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Briefing for success

Why do we communicate? It’s one of those tricky questions, and I have touched on it before in these columns. The answer apparently is difficult, if you ask a communicator, be it an ad agency, a PR company, a web agency or even the company or enterprise that commissions the communication.
More often than not if that question is asked, there will be a strained silence as an answer is sought. The answer, when it arrives, will almost always be ‘awareness’. Awareness is an ugly catchphrase that usually hides a lack of understanding of the purpose.
Here’s an analogy. If someone asked you why you were going to visit a doctor, you might answer, ‘for my general health’. That would not be a particularly useful answer. Normally a visit to a doctor has a very specific purpose, to deal with a specific condition.
The answer ‘I advertise for awareness’ is not useful because it doesn’t have a clear goal. As communication is a budgetary matter, not having a goal or an outcome for communication means the budget is not results-oriented.
In the discussion between the communication agency and the communicator, the word ‘awareness’ can indicate lazy thinking. On the part of the business or enterprise, it can indicate that the person responsible for communication is operating on a template, for instance, textbook advice that communication is needed, but not understanding of why it is needed. In the case of the communication agency, the answer may indicate reluctance to accept responsibility for results of communication. It may also be a desire for creativity, rather than the mundane work of results-driven advertising.
The key to making the budget effective and at least giving the communication agency the confidence to produce results driven advertising lies in developing the brief, which directs the advertisement to be something purposeful.
The brief can be stated as a series of three core questions: who are we speaking to, what are we saying and what do we expect them to do or think as a result?
The first question. ‘who are we speaking to’ talks about the target market or a segment of the target market. The common instinct is to reach as many people as possible, but this can often be a flawed approach. People can have different reasons for using the same product. Addressing a segment can allow far more eloquence. For instance, youth might choose certain clothing types to make an emotional statement, while an older person might choose the same item for convenience only. If the communication talks to all, it might ignore the compulsion of fit with the youth’s emotion and lose volumes by being too general.
The second question, ‘what are we saying’, talks about the need for the communication. It assumes that the business or enterprise has a clear understanding of its commercial objectives in the context of the target market. For instance, a clothing retailer may find that it is not selling enough jeans. Examining sales may show for instance that jeans are selling well to customers who are over thirty, but not to younger customers.
The useful answer to the question becomes. ‘these jeans are good for younger people’.
The third question, what do we expect them to do, has a deceptively simple answer. Following the example above, the need to sell jeans to younger people is known, so that is the easy answer. The question of ‘how’ can be dealt with in discussion with the communication agency, but must also be informed by the knowledge and instinct of the communicator.
In this regard, the pursuit of creativity should be carefully examined. Sometimes a retail advertisement and a price and availability prompt may be enough to make the all-important sale.
The communication brief is a particularly important tool. Beyond sales, it can be used to alter perceptions on various levels.
The method is easy enough. The important thing is to make sure that it is formulated and used.

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