The Differences Between a Creative Brief and a Brand Strategy

Never miss out.
Sign up for our newsletter.

A Creative Brief is Not a Brand Strategy

Over the last year, I’ve seen more than our fair share of frustrations coming out of the c-suite office of companies that expected to get a brand strategy but ended up getting nothing more than a thought-out creative brief. On the other hand, I’ve also seen those same individuals get sticker shock because they get a quote for a brand strategy, but what they really needed was a creative brief complemented with a creative strategy for a campaign or project.

The first impression these businesses get from those past experiences is a feeling of being taken advantage of, which leads some of them to be leery of engaging with other firms, and we can’t blame them. As a result of those experiences, money is wasted, but even more critical is the time that has been lost to get ahead in the market.

Is it the fault of the company? No. A company doesn’t know what they don’t know. It would be easy for anyone to get caught in a situation like this, especially if the person or agency they are engaging with uses those terms interchangeably (albeit a common but big no-no).

Avoiding scenarios like this is crucial to get right at the beginning for both the company and the agency alike, so I’m here to explain what a creative brief is (and isn’t) and what a brand strategy is (and isn’t). I’m also going to give you the various scenarios on when one is more appropriate than the other.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

What is a creative brief?

A creative brief is a one or two-page document that serves as the foundation for a creative campaign or a specific project. Its intended use is short-term and goal-specific with KPIs and intended results. These briefs are usually created by an account manager or the person executing the project. Thus, briefs typically serve as an INTERNAL document for the AGENCY and NOT the client. It’s not unheard of, though, for a client to see the creative brief and sign-off, giving a project the green light to kickoff.

Here’s what’s typically included in a creative brief:

  • Company overview and background
  • The objective of the project
  • Goals/KPIs
  • Target audience
  • Brand voice and key messaging
  • Competitors
  • Sacred cows (mandatory elements which must be included)
  • Strategy overview with tactics
  • Scope of work and deliverables
  • Budget
  • Due dates and timelines

What a creative brief is not:

Creative briefs are not meant to serve as a long-term company document. Nor are they meant to present rewrites for things like audience personas and key company messaging. When a company issues and signs off on a creative brief, we are in alignment that the foundational work has been done, and we are ready to execute and launch.

When to use a creative brief:

  • Design projects
  • Company collateral and sales materials
  • Advertising & media campaigns
  • PPC & digital marketing campaigns

What is a brand strategy?

We define brand strategy as “an investment in the long-term success of your business. It’s the blueprint for how you want to build, shape, and share your brand and can take what people think and believe about your business to new levels. Brand strategy will also give you a thoughtful way to focus your efforts in areas that will create the most value for your company – including your website content, marketing plans, and ad campaigns.”

It’s important to note here that a brand strategy IS a long-term company strategy. The objective is to begin with the questions and pain points that a company wants to resolve. The agency then must go out, research, and strategize through brand planning and analysis.

What’s typically included in a brand strategy:

  • Market and industry trends
  • Competitor audits & SEO analysis
  • Communication & marketing audits
  • Customer & employee insights (done via interviews and surveys)
  • Audience personas (based on insights collected via interviews and surveys)
  • A brand synthesis that includes recommended brand voice, archetype, and key messaging
  • Messaging matrix for various audience personas
  • Prioritized creative and marketing recommendations for reworks (typically a phase 2 is involved here for actual project execution)

When to engage in a brand strategy:

  • Your target audience has changed or is evolving
  • Your message is not resonating as it should
  • You want to update your website, but need to know how to best position your company online
  • You have new product or service offerings (or you’ve updated them)
  • Growth has slowed or is stagnating
  • You’re getting lost in a sea of competitors
  • You compete on price
  • You’re failing to attract the right buyers and leads
  • You’ve gone through a merger or acquisition
  • You need an advisor to assure you that things are going well and where you should fine-tune for improvements (not all audits should or will deliver bad news!)

Looking for more insights? We have three more resources for you:

10 Signs Your Company is Ready for a Rebrand

Brand Strategy Services

Brand Development Services


Boldthink rebrand launch checklist
Brand, Featured Blog

Your Rebrand Launch Checklist

Congratulations! You’ve officially launched your company’s rebrand, which is a huge endeavor for anyone to tackle, especially if your business has an established brand reputation. At Boldthink, we’ve helped numerous…