Begin at the Beginning

If you’ve ever given serious thought to why some email marketing campaigns produce legendary results, you’ve probably concluded it isn’t simply sitting down, writing copy and creating graphics. To get creative services groups on the right page, smart direct marketing agencies use a strategic document called a creative brief. A creative brief is an essential roadmap for a number of reasons:

  • Forces associates in your organization to consider the strategic issues behind what you’re selling, the action you’re trying to produce, and how best to achieve your goals.
  • A structured document that outlines and prioritizes communication strategies, messaging, offers, branding information and mandated requirements for executing advertising.

  • Organizes a wealth of information and critical detail, some of which could be overlooked or forgotten if the exercise wasn’t completed.

  • Requires you determine the most important benefits to the consumer, a value proposition and other key factors that are part-and-parcel of writing great copy and executing email advertising.

  • Provides copywriters key phrases and messages identified as being valuable to consumers, as well as enabling a creative group to completely understand the parameters for developing effective creative.

What’s a creative brief? The primary components:

Purpose. At the top level, state the email’s primary objective to enable everyone to focus on the core mission.

Strategies. The things you’re going to do in the email, such as present the product or service, the offer and a call-to-action.

Target audience. The consumers most likely to respond to the email. To identify them, you’ll first need to answer some questions: Are they consumers, business people or both? What are their primary ages? Are they male, female or both? What specific interests, needs or wants do they have? Are they in a specific geographic location? Are they a specific nationality, race or religion? Profile the ideal customer or respondent as accurately as possible.

Positioning. How you see your product or service as it relates to the competition. Identifying it requires a different set of questions: Are you the lowest-price producer? Do you have significant advantages? Do you have experience others do not? Do you have competitive advantages others do not?

Value proposition. The key message to communicate to recipients. In our research for the Shark Sweeper, a cordless power sweeper that recently won the Infomercial of the Year Award, our value proposition was, “An extremely light, powerful and easy-to-use sweeper.” Although the appliance had many other advantages, we boiled them down to the three most important ones.

Reasons to believe. Put on your consumer hat. Validate the claims your advertising makes by anticipating the questions a consumer may ask as she reads the email. This could include a satisfaction guarantee, or testimonials. In the Shark Sweeper case, we supported “extremely light” by pointing to its weight, how easy it is for children and seniors to pick up, it weighed less than a carton of orange juice, and so on. List a handful of substantiating facts for each part of the value proposition.

Reassurance messages. These are additional reasons that support the value proposition, but not quite as important as the “reasons to believe.” They might include details like your company size, experience, and how many people have already bought the product (i.e. “over one million sold!”).

Primary Benefits. What does the product or service do for the recipient? List only benefits in this section. “Picks up wet and dry food quickly and easily” is a benefit. “Has a powerful 50-watt motor” is a feature. It’s important to prioritize benefits from most to least important.

Features. Valuable characteristics of the product or service (which should also be prioritized). Copywriters may combine benefits and features: “A computer with our new Xenon battery lasts twice as long as other computers,” or, in the case of a hair product, “Instantly repairs split ends with a breakthrough, patent-pending formula.”

Brand character. Every email message is an opportunity to build your brand. If you have trouble quantifying your brand, ask one of the questions ad agencies commonly pose. What car typifies my company’s brand, a Corvette or a Volvo? Choose one, then describe it as it applies it to your brand (i.e., handcrafted, old-world and dependable; or sleek, fast and energized). Branding should set the tone for how an ad feels. Keep all advertising in line with your brand.

Mandated Deliverables. Every ad has required elements. These might include a clickable URL, an 800 number or a guarantee. Make a list so you don’t forget to include anything.

Offers. Outline the offers you want to test in clear terms. It’s harder then it sounds, but very critical to produce response. An offer is the “deal,” or what you do to entice a consumer to respond. It could be a free trial, a two-for-one, or any number of other offer platforms. Whatever it is, it must be easy to understand.

Final deliverables. Delineate what must be produced. One version of the creative, or three? Do you need a special landing page to continue the experience? Make a list.

To all my readers, have a great holiday season — and keep reading!

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