Improve Your Results by Improving Your Creative Brief

Creative is an important part of any e-mail campaign. Creative refers to the copy and design of your e-mail — in other words, what it says and how it looks. While the copywriter and designer are responsible for these, the ultimate responsibility lies with the marketing manager or other person in charge of the campaign.

You can’t expect the copywriter and designer to develop great creative unless the marketing manager has provided a clear blueprint outlining business goals, supporting documentation, and his or her “vision” for the e-mail message. Too many companies don’t understand this. The old garbage-in, garbage-out adage applies here.

I’ve written about creative briefs before here; while the article is six years old, it’s still completely relevant. So I won’t go back over the basic elements of an effective creative brief, but I do want to add a few things to it and reiterate the value.

Social Media

Don’t forget about social media sharing when you develop your creative brief. This wasn’t on our radars six years ago, but it’s an important element now. A recent Silverpop study found that social sharing links garnered average click-through rates of 0.5 percent, which is much higher than traditional “forward-to-a-friend” links. The study also found that social share links increased reach an average of 24.3 percent over the number of original e-mail messages delivered. Social media links equal viral marketing, which equals free PR for your company.

It’s not enough to say “include social share links” in your creative brief. Tell the creative team which social media outlets you want included. On a Web site, you can include the social media networks that exist today; for a recent Web site I developed for a client, there were 181 in total. We included these in a drop down. But you don’t want to do that in e-mail, so you need to narrow the focus.

Silverpop found that Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter were the most often included social share links, but that Bebo, Delicious, and LinkedIn actually received a higher percentage of share link clicks. Determine which social media outlets are most relevant to your audience, then share that information with your creative team in the brief.

If you’re doing an e-mail newsletter with a number of different articles, you’ll want to include social media links for each item so readers can share just what’s of interest. This is more effective than having a reader share the entire newsletter, when only one article may be what they want to pass on.


A recent Forrester Research report found that including video in e-mail can double or triple click-through rates in e-mail messages. The easiest way to do this is to include a clickable screen shot of the video and then have it open a new browser window and play there.

Include the URL for the video in the creative brief; this will allow your copywriter to view it and write appropriate copy about it. It will also allow your designer to pull a screenshot to use in the e-mail and give the programmer the URL that needs to be linked to.

Dynamic Content

Segmentation is more prevalent today than six years ago. As a result, your creative brief should lay out any targeting you’ll be doing in the e-mail. Let your creative team know how you are segmenting your list and what content, if any, is to be targeted to each group. Providing this detail up front will allow them to write copy appropriate for each segment — and to develop a layout to accommodate the dynamic placement of content.


If you’re running any tests, that should also be included in the creative brief. Be specific. Don’t just say “subject line test” — provide a methodology to guide the creative team. You might specify that you want to test one key benefit against another in the subject line. Let them know the two key benefits you’ve chosen to test and ask for a minimum of three subject line possibilities to use for each.

The better the creative brief, the smoother the creative process will be — and the better your results.

Until next time,


Need practical tips for taking your successful e-mail marketing program to new heights? Sign up for a full-day workshop with Jeanne Jennings and Tamara Gielen, on Feb. 1, 2010 in Miami Beach, FL, in conjunction with the 2010 Email Evolution Conference.

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