The Why and How On Developing A Powerful Communication Brief (Part II)

Submitted by Kip on Wed, 10/13/2010

This is Part II of a two-part blog that explains what a communication brief is, why it’s important and what it contains. I’d like to thank Norm Levy from P&G for teaching me these principles when I was in brand management as well as his continuing teaching of these ideas at the U.S. Marketing Communication College.

In Part I of this blog entry, I described what a Communication Brief is and reviewed part of what’s in it (i.e. Project Description, Target Audience, Specific Objective, Background/Competitive environment and Consumer Insights).

In Part II, I’d like to explain what’s in a Communication Strategy and how to write a good one, as well as describe what’s included in the rest of a well-written Communication Brief. To recap from Part I, here’s what’s included in a Communication Brief:

  • Project Description
  • Target Audience
  • Specific Objective
  • Background/Competitive environment
  • Consumer Insights
  • Communication Strategy
    • Benefit
    • Reason to Believe
    • Brand Character
  • Media Channels
  • Measurement Criteria
  • Critical Timing
  • Approvals

Let’s pick it up with the Communication Strategy. A Communication Strategy identifies the basis upon which we expect our target audience to “buy our product” in preference to competition.

Over the long term, this helps build “message equity” over time (think BMW and “The Ultimate Driving Machine”). In the short term, it provides clear direction for creative people and provides a common basis upon which to evaluate creative work.

There are three key parts of a Communication Strategy (and at P&G this is the basis for its three paragraph format they’ve used for decades in spelling this out for their global brands):

  • Benefit – what are you promising your brand will do for your target?
  • Reason to Believe – why should your target believe you can deliver this promise consistently over time?
  • Brand Character – if your brand personality was described in three words, what would those words be?

Benefit - Benefits are what your target wants, not just what a product is or does (that’s called a feature). Benefits can be logical or emotional. For example, my iPad has a number of different features (i.e. lightweight, boots up fast, connects to WiFi, etc) while the benefit of owning an iPad can be both rational (i.e. saves time and effort) as well as emotional (i.e. it makes me feel special). The strategic question is which benefit do I want to emphasize to my target that’s going to be motivating to them?

You should focus on communicating a primary benefit, since a big mistake many brand managers make it to include too many benefits in their communication strategy. Be careful not to create a list of benefits instead of focusing on the most important one. If you can’t make the tough decision on what to focus on in your benefit statement, what makes you think you’ll be able to do this when it comes to developing creative?

Reason To Believe – The “reason to believe” provides meaningful information that helps convince the target audience they can believe you in deliverying the promised benefit consistently. There are several different ways in which you can create a “reason to believe”, including endorsements from a respected authority (such as when the American Dental Associated endorsed Crest), mechanism of action (such as how a product works), product attribute or ingredient (such as “Intel Inside”).

If your product or service is demonstrably different or unique versus the competition, that’s an even better “reason to believe”. A well known example of this is KFC with its famous “secret blend of eleven herbs and spices”.

Brand Character - This is the personality of your brand – your brand’s “spirit”. A well-defined Brand Character represents an additional opportunity to establish enduring distinctiveness for your message in competitive environment.

You shouldn’t use more than three words to describe your brand’s character. Why? Because the more words you use, the more difficult it will be to create a message that’s consistent with this character. Brand character is important…it directly affects message development in everything from your message’s wording, casting, style, situations, music, etc.

What are some examples of Brand Character statements? Here are some for some popular brands (and yes, celebrities and entertainers are "brands" too):

  • Apple – playful, innovative, energetic
  • BMW – powerful, serious, intelligent
  • Tide – focused, approachable, supportive
  • Eminem – irreverent, fearless, fighter

Media Channels – When I worked as a brand manager at P&G, the choice of a media channel typically meant one thing: television (typically network TV). Today the choices are numerous….everything from TV, radio, print, social media, mobile, cinema advertising, paid keywords, etc.

So the first question you should ask about media channels is simply this: “Where does my target spend their time?”. Another way of thinking about this is to “fish where the fish are”. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to air your message on network television (even if you can afford it) if your target is spending more of their time on social networks and less on network television programs.

Since your target’s media habits are changing faster in the past two years than they’ve ever changed before (due to the growth of social media), you and your team need to take the time to figure out what this means to your media plans. Media planning today is more complex than ever. It’s important to have the discipline to figure out the best way to allocate your available spending to reach your target in the most effective and efficient way possible.

One question I'd expect to hear based on this blog is how someone can apply a communication brief for media channels in which you don’t really control the “message” (such as social media)?  I believe the answer is that while the amount of influence you have on a social media campaign is certainly a lot less than that of a one-way mass media campaign (such as a TV commercial), there are still many aspects of a communication brief you still should agree on and implement (such as overall objective, target audience, key benefit, reason to believe, etc.) if you want to create an effective marketing campaign.

Measurement Criteria – When all your work is done on your messaging campaign, how are you going to measure your success? There’s a plethora of ways of doing this, including:

  • Share of market
  • Awareness level
  • Trial level
  • Number of cases sold
  • Number of followers/fans
  • Total sales or revenue

There is no “right” or “wrong” answer to what the right meausrement criteria to use is – it depends on a number of factors as well as what your investors or management is expecting from your efforts. But you need to agree on how you’re going measure, whatever it is, before your communication effort gets underway, since without this it’s going to be impossible to determine if all your efforts were worth it.

Critical Timing - This is a section you’ll want to include if you’re developing a campaign with a key kickoff date. If you’re working on a new marketing campaign, what’s the timeline involved in getting it done? What are the critical milestones that have to be met? Often times this is an overlapping timeline, so it’s important to make sure all the parties are aware of who’s doing what by when so you’ll be able to launch your campaign on a timely basis.

Approvals – This section should spell out exactly who’s going to be approving the creative for this campaign (if creative is being developed for broadcast, such as a print ad, TV commercial, radio spot, etc). It’s important to the entire team to clarify who’s the real “client” is, so don’t let this be a mystery. Spell out who’s got the ultimate responsibility for reviewing and approving the work.

While other person’s points of view are interesting and should be considered in reviewing any proposed creative, the communication brief should be very clear on who’s going to give the final “yes” or “no” on all creative work.

Summary - I hope you’ll put these best practices in developing a communication brief to work, regardless of the branded product or service you’re working on.  If you do, I’m confident you’ll get faster creative development because your direction will be clear, you’ll get better focused messaging because priorities are clear and you’ll get more distinctive messaging because the “character” is clear.

But most important, you’ll increase the odds of a successful outcome in getting your target audience to understand and support your strategic message. And isn’t that what we’re all trying to achieve?

I’d welcome your comments on anything you’d add or subtract to what should be in communication brief. “Real world” examples would be especially appreciated.

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