Are you briefing your digital creative team wrong?

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Are you briefing your digital creative team wrong?

That depends on how you approach your creative brief. If you are writing it from an advertising perspective, chances are you are.

A typical creative brief structure these days captures

  • Key insight about the target group
  • "What are they thinking today" statement
  • "What do we want them to think" statement, and as the core line
  • A smart, distinctive Big Idea or catalyst, that moves consumers from their current thinking to the desired thinking

The briefs are designed to look at the challenge at hand and have the solution then rolled out across a variety of media channels. Which works nicely. At least it used to until the Internet grew up to be a serious brand interaction platform.

In a world where most consumer interactions are rapidly taking place in complex digital ecosystems, they engage with brands on a much more intimate level. Digital is not just another communications channel anymore that can serve as a message carrier. Digital finally is an environment where people—aka customers—experience, consume, create, play with, re-purpose, re-format, share content, etc.

Yet, most creative briefs ignore digital's ubiquitous nature and mix it in with the other, less interactive kind. The typical reasoning is that in order to find the best solution for a communications challenge, you should think "platform-agnostic." Which sounds like a good idea, but it means—as the word says—not believing (being "agnostic") in one specific platform and its inherent dynamic. In short, it means ignoring the very forces at work that are at the core of what drives consumer interaction in a digital world.

How did we get into this situation? By sticking to the guns we know and creating briefs for advertising, rather than looking at the potential of digital and writing creative briefs for experiences.

In order to create digital marketing that works, we need to build relevant scenarios, situations and experiences for consumers and have them discover a message in a—more or less—guided way. Take the gripping, user-guided Halo 3-tour through a battlefield still that prepared players for the new game experience (kudos, AKQA):

Or the simple but effective Fedex Launch a Package application that let users shoot packages with a digital gift to a friend on facebook (well done, us)

Launch a Package
Launch a Package

Those relevant experiences come much more easily to life in creative briefs whose big ideas live off of the very essence of the digital medium, who are platform-orthodox.

Look at it from a football perspective: A traditional advertising quarterback (planner) has to throw the ball (key insight) down the playing field (the media) in a way that any of his receivers (media-agnostic creatives) can catch it and get past the defenders (consumer skepticism) to score a touchdown (purchase/client love/Cannes Lion); while a digital media quarterback throws his ball to the wide receiver (digital creative) who sidesteps the defense in a well-trained move (thanks to a medium specific user behavior insight). The receiver then doesn't just cross the touch down line (conversion/client love/cyber lion) but passes the ball on to the fans in the stadium who then (going viral) start a Mexican wave that is shared with anyone around the globe who likes football (thanks to YouTube and Facebook).

The media industry's new darling, social media, adds this additional layer to digital experience building, which, too, needs to be considered in a creative brief to plan the marketing impact correctly.

Doing digital briefing right requires that planners know about user interests, needs and most importantly behaviors in a variety of online and mobile media, as well as understanding the technical potential of the medium in order to be able to move from a communications/advertising brief to an experience/discovery brief.

Making that kind of mind shift won't be easy for advertising agencies. Leo Tolstoy found the right words a while ago: "The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him."

The challenge for Madison Avenue will clearly be to start looking at the world with fresh eyes.

Dominik Von Jan is the Director Strategic Planning, for Atmosphere Proximity in New York

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