The Death of Forethought in Marketing

Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

The Death of Forethought in Marketing

Trish Thomas, CEO, TEEM

When asked, clients often say that the most important things their agency can provide are “a proven return on investment” or “a strong understanding of their business objectives.”  

While this sounds reasonable, the reality is that brands often don’t do the very things that make those demands possible.

Over the past 3-5 years I’ve witnessed a dramatic drop in planning and briefing across the industry that is eroding agencies ability to deliver what their clients want.

With the proliferation of channels, and the move toward leaner budgets and shorter duration projects, the value of strategy and briefing should be of paramount importance to both sides of the client-agency relationship.  However, many brands today do not value an investment in planning. Even worse, they frequently don’t understand how to write a clear brief for projects.

Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

Why Strategy & Planning Matter

It’s a reality… brands have limited budgets and need to see measurable results fast.  But when those factors influence in-house marketers to lob projects at their agencies without laying the proper foundation, money is wasted and efforts often don’t lead to the desired outcomes. 

Creative that is inspired, production that is on point, and execution that gets results are driven by strategy and grounded in a plan.  In the panic to ‘get S&*t done,’ clients put their agency partners in an untenable position and, at the end of day, typically still blame them if the work performed doesn’t deliver as expected.

It’s really a no-win situation for agencies.  

If they ask for the time and fees required to ensure that the campaign or project will have a strong foundation, clients push back or retract the work.  If they proceed without a firm understanding of the goals, audience, message and tactics, they risk lack-luster performance.

Here are the reasons that brands should be willing to invest in planning and strategy at the launch of a project:

Why? It’s the most basic question, but often agencies are forced to work without an answer.  It is crucial that you take the time to explain clearly why you are requesting the work, what KPIs will indicate success, and what target outcomes are intended.  With that information in-hand, your creative partner can assist you in ideation and activation that will actually achieve your end goals.

Audience Insight.  Every marketing effort is aimed at real human-beings on the receiving end.  Without a deep understanding of the target audience, their pain points, and what they have to gain from the product or service offered, agencies are literally hamstrung in their ability to deliver impactful work.

Messaging Matters.  Many clients operate under the incorrect assumption that campaign messaging, headlines, benefit statements and CTAs just pop out magically and hit the mark.  This is a tragic misunderstanding. In today’s digital age when consumers are barraged with ads and communications thousands of times a day – messaging matters!  ROI will increase dramatically with the right message or offer.

Efficiency Gains.  I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but the old adage is true: “a goal without a plan is just a wish.”  Taking a little time to lay a foundation and establish a plan upfront will allow asset creation and tactical deployment to go much more smoothly and quickly later on.

Why Bother with a Brief

The agency brief is dying – and it’s very sad.  

A simple brief can power a rewarding and profitable project for both brand and agency.  And the lack thereof can sink an otherwise smart initiative.  

In the knowledge vacuum created when clients verbally convey or email a blunt directive, agencies often flounder, creating work that misses the point or disappoints.

Here is a simple fact that clients frequently don’t understand:  BRIEFING YOUR AGENCY IS YOUR JOB. It’s not your agency’s responsibility to try to suss out what your objectives are, who the audience is, what you want engaged consumers to do, or what constitutes success.  An agency’s time is best spent innovating and creating within defined parameters with the basic inputs they need to do a great job.

Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

Point-by-point justification for writing a brief:

In order to get what you want, you have to tell people, well… what you want.  When agencies dive blindly into work without a clear understanding of purpose, task specifics and goals, they inevitably lurch around and waste time – sometimes even handing over deliverables only to get a disheartening, “oh… that’s not what we expected.”  

A written brief ensures that you are truly heard.  It holds you accountable for defining the task and sticking to your original ask.  And it also protects you. In the event of a miss, you can go back to your agency and request a redo or refund for subpar work.  When information is communicated verbally across multiple conversations, or dribbled throughout a string of emails and texts, or maybe never communicated at all, it is unfair to later hold your partner to a set of mental standards or vague ideas that were never fully documented.

You don’t want your agency writing your brief for you – they’ll be guessing.  Not only is it not an agency’s job to figure out what you want – you shouldn’t want them to.  While we often do our best to define each project, document our understanding of the task at hand, and ensure our work is guided by an established ‘box,’ it’s often impossible to be a mind-reader and get a brief right.  The process wastes time, causes confusion, and risks delivering work that is off the mark.

I get it.  Consumer behavior is hard to nail down, and we are all under pressure to deliver rapid results.  Technology and channels are ever-shifting. But all those factors are actually arguments in favor of forethought and proper briefs – not factors against them.  

When clients are so focused on getting XYZ done that they completely skip planning, audience understanding, and drafting a simple brief. They ignore the invisible and sometimes ungratifying work that actually ensures success.  Client-side disorganization and rushing can easily derail an otherwise good idea and prevent it from coming to life and delivering stellar outcomes.

It’s important that brands do everything they can to queue up successful campaigns and projects. And it’s a win-win for both sides.

Trust me, your agency partners want to deliver exceptional work and make you happy.  Arm them with what they need to shine.

For a simple how-to guide on writing a brief, check out this article.

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