How to Craft an NFT Creative Brief

[Or really, a briefing for anything coming into fruition]

PART 7 IN A SERIES ABOUT THE PRACTICE OF CREATIVE BRIEFING

It is totally reasonable for you to be weary of it all.

We’re living in the Vedic “creation” phase of something new, which loosely translates into a lack of consensus around terminology, less than graceful user experiences, extremely high resource costs, and massive hype and inventive criminality. Which is good news if you excel in translating and explaining things to other people. It is less good news if you don’t exactly like plumbing the innards of new technologies.

Probably in about 2033 the notion of an NFT as a marketing mechanism will be old hat, and decently intuitive for most marketers. Just as the components of a typical website have (again, hopefully!) become mildly intuitive for most marketers. (Looking at you with gratitude, Paul Ford.) This new approach to awareness, connection, persuasion, transactions and loyalty via NFTs, crypto and web3 is not yet invisible enough, as Carly Fiorina would have put it back in 2001.

The wiring is all over the floor, out the windows, laying in the street, sparks occasionally flying. And the construction crews are all over, working furiously. The technology is not only very visible, it often doesn’t quite exist fully yet (me, earlier). As my friend Andrew puts it, “These technologies are growing at a faster pace than any other technology in human history, including the internet itself.” All of which suggests some fascinating challenges if your task is to brief people in leveraging NFTs as an element in a marketing campaign.

Think of it this way. If you write a brief for a print media opportunity, you don’t really need to explain how paper holds onto ink. You’d be wasting everyone’s time if you instructed your audience in the merits of the CMYK color model. These technologies have become so invisible a freshly graduated ad school art director isn’t required to define them. They are beyond assumed.

This is not at all true for Non-Fungible Tokens.

One of the tasks of a creative brief is to reduce complexity; to distill. As the old political campaign adage goes, “when you’re explaining, you’re losing.” We don’t want to write a brief that’s uninspiring or non-actionable due to the complexity of its subject. But the comprehension required for NFTs might be an unavoidable challenge in this day and age. Which is another way of suggesting any assignment in totally new realms has to become much more than just a brief. It has to become an experience.

So it’s totally reasonable to suggest a sequence of conversations in front of the actual brief delivery. We wouldn’t pretend it made sense to put sheet music in front of non-yet musicians, then raise the curtain and kicked off the downbeat (unless we were Brian Eno). There’s the business of familiarity to get through, together. So, depending on the fluency of your team, you might initiate an NFT briefing in three phases:

1) Getting Fluent

2) Getting (Hands and Minds) Dirty

3) The Briefing Itself

Getting Fluent

Thank goodness for the Internet. Imagine a shared NFT/crypto/web3 curriculum for marketers and idea people which might include resources like:

A Normie’s Guide to Becoming a Crypto Person

a16z’s Crypto Startup School

The Marketer’s Case for Crypto

What Is Tokenization in Blockchain?

Why crypto: Beyond the idiocy, web3 has exciting possibilities

VeeFriend’s Guide to Buying Your First NFT

My first impressions of web3

This Twitter Thread from Chris Dixon re: “Ads monetize attention. NFTs monetize enthusiasm

Magic Beans: What is the best mental model for NFTs?

Robert Breedlove interviews Raoul Pal on the history shaping crypto, web3 and NFTs

You’re a search away from a zillion more informative resources.

In terms of process, imagine a period of time for everyone on your team to conduct independent research and analysis. Maybe you supply a starting point, i.e. the links above. And a maybe a glossary (e.g. “gas fees,” “nonce,” “hash,” “wei,” “mint”) for each person to look up and discover themselves. And a deadline.

Then discuss.

What did everyone comprehend? What’s still confusing? Where do you have different opinions?

Challenge each person to illustrate how this new world functions with a pen on a single piece of paper. How do the boxes and lines come together to map out the experience as each of you understands it? How do your team’s maps/diagrams align or differ? The goal here is to reduce illiteracy, and forge a team’s common understanding of a new environment, to create the space where inference and shorthand communications can thrive. Can you engender admiration for a new form? Not just a standoffish comprehension, but an immersion, an embrace. “People desire media that is in and of itself. Each form of media has its own character, and fidelity from one form to another is a compromise that rarely works,” notes Seth Godin. It is a waste of everyone’s time to assume this new realm is a the exact same as previous realms plus or minus a costume change. As you and your team discern and discuss, how might you collectively define the character of this new media? Can your team come to consensus around what constitutes the “fidelity,” to quote Godin, of web3, NFTs and blockchain that enables effective action? It’s said a sign of truly understanding a new language is your ability to tell and comprehend jokes in that new language. How might your team (including brand-side and agency-side players) create a common understanding, to the extent anyone on the team can land an inside joke and everyone laughs?

Then, how can you bring that same level of fluency up the food chain to marketer and agency leaders?

SIDE NOTE: I have no doubt we’re in the very early years of a decade-long process of understanding and adoption among leadership. A decade ago, brand and agency leaders made sojourns to Hyper Island to gain digital acumen. The cocktail chatter around NFTs at the upcoming ANA Masters Conference will be telling. PRO TIP: Build street cred now (i.e. Host a lunch-n-learn around how you acquired your first crypto or NFT).

Getting Dirty

Ever since Al Gore invented the Internet, a new type of communication has become more readily available even as marketers and customer service works feverishly to put the genie back in the bottle. This is the idea of inter-action. Empowering technology elevates those who used to only receive advertising to be able to respond in kind; and to create and publish on par with marketers. Or, to skip past security and reception and place a message right in front of the CEO. “Hello, Elon.” Pre-2000s marketing was one way. Now we interact. Or at least that’s the aspiration.

If it wasn’t clear during web1 or web2, it is inherent today for marketers and idea people to get our hands dirty in the technologies we leverage. The deeper our direct experience, the more capable we are in creating and delivering more effective work. I’ll go first…

I bought my first crypto last year.

I took a bath on some Doge.

I bought my second NFT a month ago.

I’ve been researching the space for over a year.

And I’m mildly terrified I’m late to the party and don’t know nearly enough. It feels like everyone else studied for the surprise exam.

I don’t pretend to understand the elegant nuances of Tezos. Or the peculiarities of why “there is a Pending txn with a lower account nonce” that effected my last NFT purchase. But I have friends who do know, an Internet connection, and desire. I know how to learn.

Also, I have written and received hundreds of creative briefings. To that extent, I know what I need to know to convey an assignment. Case in point, I’m aware direct experience using, creating and experiencing a medium or a technology directly benefits your ability to create effective marketing related to those realms. It is very hard to brief someone to write if you’ve never written, or build a digital experience if you have never logged in. Just as it is very hard to create memorable marketing if you don’t have a clue how things actually get made — how editing works, what code can do, how physical experiences get fabricated.

All this to say, you’ve got to dive in.

Perhaps the second gate for your team to pass through is proof of crypto ownership — everyone purchase an NFT, or trade one. Do it all together in a room, real or virtual. Share the frustrations and the joys. Become fluent together.

SIDE NOTE: If you’re in Minneapolis the evening of March 26, join a bunch of us at REM5 for their third annual ESC event — we’ll be hands-on with all of this.

The Briefing Itself

Previously we discussed how a creative brief is a mechanism which both informs and inflames. It is transformational — converting a business issue into actionable direction for idea people. And if you write the brief well, and the gods smile, and your team is at their best, maybe world-changing ideas eke out as a result? Your results may vary.

The boring part here is that even an NFT briefing needs the foundational bits — WHY, WHAT, WHO, WHERE, HOW, etc. But probably not in the way we’d traditionally frame them.

Because, generally speaking, no one knows what an NFT is.

NFT BRIEF—SECTION 1: What Is It? What’s It For?

Most briefs for most advertising ultimately point an audience to experiences, tools, processes, and outcomes we all typically understand. Even if we’re marketing the complexity of tax prep software, we can safely assume our audience has a common sense of what “software” is. The brief’s WHAT is it we’re marketing could simply be “tax prep software.” We intuitively grasp saying “software” also says “you need a computer, too. And you need skills to use the software on the computer. And Internet access. And an online account.” Those are a lot of assumptions we can pretty safely assume won’t trip up our effort in marketing software.

Not so with an NFT.

It’s safe to assume most people know nothing. We’re in the web1 era educating the purpose of “http://”. A challenge, but also an opportunity to position, to frame context and use and attitude.

Here’s a much deeper dive into the etymology of Non, Fungible and Token. Suffice to say, I find it useful to define an NFT as “something of value.” Let’s start there. It might unlock something (i.e. access to a file or resource), or enable something (i.e. it’s a ticket to access an event), or it demonstrates proof of something (i.e. membership in a community, or prestige). The “something of value” could equate to liquidity — i.e. an NFT enables more people to interact with a thing. The “value” could be reduced friction — i.e. 24/7 market access, fewer middlemen. The “value” could be clearer/faster proof and eventually, trust, in an experience, institution or action.

In many ways, NFTs might look and smell and function like utility — but for new, unexpected, outlandish, not normal things. A ticket, yes, but more than a ticket. As Brian Morrissey writes about NFTs, “It is logical for a community to not just pay money for access but also have ownerships rights as a member of the community.”

Briefing the “What’s this for?” for an NFT (or anything new) requires us to leverage metaphor and broader contexts. While we wouldn’t bother defining the mechanics of CMYK for a print brief, we very likely will have to define, explain and position the string of technologies which make up a particular NFT experience. Remember, the plumbing is exposed, ordinances don’t exist. How one NFT comes to life could be very different than how another does. Return to your team’s prior experiences discovering, sharing and confirming. Given what you know, how might your brief define the purpose of this particular NFT project you’re advertising?

  • It will serve as a connectable, tradable, exclusive badge for…
  • It will enable in-person attendees to access…
  • It will open the door to a virtual portal of…
  • Over time it will grant

The established communal references don’t exist yet. The Nike+ of NFTs hasn’t shown up yet. Doubt plays a stronger role now than it will. Which encourages those of us writing briefs to be specific and welcoming. We could be writing the Nike+ of NFTs brief. On the one hand, why go to all the trouble of using NFTs when some other technology and/or process could accomplish the same goal, cheaper/faster/easier? I mean, ledgers and databases aren’t hard. Which is another way of saying the skeptic in us needs a reason to believe the rationale for the NFT we’re going to develop ideas around has distinct merit.

Because if all you want is the cultural mention — X Brand Made an NFT — maybe just say so in the brief?

This first section might be the hardest in writing an NFT brief. Especially in an age when so many examples of the technology in use are frivolous. Your first task is to try and gain consensus and describe the function or utility the NFT enables. In doing so, you’re defining common ground.

NFT BRIEF—SECTION 2: Who’s It For?

It’s safe to say the vast majority of humans do not own or benefit from NFTs in early 2022.

It’s safe to say the vast majority of marketers and brands have little if any pragmatic use for NFTs in 2022.

And yet NFTs are at Peak Hype, says Gartner.

This should tell you something about the kinds of personalities and mindsets your brief and the resulting creative work will be speaking to. Given Gartner’s example, you would face the same general challenge addressing audiences eager to exploit Generative AI, Self-Integrating Applications or the Sovereign Cloud or anything new. In early 2022 a brief for an NFT is speaking with a tiny, nuanced, enthusiastic and risk-oriented mindset. That mindset will shift dramatically as the Nike+ of NFTs and other examples arrive, set precedent, establish norms and our metaphoric VHS players stop blinking 12:00am.

That’s why I think defining Who It’s For starts with enthusiasm and gets refined through fluency.

NFTs are obvious early adopter material. Simply put, the audience knows more than you, the brief writer, will likely every know. This mindset has already signed on for novel, newfangled, unproven, experimental, and futuristic. Risk is their middle name. They are quickly defining a set of beliefs, norms, habits, rituals related to NFTs. Your brief can trade on this enthusiasm — if you’re able to discern and dramatize their motivation. Is it pride, status, necessity, or perhaps the risk itself underlying their behavior around NFTs?

And then it would help to understand their fluency: How experienced? How in-love are they? How addicted? …to the topic, the context, the category, the peculiarities of the NFT situation? Can we speak as insiders or must we educate?

Define their behavior in the context of NFTs.

Then you’ll be closer to articulating an actionable insight.

NFT BRIEF—SECTION 3: What Changes As a Result?

Assume the NFT exists. Assume the audience has engaged. What exactly has changed in the audience’s behavior which a marketer values?

This is probably the hardest question to answer in any brief.

There’s the old marketing maxim, “No one buys a 1/4 inch drill bit; they’re buying a 1/4 inch hole.” In participating in an experience and acquiring an NFT, what is the audience really buying — beyond a designation in a ledger?

Is it a change in confidence? A change in perspective? A change in belief?

This is your insight.

A reminder: Briefs are written for someone, a recipient. An Idea Person is supposed to read your insight, head into The Fog, and emerge with an idea. The juicier, the more potent, the more illuminating your insight — the easier it is for an Idea Person to do their job.

Write this part of the brief well and you might change the world.

NFT BRIEF—SECTION 4: Longevity

This is a tricky part of this kind of brief, which you won’t find in non-digital briefs. In essence: How long will our audience care?

If your brief is to support an out-of-home billboard campaign, you wouldn’t concern the team past the date your messages get taken down. The audience will stop seeing them.

But as a medium, as a product, as an experience, or as a utility, an NFT could theoretically last forever. Does our idea need to resonate or reflect this?

And it begs a related question: To what degree is the system surrounding the NFT a valid, ongoing concern? If our NFT is only available via [brandname]coin or a specific exchange, what happens to our NFT if/when either of those fade away?

What will become the 404 page of NFT campaigns?

NFT BRIEF—SECTION 5: Measurement/Optimization

You’re going to have to explain yourself eventually. It is inevitable someone higher up the food chain will want to understand the merits of this NFT campaign. Or the Effie judges will. How Do We Know It Worked? is worth all kinds of thinking and writing and arguing and editing.

Link

I agree with Chris Dixon for now. From a marketer’s perspective, NFTs speak to potential (not possession). They are, to borrow liberally from Rory Sutherland, very much a story of intangible value. What you can measure, then, is enthusiasm.

Prior/Post = % Change in Brand Favorability

From a brand perspective, it is conceivable less than 1% of your audience might actually engage in acquiring an NFT today but a much larger percentage will talk about it and potentially value the effort. And then we’ll evolve.

I remember the first time we put a URL on the end of a TV commercial.

“What are those letters and words under the logo for?”

And then we evolved quickly enough to assume you’ll search for the thing, and maybe we don’t need a URL. Maybe just a QR code. Art Directors are happy again.

Briefing people in An Era of New Things requires a different approach, including education and consensus-building prior to actual briefing. It means getting your hands dirty enough in rapidly evolving terminology and technology and culture so you can reduce complexity.

It means making bets, and having an ability to explain your confidence — so others can have the confidence to do their work.

It means helping the rest of us build the future.

Originally published at Useful Lunacy

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Tim Brunelle

Tim Brunelle

I'm a creative enterprise leader, teacher, and entrepreneur living in Minneapolis.