How to write a “brief –brief.”

Lewis Carol wrote a line that is now quite familiar and perhaps a bit overused, but it is still a suitable warning to those about to embark on a creative marketing project:  “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”   Most clients have a clear vision for their intended communication, but it is often surprising that many do not. David Ogilvy captured the task best when he said: “Give me the freedom of a tight brief.”  The point of course is that the more specific the brief, the more focused the process and the more targeted the results.

In the absence of a tight brief, confusion can set in when too broad a universe of creative solutions is explored. Much has been written about detailed examples of creative briefs, and if you are interested you can download sample templates, but here is my take on how to write a  “brief –brief.”

THE CONTEXT: How did we get here?  What is the relevant background about the company and or product, in a competitive context, that is critical in defining the current and future market opportunity?

THE PURPOSE: What are we trying to achieve and how will we know what success looks like?

THE TARGET: Who is our primary audience and how are we defining them beyond simple demographics into either lifestyle or psychographic segments?

CORE TAKE-A-WAY: If we could talk to people right after they saw our communication what would they remember?

THE SPECIFICS: What are the secondary messages, product offer or other detailed information that needs to be included?
THE TONE: What are the specific brand attributes that will dictate the personality and style of the communication and to what degree do these vary from previous efforts?

THE GIVENS: What decisions have already been made about media scope, timing, budgets, format, etc.

WHAT ELSE:  What other considerations need to be addressed including, operational implications, geographic scope, client management process or internal communications requirements.

It usually takes a couple rounds of revisions to nail the brief, but once you are completed the rest of the creative process should run smoothly. And remember, when you are reviewing the creative work, keep your comments “brief.”

What’s in a Nickname?

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Sin City, Old Faithful, Honest Abe, The Bronx Bombers. These are just a few of the many nicknames that are given to cities, sports teams, historic monuments, celebrities and politicians.  Nicknames are often overlooked as a form of branding, but when they gain traction in popular culture they are powerful and sustainable drivers of reputation.

Nicknames are often earned as a result of an accomplishment or public recognition, for example the USS Constitution earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” for defeating five British warships in the War of 1812 and as a result is now the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel.

Nicknames often drive economic value. Imagine the impact on souvenir sales if N.Y. City did not have all those hats, T-shirts and posters that allow visitors to bring back home a piece of the “Big Apple.” Do you think we would remember “Wild Bill” Hickok today, if had promoted instead his real name, James Butler Hickok. His self-proclaimed moniker quickly caught on with journalists, who exploiting the tales of his prowess as a gunfighter and gambler, apparently to the point of fiction.

Nicknames, unlike advertising tag lines can’t be forced into existence, but none-the less, some companies have been able to capitalize on them. While not that common, there are a select group of companies that have been blessed with a nickname that is a form of cultural flattery.  When people call Target “Targé they are proudly poking fun at the fact that a mass market retailer can actually have style.  Perhaps the greatest example of a corporate nickname is  “Big Blue,” a globally recognized moniker for IBM that echoes the scale and capability of one of the world’s most successful companies.   It’s hard to imagine that anyone in the C-suite at IBM objects to its use and in fact more likely they see it as a branded asset that needs deserves to be managed for financial value. The term was originated by security analysts who based it on IBM’s repeated use of the color blue in product packaging, sales materials and the company logo.  In 2006 the company actively deployed a reference to the nickname with the launch of Secure Blue, a low-cost hardware design for data encryption.  From a trademark standpoint, imagine how difficult it would be for HP to challenge the name of any product from IBM that uses the word blue.

The implication for corporate brands is to certainly not fight against the emergence of a company nickname, but instead to try to encourage the widespread use of what amounts to a  term of corporate endearment that is free and may surprisingly outlast any paid investment in reputation building.