Digital strategy and the creative brief

Faris asks a good question on his blog; I answer here

Faris Yakob posted the question on his blog today.  What should he talk about at next week’s Making Digital Work NYC workshop? Someone (that may have been me) labeled his presentation Strategy for the Post-Digital Age, which as Faris suggests is a bit of a presumptuous title.

Yes, I followed some of Iain Tait’s presentation at CaT where he admonished the term, reminded us that digital anything is still brand new, and pointed out that any such label is totally contrived, created primarily by marketers and ad agencies to distinguish new media from old media when in fact consumers rarely assign such tags. Consumers don’t think about whether content, entertainment and utility is analog, digital, mobile or physical. They just consume it. Or use it. I suppose that Duke Ellington’s categorization of music applies here, too. There’s just good and bad anything.

But back to Faris’s question. There are still a whole lot of us who have to make stuff, think up cool ideas, execute them and make sure they get seen and used. In the old days, we mostly crafted messages. Brands were successful in their marketing if they got noticed and remembered. But that’s harder to do today.  In a digital, interactive world, brands and their content have to be useful. If they’re to get talked about they need to be interesting. When they do both those things well – and, of course, make a great product or deliver a valued service — people might actually like them. And that’s a good thing.

So what is the strategy, the brief, the input that inspires work and ideas when we need to: generate awareness, earn interest, create interaction, invite participation, stimulate word-of-mouth, be accessible, stay memorable and engender loyalty?

What’s the objective when it’s obvious we need to increase sales but the real question is how?

What do we make if the end product isn’t a message to be consumed but an idea to be engaged?

And how many different things do we need to say, do, invent and build if we’re to succeed in an age when time is scarce and attention is scarcer?

For years we’ve been writing strategies and crafting briefs designed to reduce a target audience to a single motivating insight and produce a single unifying message platform. Typically it’s based on a consumer’s relationship to a category (cars, beer, jeans, toothpaste) and perception of a brand (Chevy, Molson, Levi’s, Crest).  We then try and change it with a clever headline or provocative image and, if we’re lucky, with enough money to be unavoidable.

Time now to re-invent the brief. Make it relevant to the way consumers use technology, media, social networks and community. Think of it as a blueprint to inspire new content, utility, products, services and behaviors.

I’m guessing even Faris won’t have that all figured out by next week. But if he can open our eyes a little wider, inspire us with perspectives we haven’t considered, and offer a few suggestions, it will be, as Faris himself likes to say, awesome.

Other links:

The brief in the post-digital age: Gareth Kay.  Gareth was one of the creators of the workshop and gave this presentation at previous sessions.

Register for BDW’s Workshop


A one-page brief with a "single point to communicate" is as sure-fire way to create a thin communications solution.

Current era strategists can't just be brief writers, they need to develop some of the solution to the client's problem - i.e. the objective of the campaign / program - and be able to convey that to / with the rest of the team. Why? because they bring business acumen to the mix.

And tech's can't be the guys who are told to build it. They have to be involved early too

Therefore the agency of the future is set up to iteratively solve problems, not just hand a piece of paper to the "creatives" to hash out a killer solution. So really its not a small change but in fact a big one - that the creative department is the entire agency, not just the AD's / CW's.

The document that drives that? A hybrid project / creative brief, solution spec, strategy, built earlier on in the process.I don't have the answer but sure am looking forward to seeing the focus on the much vaunted brief go bye bye.


The one thing I always ask people to change is instead of saying "what do we want to tell them" or "what do we want them to think/do", use "what can we DO for them?" A simple change that tends to elicit ideas that let a brand behave rather than just talk at people. It's also crucial to have a list of engagement points in the brief to start off from -- channels/vehicles that are used by the audience, or that are especially important from a competitive perspective -- so you don't wind up with a bunch of wild posting ideas and installations that are lovely but don't deliver on any goals. Faris, you already know that this is what I think, so I don't imagine it's helpful. ;) But - it is a small change that even the biggest agency should be able to make, and getting things from the slideshare/blog post to a point of action is what really matters, right?