How to Write an Interactive Strategic Brief, Part 1

“Strategy” is one of those horrendously overused words in the advertising lexicon. It certainly sounds like a good thing, as if there’s some deep pondering going on and a clever insight into how teenage girls think about their hair or some such thing. A strategic ad certainly has a better chance than a non-strategic ad (or so you’d think). Fact is, strategy is a good thing, but it’s also a pretty straightforward, simple thing. You need a straightforward, simple approach.

This column is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: a primer on writing a strategic brief for an interactive project. That project could be a banner, a rich media unit, or an e-mail campaign. The important thing is simply to begin a project with a very clear idea of what it is you want to accomplish. Interactive marketing is hard; there are a zillion details and an infinite number of ways it can go wrong. Strategy is about focusing all that effort on doing the right thing. Or rather, doing the thing with the greatest potential for success.

This is part one and should get you well on the way. The last paragraph has details on how to download a template you can use on your own projects.

First, Draw a Triangle

The first step to developing an interactive strategy brief is to draw a triangle.

Really. It is. Draw one. A triangle is the Greek letter delta, used to denote change. This is a good thing to remember because the only real reason anyone hires an agency or launches a new marketing campaign is because he or she wants a change to happen. You want to change sales from horrible to fantastic. Or you want to change perception from boring to exciting. Whatever the case, you must think about change. Drawing a triangle helps keep you focused on that core task.

On one side of the triangle write “what target believes/does now.” One other side, write “what we want the target to believe/do.” In the middle write “what we will do to make the change happen.” Those are the three essential parts of a strategy. If you can fill in those three things, the strategy is complete.

The challenge, of course, is knowing what goes into each of those sections. The work of the strategic team — the development of the strategy — is figuring those things out. Sometimes this will come from pure gut feel, but, more often than not, it’s the result of a research and insight process.

Then Ask, “What Do They Do Now?”

Let’s pick apart this phrase. The two key elements are “they” and the second “do.” As you develop the strategy, you must be able to answer a very key question: who are “they?” They could be anyone, of course. Often, they’re people who are inside the target demographic but don’t buy your (or your client’s) product at this moment.

Frequently, you can answer this question simply by looking at data. (Hopefully, it exists already. If not, you’ll have to go get it, which is another story entirely.) Who they are often includes demographic details (age, income, and education) but more frequently includes something about the way they interact with the world: feel guilty about eating snacks, look for ways to make their love life more exciting, are uncomfortable making decorating decisions.

These factors are powerful, because they set you up to answer the next question: why do they do this? This is the consumer insight bit that’s absolutely critical. If you understand the motivations behind an action or the barriers that prevent an action from occurring, you can begin to think of ways to speak to the consumer in a way that’s relevant. You can find aspects of your offering that answer a need that’s not only specific but also specifically meaningful to the person you’re going to try to convince to do something. You can get beyond “apply directly to the forehead” as the core of your message.

The Interactive Angle

So far, these steps have nothing to do with interactive advertising. They’re general steps toward developing compelling communication, be it a TV ad, press release, or Web site. There’s no reason to think the initial steps in developing a communications strategy for an Internet project should be any different from any other medium. However, the fact you know you’re going to build something online should color the way you approach both these questions, as well as the method of answering them.

Take “what are they doing now?” The answer certainly could be about sales, but as an online marketer, you have a breadth of possible answers that are both highly measurable and not available to others. You can answer that question with things like “only spending 90 seconds on the site,” “leaving items in their shopping carts,” and “coming to the site from unbranded search terms.” I have a project right now that asks why only a small number of people have used a truly awesome application on a client’s site.

These are interesting observations, because they’re all highly changeable things. I’m sure off the top of your head you can think of ways you could affect and measure each one of those hypothetical situations. That’s great. But the important thing at this stage is to choose which one you’re going to put on the side of that triangle.

Part Two and Free Template

In part two, I’ll look at the other two challenges in writing an interactive strategic brief: identifying what you want people to do and how you’re going to get them to do it.

I’ve also developed a template and a case study you can use in developing your own strategic briefs. The case study is for a made-up brand of coffee. You can download it, along with a strategic brief template, from the “Downloads” box here.

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