Why The Brief Still Matters

New channels, tactics and tech have changed the way marketing teams operate. Influenced by Silicon Valley’s dominance, modern marketers have adopted mantras like “bias to action,” “agile” and “test & learn.” And rightly so; in these fast-changing times, a nimble, data-informed mode of working makes perfect sense.

And yet, alongside these fresh tools and processes, a much older one endures: The brief. It’s been the cornerstone of brand-agency interaction for decades. A strategic baton passed from planners to creatives. Even as the world around it has changed, it has remained. 

Most of us still pay lip service to the necessity of a brief. But the truth is, we often struggle with it. It can feel cumbersome. Bureaucratic. Out of step with our fast-paced, action-oriented working lives. We might even end up asking ourselves: Are briefs worth the trouble?

That would be a mistake. Because, despite everything that’s changed in the last decade or so, a well-oiled briefing process remains an essential part of any high-performing marketing engine. 



Here are five reasons why briefs still matter:

1. Balancing Thinking and Doing

With so much focus now being placed on speed and execution, strategy has become something of a dirty word in many modern marketing departments. During our frenzy to “ship, ship, ship,” we reserve little time for thinking. But thoughtlessness can have serious negative consequences. A strong briefing process—updated for these fast-moving times and baked into the modern marketing workflow—helps ensure a healthy balance between thinking and doing. It forces teams to step back, look at the big picture and connect the dots and reminds people to stop and consider some important questions before jumping into action. 

2. Forcing Teams to Pick a Lane

A thoughtfully-designed brief template forces marketing teams to make decisions that are difficult but necessary. Marketing planning, after all, is essentially an exercise in informed decision-making. And with so many channels and tactics to choose from, these decisions aren’t getting in any easier. Briefs are a helpful reminder that good marketing comes from picking a lane and sticking to it. 

3. Building Decision Muscles

Marketers make or break their early careers based on their production output. Doing, not thinking. But as they move up the ranks, things shift. New talents are required: Strategic decision-making skills, a broad capacity for ambiguity and complexity, the ability to make calculated bets and take responsibility for their outcome. A robust briefing process helps ensure that employees at all levels develop their decision-making muscles early—long before they must apply them to bigger business decisions.  

4. Working Through Healthy Tensions Early On

As marketers come to rely more on data and automation, the complexity of human consensus-building can seem jarring by contrast. The briefing workflow—with its approval rounds and checkpoints—helps to work through this tension. When multiple stakeholders with divergent priorities are forced to input, refine and approve a single brief, conflicts are surfaced early and expensive hiccups later in the process are prevented. 

5. A Single Yardstick

Evaluating design and creativity is still highly subjective. Having all parties approve a brief in advance provides a helpful reference that focuses reviews on strategy alignment rather than personal taste.

The briefing process may not be the most head-turning component of anyone’s marketing engine, but it is an essential part of any high-performing team. If briefs have lost their luster, it may be time to give the briefing process a fresh look. Taking the time to assess what’s working and what isn’t and looking for ways to improve things is a great way for marketing teams to take advantage of all the benefits a finely-tuned briefing process can bring.

1 comment about "Why The Brief Still Matters".
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  1. PJ Lehrer from NYU, June 1, 2017 at 10:22 a.m.

    I couldn't agree more.  Without briefs too many advertisers are focusing on tactical engagements that fail to translate into sales.  I teach all my students how to write briefs.  And have included the info in my book, available here...

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