Boxers — or Briefs?

How’s that for a subject line? Caught your attention, didn’t it? Actually, the topic today is not about subject lines… nor is it about boxers (though I couldtalk about my bachelorette party two years ago…).

Sorry to disappoint you, gang, but it’s time to talk about creative briefs. Last week, Jackie G. gave us some tips on reviewing your email communications to check for what may be ailing your direct email efforts if you’re not getting the response you were hoping for. This week, I thought I’d go back to the very basics to talk about a subject very near and dear to my heart: the brief and how it can help you propel your email response.

You may be asking yourself, What is a brief? And what does it have to do with finding new customers and communicating with existing ones… all through permission-based email messaging? And what’s ina brief?

What’s a Brief?

Well, a brief is simply a document that succinctly summarizes relevant information about your communication goals. Some agencies call it the creative brief. Some call it the communications brief. Some call it an input summary. Whatever it’s called, it is, in my opinion, the most important document that starts the creative process. In a nutshell, it is the foundation to the creative process. (For the sake of argument, I’ll call it “the brief.”) Those of you who have used the brief on a regular basis know its importance. It can mean the difference between tepid and unfocused creative and creative that is compelling, relevant, and motivating.

What Does It Have to Do With Email Marketing?

Plain and simple: a lot. If you’re going to garner strong response, conversion, and results, it’s important to know whom you’re speaking to. And what their mindset is. And if your offer is relevant and motivating to them. Or if they have a negative impression of your company or brand. Can negative perceptions be mitigated through the email communication? If so, put it in the brief! You wouldn’t leave something that important to chance. Or worse yet, you wouldn’t want to start the whole creative process simply from verbal input alone — that can be a big waste of time and money.

The brief’s usefulness can be summarized by the example of a recent input session with one of our clients. The primary target audience was initially defined and agreed upon. When the brief was drafted, its importance was reiterated to our client. Once he saw the target-audience definition in black and white within the brief, it occurred to him that perhaps he had miscalculated that definition. Fortunately, he did some research and affirmed that his initial input with regard to the target-audience definition wasn’t correct. My point is this: If the issue hadn’t been thoroughly discussed at the onset and solidified in a written brief, the results of his email campaign could have been questionable. Luckily, because the importance of the brief and its role in creative development was emphasized, our client understood that the offer could change (as well as the creative direction) based on the target-audience definition.

What’s in a Brief?

The ultimate benefit to the target audience is sometimes called the unique selling proposition(USP). This is one of the most important things in the brief, because it is the essence of what your communication should embody. It is, as I said earlier, the ultimate benefit to the target audience. This should be distilled into an emotional benefit that can be brought alive in the email communication. For example, if your USP is “peace of mind,” how are you going to creatively breathe life into that idea? So much is involved with a USP and its definition, that it could be the topic of a separate article.

Other items in the brief might include specific goals of the campaign (to generate x leads or sales, to garner a y conversion rate, etc.) as well as brand-oriented components and must-haves as far as color, logo, graphics, and so on. And it can get plenty more detailed than that, believe me.

Many styles of briefs have been circulated throughout different agencies, small and large. If you’d like to send me one of your briefs, I’d love to see it (ahem… get your minds out of the gutter!). And I’d love to hear your thoughts about how a brief has worked for you. You can drop me an email at

(But, please — no viruses! I was the “lucky” recipient last week of a dastardly bug, and, well, suffice it to say that even though it was officially “fixed” (unbeknownst to me), the fun just began for my teammates. Each day they would “add” a new problem to my computer under the guise of it being a symptom of that darned virus. One day, I turned on my computer, and my left mouse button didn’t work. Another day, my monitor was considerably darkened. And yet another day, the viewing screen was all kinked and twisted. They tortured me for days! So again, please — send me email, but avoid the bugs. My coworkers will never let me live it down, though they’dprobably have a good time.)

That’s it from me this week. So long until August 28.


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