and deliver something they’ll love, helping you build your reputation as a freelancer and establish lasting client relationships.

Consider making writing a creative brief part of your regular creative process. Be sure to include the estimated time costs for creating the brief in your freelance proposals.


3. How to write an inspired creative brief

Now that you know what it is, it’s time to figure out how to write a creative brief. The process will vary depending on the nature and scope of the creative project, but here are some general guidelines to follow.

3.1. Know what questions to ask

Before you write your creative brief, you’ll need to get some extra information from your client, for example under the form of a logo design questionnaire. You can, of course, refer back to the job posting -- but chances are you’re going to have to ask some additional questions.

There’s a lot of crossover between the questions you ask when writing a creative brief as for when you’re preparing a branding questionnaire. In general, though, here are some questions to ask:

  • What is the company’s background? (i.e. their market, history, goals)
  • Please summarize the project: what is it that you need?
  • What are your goals and objectives?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • What makes you stand out from your competitors?
  • How will you measure the success of the project?

3.2. Know what questions not to ask

On the other hand, there are certain questions that shouldn’t be included when writing a creative brief. Mainly, you don’t want to encourage the client to provide too much direction on the creative side of things. Remember that you’re the expert in this area, not them, and if they provide too much guidance (for example, on what colors, fonts or images they like), it may stunt your own creativity.

It doesn’t hurt to ask for a style guide or brand bible to make sure that what you’re coming up with is going to reflect the rest of the client’s branding; however, it’s still important to be creative and inspired. After all, that’s what the client is paying you for!

Now is also not the time to talk about things like budget or deliverables. This should have been decided on when you finalized your freelance proposal.

3.3. Present the information in a clear way

Now that you’ve asked all the most important questions, you need to understand how to write a creative brief you can send over to your client for approval before proceeding with your project.

A survey of clients showed that 53% of C-level executives found most creative briefs to be lacking in focus, while 27% found them to be incomplete and inconsistent. Don’t be one of these statistics. Instead, make sure that you take the information your client gives you and narrow it down in a succinct, concrete and clear way.

Don’t use ambiguous or flowery language - instead, try to use the same words your client did in their answers - and don’t make things too complicated. This will get easier in time as you perfect your process.

3.4. Keep it short

When asking “what is a creative brief?”, one of the most important answers is: concise. Even though it needs to be detailed enough to cover all your bases, a creative brief should be simple and short. General practice is that a creative brief is one to two pages.

Keep this in mind when preparing your questions. You’ll want to ask all the necessary questions to get the information you need, but don’t be repetitive or ask for too much detail. Offer just enough space for your client to answer the question succinctly and nothing else -- you don’t want them to ramble on and on.

3.5. Use a template - but change it up

At Bonsai, we believe freelancers should do everything they can to make their processes easier. That’s why we’ve created tools that make it easy for you to create freelance invoices, contracts, and proposals with professional-looking templates.

You can apply these same principles when writing a creative brief. Especially if you’re going to be using creative briefs as part of your process down the road, consider creating a template that you can duplicate for your projects. Just make sure that you go through your template each time and change out sections or details depending on the project at hand.


4. What sections to include in a creative brief

The sections you include in your creative brief will depend on the scope of your project; however, here are five sections you should consider including each time.

4.1. The business

This section will cover who your client is, what their story is (i.e. a brief company history), what makes them unique from their competitors, and what their goals and objectives are. Essentially everything you need to know about the company in order to do the job properly.

4.2. The market

This section will cover your client’s competitors, the industry and market they’re operating in, how long they’ve been in that market, and any external factors that are influencing that market right now. Consider doing a SWOT analysis to get the full pictures.

4.3. The product

This section will cover what it is the creative project is responsible for advertising or promoting. Whenever relevant, that might also include the product or service’s price, where it’s going to be promoted (for example, on billboards or on social media), what stage of the product life cycle it’s in, and the benefits it offers its users.

4.4. The audience

This section will cover the audience that’s going to be seeing your creative deliverables, or who you’re going to be communicating to. Be sure to ask questions about their demographic and psychographic details, and consider including a brief customer persona if applicable. You’ll also want to ask about what they already think of the brand as well as their frustrations, emotions, and motivations.

4.5. The deliverables

Finally, this key section will outline what you are expected to deliver and the timeline for the project. You can also include information on the goals associated with those deliverables (i.e. why the client wants them), how they’re going to be used, and how they’re going to be evaluated for success.

You’ve got clarity - now go create!

Understanding what is a creative brief and how to write one is a great first step in delivering a fantastic creative project. It helps you make sure that both you and your client are on the same page when it comes to what you’re going to create for them, and gives you a reference document that you can refer back to whenever you need clarity or inspiration.

When it comes to sharing the creative brief with your client and communicating with them in a professional way, consider using Bonsai’s suite of freelancer tools. You can try it for free today - just click here to start your trial.

Draft custom proposals with creative briefs using templates from Bonsai.
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