If you are not in the situation where you get a good creative brief (how a good one looks like will be a topic of a future lesson) you have to rely on the information you get from the contactor or the client himself. If you have direct contact to the client you will have to make the right questions. Questions related obviously to the project, to the client himself (if it's the first project you do for him) and on the goals. The first rule is the following - the client won't give you all information you need. Why is that?
Your client doesn't hide important information from you on purpose. He knows his business and you know yours, and because he is doing his job and doesn't know how to do yours he is coming to you. But as with anything you know best, you assume that certain things are obvious. An example:
You are a fan of the formula 1 racing circuit and you talk to someone that knows nothing to little about it. You talk about Ferrari and McLaren and so forth - but you will not mention that Ferrari has always red cars and McLaren (since it collaborates with Mercedes) silver ones. They may ask how you distinguish them, maybe by the numbers on the car? Sounds silly, isn't it? Just because it's obvious to you, but the other persons can't know it, since it doesn't have the basics.
The same thing happens to your client talking to you. They will tell you the new features of a product and why is so cool - but all the underlying basics are lost.
Ask like a child
A child has to learn about everything, its naïve and doesn't have a broad knowledge. It makes questions about things that for us are so obvious that we don't mind them anymore. The strength therein lies in these obvious details. By understanding the basics of a market, a product line, a segment of population, a standard behavior ... you know what to do to stand out of the crowd with your project. Or on the other hand you know what is a no-go. Don't be afraid of making childish questions, you just have to state why you are making them. You need the information to check you project against it before you proceed a present it to the client.
A child is never a discriminator, but is not politically correct either
Nowadays politically correctness is a must, discrimination a no-go and showing that racism is not tolerated a daily routine. But you have to watch out - don't be afraid of asking questions which may seem racist, discriminating and not politically correct. A practical example:
You have to make a brochure for a B2B-client which manufactures machines. You have one page which states that your client is the best partner you can get and show an image of a young man and woman shaking hands sealing a deal (not a creative approach but shows the point). This message might well miss its target because the deals are made between "men" in their 50s. You want to give strength to your message with a picture, but you say with it, we are the best partner for young people, even more when we sell to a woman. Your client might not discriminate women, neither the client of your client, but they may have conservative values about who does business.
Or say you choose a stock image of a business meeting. I now often see interracial gatherings in these pictures - this might be the case in big cities, but if your client is a small-medium sized firm which resides in central Europe the chances to have black or Asian people in a meeting will be low. Not because central European businesses are racist, but because there are number wise enough black or Asian people to get usually into a meeting.
You see, you risk that your client rejects your work because you didn't reflect the world he is living/working in. You can't imagine his world, you have to ask him: How do your business partners look like? Are there Asian or black people in your firm/meetings?
Think like an adult
You may ask like a child, but you think like an adult, because you ask the questions to get to a goal. Business in general is goal oriented and your business is to bring the message of you client to its target. I do not suggest, that you ask hundreds of childish questions to you client - but you have to make enough to get the feeling of the client's world - or of the world of clients-clients. Evaluating how many questions you need is the adult part of the process. You can also separate these from the briefing, by visiting your client (to see the manufacturing) or its client. Its part of the briefing and it's the base of your work.
How channel all this information and how to make a simple creative brief is the topic of one of our next lessons. Stay tuned.