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How to write an awesome creative brief

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Over the years, we’ve responded to a fair few creative brief processes. Like all agencies, we’ve won some and lost some. But the true value of the experience comes down to what we’ve learned from the process. That’s why we’ve put together this article on the value of writing a collaborative creative brief (sometimes referred to as pitch brief, the language often depends on the project and the client).


A creative brief confession  

Now we could say that winning new business is 100% down to the awesome people at Fifty Five and Five, but that wouldn’t be strictly true. Our most successful proposals have been the result of clients that have been entirely open and fully supportive of a collaborative process to get the best outcome.

Whether you’re a client looking for a new agency, or an agency wanting to improve your pitch-win ratio, this article provides advice for both sides of the fence.

We’ve boiled it down to several key aspects that make up the best type of client-agency partnerships when it comes to a creative brief:

  • Research
  • Transparency
  • Collaboration
  • Evaluation and feedback

With that in mind, let’s start exploring how to make the pitch experience a win-win for all.

Do your research

Client: Finding the right talent, chemistry and shared culture and values with an agency is no easy task. Do your research – know who you want to pitch for your business. Find the experts in your field. For example, Fifty Five and Five is a perfect fit for a B2B tech brand. A bit of time spent here will save effort later weeding our agencies that were never going to fit.

Agency: It makes no sense to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way. Inevitably, you’ll end up overstretching your teams, ignoring your existing clients and creating a culture of pitch complacency. Have a scorecard that you evaluate briefs against, and if the results show that you’re not a good fit, take a pass. This is not a sign of weakness; it’s sensible business decision-making. When you get to the creative brief, a good scorecard process will set you up for success.

Be transparent

Client: What are the motivating reasons behind bringing in an agency? What do you and your stakeholders want (vs. what you actually “need”), and how will you communicate this in the creative brief? When it comes to deliverables, think about how you want to run the process and be realistic with your timings and budget.

Agency: If you can’t deliver the scope of work within the timescales or budget, be straight with the client. They’ll appreciate your honesty and directness, even if it may not be an easy conversation. Share your reasons and discuss whether there’s an alternative solution. Don’t ignore your instincts or sacrifice learnings from past experiences just to win the business. It never ends well.

Collaboration is key to a good creative brief

Client: It’s really not worth keeping your cards close to your chest; sharing data (from campaign performance to customer insights) will help agencies shape their strategic response to your brief. It also makes a huge difference when you give them ample opportunities to ask questions.

Agency: Why not offer your client the chance to feed back on your ideas and co-create? It’s an excellent opportunity to showcase your culture, ways of working and compatibility. At Fifty Five and Five, we offer a one-hour problem-solving workshop as part of our approach to new business.

Evaluation and feedback

Client: It can be challenging to evaluate proposals if you don’t have clear criteria, especially if there’s more than one person involved in the decision-making process. Sharing how you plan to score proposals can help agencies ensure they deliver a balanced response, focusing on the same areas that matter to you. Try to include this stuff up front in your creative brief.

Agency: Like after a job interview, make sure you push for feedback – whether you win or lose. It’s essential to learn from every new business opportunity and find ways to apply those learnings in the future. It also allows you to continue a relationship with the client because you never know when there might be a second chance.

 

If you are looking for a new agency, and have an an awesome brief (or want someone to help you write it)get in touch with the team today.  


Illustration retro microphone

Microsoft Partner Top 50 edition with Nick Rameka of LiveTiles

In this first ever episode of our podcast we speak to Nick Rameka, the CMO at LiveTiles, about brand evolution, pandemic priorities and marketing advice for other Microsoft partners. LiveTiles are a maverick marketing voice in the Microsoft Partner Network, and we were delighted to get his take on the marketing landscape in such a tumultuous year. Nick reveals the content marketing trends he sees coming around the corner and what remote working practices we can expect to stick as we try to put 2020 behind us.


Illustration woman looking at man on smart phone

Marketing in the Black Mirror: Our industry’s sci-fi (near) future

I’m a massive, unashamed sci-fi geek. I went to the Blade Runner Secret Cinema, I just got a replica (replicant?) of Deckard’s whiskey glass, I can’t wait to see Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s Akira in pin-sharp 4K, and if any technological development that’s vaguely cyberpunk turns up in the news, I’ll be the first to exclaim ‘William Gibson predicted that!’. I love this stuff.  

So, I often look at the world through the lens of speculative fiction (the ‘literature of cognitive estrangement’, as academic Darko Suvin put it) and apply this kind of speculation and extrapolation to all kinds of things in everyday life. That includes aspects of my work, our industry, and so on. ‘What do you mean by that?’, you may rightly ask.

Recently, I was creating a marketing persona for a project, inventing an imaginary sales lead from the clay of research and experience, and something struck me:  One day, AI will be doing this for me. What will that be like?

And that thought led me down the rabbit-hole.


Making fake people from real data 

We live in a time when more data is created and recorded, covering more aspects of our lives, than ever before. It’s already being used in all manners of ways – from the recommendation systems of Amazon and Netflix to deciding whether you’re a safe bet to borrow money.  

And, as our burgeoning digital lives increasingly blur with our physical onesalongside the growth of the Internet of Things and devices like Alexa, this big data is only going to become bigger. That will provide those that hold it with deeper and more intricate insights into who we are. What once may have been a relatively shallow and generic impression of a customer now has the potential to become really nuanced – to the extent that a buyer persona becomes a buyer simulation. But why does that interest me so much? 

It’s alive!  

As a marketing writer, there’s a tendency to become attached to the personas you createIt’s an imaginative act, after all, and imaginative acts are inherently interesting and enjoyable. When you’re inventing a person, with their name, professional and educational history, along with numerous other incidental details, they begin to take on a life of their own. You could be forgiven for thinking things like Ah, classic Persona! Of course they’d do that. When you start inventing significant others, families and pets for them, it’s time to click ‘Save’ and step away from the computer. In every marketing persona, there’s the seed of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (the first sci-fi novel of alland, before that, the Prometheus myth: “It’s alive!”. 

But devising comprehensive personas and delving into the lives and mindsets of possible customers isn’t only an enjoyable part of marketing work – it’s vital for engaging and connecting with your audienceAnd who knows how much more valuable it can be when AI (our digital Igoris using today’s data goldmine to help with the creationThe possibilities are strange, maybe a little unnerving at times, but ultimately highly intriguing. 

Fact is quickly catching up with fiction 

In an early episode of Black Mirror (season two, episode one: ‘Be Right Back’)Domhnall Gleeson’s character Ash is killed in a car accident. OK, this article’s taken a dark turn, but stay with me. His grieving partner Martha, played by the excellent Hayley Atwell, signs up for an online service that builds a new virtual Ash out of all the data floating around, including social posts and other digital communications. He/it is very, very accurate.  

I won’t spoil what happens next (apologies if I’ve already revealed too much) as it’s a bloody good episode. But you see where I’m going with this. What could marketers do with this kind of technology? And the central idea behind the story – building a synthetic person out of all the data they emit simply through existing today – isn’t just science fiction. It’s closer than you think.  

Be Right Back aired in 2013, and as I always say, tech years are like dog years. The previous decade might as well be 50 years ago, and as we hurtle toward the singularity at ever-increasing breakneck speed, what was once a strange future is quickly becoming our strange now.  

 Do synthetic personas dream of electric sheep? 

Development of synthetic buyer personas is already well underway, with some companies already mooting market-ready solutions. Such is the depth of the data and sophistication of systems that there are even elements of personality-based marketing entering the equation. This has the potential to provide even richer insight into how customers really 'tick'. How risk adverse is Persona as an individualWhich psychological motivators are at work here? What would Persona’s instinctual reaction be to X or Y? Would Persona respond more positively to this analogy or design choice as opposed to that one?  

Personally, I’m eager to see what will happen when today’s highly advanced chatbot technologies, such as Pandorabots’ Mitsuki, are thrown into the mix. Imagine having a full-blown conversation with a buyer persona – on their virtual lunchbreakperhaps (insert old tech joke about ‘having a byte to eat’). What would a focus group be like, conducted with a (chat)room full of synthetic subjects? These are questions that I think (and hope) will probably be answered soon enough.  

The machines have been busy  

This is only one area of marketing where AI is making itself useful. For some time now, it’s also been helping to manage and optimise pay-per-click (PPC) advertisingpersonalise website experiences and email marketing, and predict customer churn – which is extremely valuable for Software-as-a-Service companies, among others 

If you can think of an aspect of marketing, chances are ‘there’s an AI for that’, able to help us make better choices, speed up processes, and do what we do more effectively. There is even the prospect that one day, design and content may become SUPER responsive, personalised and dynamic – to the extent that no two people see the same website. Or even the same website twice. Everything from the style and tone to the user experience would be perfectly curated for you and you alone, at that moment in time, by a very smart machine.  

AI can already write (to an extentand assist with designWhat’s further down that road? Will writers like me someday become AI’s editors? Will designers and developers become their art/technical directors? Could you one day even engage the services of a digital agency that’s literally a digital agency?  These are all pretty dizzying concepts for someone who cut their copywriting teeth on old-school banner ads and still hasn’completely gotten over the death of FlashBut, again, they’re very intriguing thoughts – for me, for Fifty Five and Five, for our clients, and for the industry as a whole 

The spark of human creativity 

With the universe of possibilities around synthetic buyer personas, and the growth of AI-powered marketing in general, you’d think I'd be little worried about someday becoming obsolete. “Hire a human marketing writer? That’s so 2020...” Replaced by the Machine in the Grey Flannel SuitBut I’m a firm believer in the spark of human creativity and ingenuity. So, at the risk of coming across like Neo or John Connor: I believe we’ll triumph over the machines. 

Machines can gather the data. They can collect and corral it in huge quantities, analyse it and make it available in a form we can comprehend. But they’re not yet able to make the intuitive connections and creative decisions, the subtle leaps of understanding and insight, that make great marketing that really resonates with other humans. Ultimately, we know us better than computers do – even with all the data in the worldBut AI certainly can – and will – give us a lot of help

If you’d like to discuss how Fifty Five and Five can help you target your audience more effectively and ensure your digital marketing is firing on all cylinders, get in touch with the team today.  


Illustration SEO in Google colour palette

What is a Google core algorithm update – and why should you care?

Every so often the world’s content creators and SEO specialists become suddenly impassioned by what’s known as a ‘core algorithm update’. These happen a few times a year and can have a significant effect on a web page’s Google rankings. But what is a core algorithm update? And more importantly – is it really something you should care about?

Algorithms, updates and rankings 

An algorithm update means Google has made a significant tweak to the way they determine search engine result rankings. Admittedly, these can be quite small. But for the world’s biggest search engine, small changes can make a big difference to people who rely on their search engine results pages (SERPs) to generate leads.  

Google algorithm updates happen all the time. In fact, even referring to the Google algorithm in the singular it a bit disingenuous – the truth is it’s a complicated web of loosely related algorithms which has been in a near constant state of flux since Google first got going. Keeping track of all that is a fairly tall order, because updates happen virtually every day. Luckily for SEO professionals, most of these are relatively minor and no cause for alarm 


OK, so what’s
 a core algorithm update? 
 

Core updates aren’t just your run-of-the-mill minor adjustments. As the name would suggest, this is a change to the fundamental algorithm that powers the Google search engine. It’s easy to see why these updates happen - if you’re in charge of the world’s most popular search engine, you’re going to want to make sure it responds to changes in how people write, post and read content over time. So far, so understandable.  

The problem is, algorithm updates are a bit like dropping a large fishing net into the middle of an ocean - there's no clear cut line between the content you want to catch and the stuff you'd rather leave where it is 

That means whenever one of these core algorithms turns up, several well-meaning bystanders tend to get caught in the net. Virtually every core algorithm update comes complete with horror stories of businesses whose rankings change dramatically overnight. It’s also why these updates tend to make SEO folks pretty stressed.  

But how can we tell when a core algorithm update has happened – or even better, when it’s on the way? 

 

How to spot a wild core algorithm update 

Unlike the smaller everyday updates, core algorithm updates tend to get a lot of attention. Sometimes Google announces them in advance, sometimes they announce it on the day (generally via Twitter), and sometimes they keep it to themselves. The bigger the bombshell, the bigger the publicity and the bigger the splash it’ll make throughout the SEO world.   

If you want to find out what’s changing, it’s helpful to follow the Google Search Liaison account on Twitter, as well as paying attention to blogs like Hubspot and SearchMetrics – (and, of course, Fifty Five and Five…) who are generally pretty quick to spot these changes. 

Sometimes, Google will publish guidance on who these changes are likely to effect and what the ramifications are likely to be. Other times, they prefer to keep tight lipped and see if anyone notices. Their search engine, their rules. Naturally, this makes it pretty difficult to keep up of what changes are coming and when.  

The only definite way to limit the damage of such changes is through regular and thorough SEO auditing. That way, if there’s a big change to the SEO rankings of your content you can quickly see what’s affected, identify the trends and take positive steps to mitigate any damage. But as well as this, the type of content you create makes a huge difference.  

 

What pandas can teach us about SEO 

About a decade ago, Google decided that they'd had enough of 'content farms'. Such website were filled with realms of low value, keyword-stuffed content that made it onto page one of the search results through black hat SEO trickery - without providing much value to their readers. Google described such content as being "as close as possible to being spam, without actually being spam". An update was clearly in order.  

The idea behind the update, known as Panda, was to make search results better match the intent of their users. But what does that mean in practice? And what can we learn from that almost a decade later? 

Well, imagine you want to find out more about a topic such as, for example, Google core algorithm updates, and type “What is a core algorithm update?” into the search engine. Which of the two following articles would you say best matches your search intent? 

  • A detailed breakdown of the context and background to Google core algorithm updates, as well as an explanation as to what it means to you. 
  • An article with virtually no relevant informationwhich just happens to have the words “what is a core algorithm update” strategically placed all over the page to game the SEO rankings.  

Well I hope it’s the first one, anyway.  

The point is, the low-value, keyword-stuffed content might have been successful at gaining a temporary SEO boost, but it wasn’t really what readers were looking when they typed in the search term. Eventually, the rules were always going to catch up.  

 

Content that stands the test of time 

This game of cat and mouse has been going on since the earliest days of search – and isn’t likely to change any time soon. As long as search engines exist, there will always be people looking to game the system. But content that seeks to fulfill the user’s search intent has consistently managed to stay on the right side of the fishing net, for the clear and obvious reason that it’s precisely the kind of content that Google is trying to promote.  

If you’re writing content that’s genuinely valuable and satisfies the search intent of the people reading it, it’s highly likely you’ll be able to handle whatever spanners the gods of search throw in the worksSo, if you want to avoid getting caught out by the latest core update, the one helpful piece of advice is the only thing you can rely on Google to tell you every time an update happens: Write good content.