Cracking the Client Brief: Questions You Need to Ask

The client briefing process can often feel like an information overload with a variety of goals, background information, and audience insights, which makes it necessary for agencies to distill the information into a clear, actionable, and measurable plan. At a time when agency fees are often dictated by performance, it’s necessary to get clarity in such a complex process.

Establishing the business objective should be the first priority. In the book, Spending Advertising Money in the Digital Age, Hamish Pringle and Jim Marshall recommend uncovering the core of the business objective by treating it like a bridge. At one end, you should ask the question “where are we now?” and at the other end, “where do we want to be?” This approach should clarify what the client is trying to achieve so the agency can develop a plan that gets the brand from start to finish. Keep in mind that this is just the beginning of your brief investigation. According to Merry Baskin, founder of Baskin Shark, more than half of client briefs change once work has begun, so it’s imperative that you gather as much information as possible from the beginning. To ensure you have everything you need, Pringle and Marshall outlined key questions you’ll want your brief to answer and Baskin highlighted details to interrogate before you embark on your journey. Here is a breakdown of their questions and best practices:

Where are we now?

  • In other words, what phase of life is our brand starting from? Is it new, mature, growing or shrinking? Additionally, you’ll want to know how the brand compares competitively in terms of price, distribution, market share and consumer attitudes.

Note: This is your opportunity to uncover any business skeletons so you can understand the level of the challenge. Make sure these questions give you the business background, context, brand history, and current standings so you get a sense of your starting point.

Where do you want to be?

  • This question should help reveal the client’s business, marketing, and behavioral goals. It’s necessary to distinguish the difference between these three and understand how the behavioral and marketing objectives ladder up to the business objective. Here are some examples of each of these objectives:

Business objective: Grow net sales by x%

Marketing objective: Drive frequency by x% in target audience

Behavioral objective: Build brand awareness for more frequent consideration and trial

You should also gain a firm understanding of the distribution of your brand so you know what channels will have the greatest influence.

Note: Beware of generic language. Words like “brave” or “innovative” are often vague. Ask your client for an explanation of what that word means or a comparison so you understand the degree of the request.

What are we doing to get there?

  • What marketing strategies is the client implementing to get to where they want to be? Are they changing the packaging or launching a mobile app? Of all of the marketing activities, which ones are the most important? Understanding the key marketing activities will help inform the media needed to support the strategy.

Who do we need to talk to?

  • This question should help identify the target audience you would like to influence. Segmentation and demographic research will help refine your audience, but it’s necessary to explore how you will communicate with them:

How often? Frequency of your messaging will be dependent on factors such as how often your competitors push out their messaging, the level of interest in the product, and the purchase cycle of the product.

Where? Determine the locations that are most relevant to your audience.

When? Timing could be based on the availability of your product (i.e. seasonality) and when your audience will be most receptive to your messaging (i.e. meal planning late Sunday afternoon)

How? Identify the channels your audience interacts with the most so you can figure out which ones will most effectively communicate your.

Note: Make sure you know whether you are influencing your audience’s behavior or attitude. Once you know the change you need to make, figure out how much money you have to make that change and how much time you have to make it happen. This will help you prioritize your tactics.

How will we know when we have arrived?

  • Have a measurement plan in place to compare the time before and after the campaign as well as a clear understanding of how your goals will be quantified.

Note: Make sure to have a measure for when things aren’t going to plan. This will be your temperature check in case something needs to be adjusted.

You may notice that these questions are reminiscent of Stephen King’s “Planning Cycle”, which were created to inform the brief writing process in the late 1960s.

Although these questions still hold true, Pringle, Hamish, and Baskin maintain the relevancy of these questions by applying them to the evolving digital landscape. As the space continues to change you may need to modify this list, but keep these in your back pocket for the next client briefing.