Keys to success

Briefing your marketing suppliers: the keys to success

In my 30 years in marketing I’ve heard many criticisms of marketing suppliers. Whether you are using a web developer to get your business online, a designer to come up with a new corporate identity or an agency to help with advertising and promotional materials the rules of the game are the same. This blog provides guidance for any business owner or marketing manager wanting to get the most from their marketing suppliers.

One thing that I have learned is that unless you get the marketing brief right the end results will disappoint. Without the right brief, you could end up with a logo design that turns your potential customers off, a website that fails to convert visitors into purchasers or advertising that wastes your hard-earned money.

What is a marketing brief?

For any marketing activity, whether you are going to handle it in-house or get some help you need to be very clear on the who, what, why, when, where and how. Very often we start with the ‘how’ because we’ve rapidly run through the other questions in our head and think we have clear answers. A brief provides the supplier with clarity about your needs and what it is you want to achieve with the marketing activity.

Questions to develop a great brief

If you are asking anyone to write copy, produce design or help sell your products online they need very, very clear answers to these 6 questions.

  1. Who are you targeting? Clarity in this area is probably the most important factor in achieving marketing success.
  2. What are you trying to achieve – what’s the marketing goal, and is it quantified?
  3. Why are you doing this exercise – what are all the factors that have influenced your decision?
  4. When does the work need to be done. Are there strict deadlines or milestones that must be met?
  5. Where will the materials be used? This may be obvious if you are commissioning a website, but may need to be explained if you are asking someone to write copy, design an advert or prepare a leaflet.
  6. How do you want to get the message across? This is the place most people start, with the solution – ‘we need a website’, ‘I want a new logo’. Whoever you speak to will need you to answer the questions above, and if they are really good at what they do they will sometimes tell you that the solution you thought you needed isn’t the right one.

Provide background and state the objectives

Each one of the 6 questions need to be expanded to really explore and get a full understanding of the requirements. When I’m writing a brief I always include background details about the company, its business and marketing goals and any marketing activity already undertaken. You want to provide the marketing supplier with as much information as you possibly can so that they deliver the best possible result.

You’ll also need to be explicit in terms of the objectives you have for the particular marketing item. Do you want the leaflet to generate enquiries or to answer questions that have been wasting the time of your service teams? Do you want a website that generates enquiries, direct sales or pre-qualified sales leads? Do you want a design that is eye catching and challenging or subtle and professional? Without these pointers, your suppliers will struggle.

Get it in writing

In case I haven’t made it obvious already; in my view a brief should ALWAYS be in writing. That doesn’t mean you can’t discuss and expand upon the brief, and certainly your marketing supplier will want to ask questions about it. But I find the only way to avoid being side-tracked when commissioning new marketing materials is to follow the discipline of writing a brief. You might be surprised what the exercise throws up. By forcing yourself to think through the who, what, why, when, where and how questions and setting some clear objectives you really do start to think more clearly about what you are trying to achieve.

Of course, the brief is only the first step in a process. You need to select the right suppliers to give the brief to. This can be tricky but can be helped by asking for recommendations from your network, or choosing suppliers who are members of professional bodies (like the Chartered Institute of Marketing). Get the briefing right however, and the rest should follow smoothly.


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