If you are over the age of 35, then you probably remember road trips. And that means road trips without technology. No DVDs, no Instagramming and no Nintendo Game Boys. Only you, your family and the open road with the occasional game of license plate tag. To ensure smooth travel, Dad always used what was called a “road map”. You remember them, right? They were the large printed pieces of paper that once unfolded were never to return to their correct folded state…EVER. These road maps were what we used as our one and only reference for the journey. The road map was essential in guiding the group along a journey that was often not without its share of perils; the needing of a pit stop in the middle of nowhere, the constant sibling bickering, the occasional stop at the Dairy Queen four county lines over.

This road map was essential for keeping the family on the right path as well as Pop’s sanity intact, while always guiding him and his progeny in the correct direction. Although it did allow for some detours along the way, in the end, it never steered the group away from their final destination.

The creative brief in healthcare marketing is in many ways very similar to those old road maps. Both provide a group with a final destination, while also providing guidance and suggestions on how to get there. Want to see the world’s third largest ball of twine? The road map took you there. Need to include key messaging strategies for multiple audiences? The creative brief handles that too.

So, what makes a good creative brief? First, you’re going to need an overview of the competitive landscape. Who are your competitors? What are they saying? Without this overview it’s going to be tough to craft your own unique message that stands out from the competition. You’ll need to include some medical background on the disease as well. What is the condition(s)? What are the symptoms and treatment paths? For example: multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that damages the ability of parts of the nervous system to communicate, resulting in symptoms such as muscle weakness, difficulties with balancing, and problems with swallowing or speaking. There is no known cure.

Next you’ll need to profile your audience, and lay out what exactly motivates and inspires them. Is your product for doctors? Is it for the patients? Is it for the insurance companies? Chances are what motivates doctors will differ from what motivates patients.

Now it’s time to define success in terms of your project: What does good look like for this project? Once you figure that out, decide what great looks like. No point in taking Route 10 if the next exit saves you 30 minutes of driving, right? Additionally, decide how you’re going to measure the success of this project. Is it X number of products sold in the first month? Is it Y number of new followers on Twitter after the release of the new campaign?

The road map is nearing completion, but there’s still one important step to take. You’ll need to identify the scope of your project; just how big is this thing? I know this sounds all too simple, but if you don’t set limits beforehand, the project can morph into something unmanageable faster than you think.

By now you can see the irony in the name creative “brief.” This road map is far from brief; it’s detailed and should provide clear direction to anyone picking it up. Your creative brief should be cohesive and clear, not shorthand directions from the townie in front of the Shell gas station. Without a strategic, well-defined creative brief, both the marketer and the agency lack the foundation necessary for clearly defined goals and objectives (i.e., both parties would be lost.) Much like the old road maps guiding you on your journey, the creative brief brings clarity and vision to any marketing problem. It provides constant direction to keep all parties aligned with any and all creative and strategic thinking to be free of distraction and of uniform voice. If you stop and think, you wouldn’t leave for a trip without directions, whether you’re retrieving them from your GPS or smartphone. Today it doesn’t matter anymore, they are still directions and any journey with a desired outcome needs to have directions on how to get there. After all, that Dairy Queen would be mighty good, only if you know how to get there along the way.