Seven Questions for an E-Mail-Specific Creative Brief

In past columns, we’ve discussed the importance of a creative brief. Today, a few extra points for that brief to take into account the special opportunities and challenges email offers.

1. What do you say in the subject line to get the email opened?

This is the first question Karen asks most often these days, cutting right to what’s most important. Crafting that message is the copywriter’s job. Thinking about that short line of copy, which must stand out from all the other subject lines without the benefit of any supporting graphics, provides laser insight into the key marketing message. It also directs the flow of copy points within the email itself, just like a headline does for an ad.

(Thinking about this question when creating offline promotions, such as brochures, is a good way to get the creative team thinking in the right direction.)

2. What’s in the sender field?

It’s important the copywriter knows what’s in the sender field. As the subject line must be short, if the sender field contains the company or brand name there’s no need to repeat it, saving valuable character counts.

If you have any flexibility with the text in your sender field, let the copywriter know. It may be possible to come up with something that has more impact: the name of a recognizable salesperson with whom the recipient has a relationship; a publication, conference, or brand name; or even the name of a well-known promotion. Just make certain it doesn’t sound “spammy.”

3. What’s the next-best thing you can say?

The top portion of the message should highlight your “second best” copy point, as many recipients use auto-preview. This is an ideal opportunity to create copy that supports the subject line and sums up the entire message in just a few lines.

4. Timing: any urgency?

Why should the recipient respond to this email today? Can you come up with one of the following:

  • Fast 50 Offer (an incentive to the first 50 people who respond)

  • Daily Drawing
  • White paper or Webcast that can only be downloaded or viewed for a limited time
  • Coupon redeemable within a certain timeframe
  • Online survey with instant results the recipient would want to know in real time.

Even without an offer to highlight, ask your copywriter to convey a sense of immediacy and urgency in your email text.

Here’s some copy Karen recently wrote for a healthcare conference to illustrate the motivating power of immediacy:

In the year ahead, overspending in the wrong areas — or under-funding your priorities — could have severe consequences. For many financially strapped healthcare organizations, making a costly misstep could literally threaten their survival. Therefore, we strongly suggest that you take advantage of our Instant Summit Savings now to reserve your place at this critical event.

5. Does your email blast coincide with other marketing efforts?

An email blast for the same conference was scheduled a few days before a telemarketing campaign. Knowing this, Karen was able to weave the two campaigns together with the subject line and letter opening:

Subject: Call to Pharma/Biotech: disruption ahead. Special offer.

Letter opening: Significant market forces threaten to disrupt the life sciences value chain. Expect a call from us to brief you on how our analysts will address these critical challenges. If you’ve got a postcard, brochure, or catalog in the mail at the same time the email is sent, alert the reader with a “Watch your mailbox…”

6. What’s the “flow”?

A recent experience points to the importance of this question. Working with a new client, the creative team assumed a few landing pages would be linked to the original email. Sixty pages of versioning later, they realized charting the “flow” diagram, and getting a sign-off for it as part of the creative brief, probably would have been a good idea!

7. What data points are available for personalization?

The more you personalize, the greater the response. This is key information and something we don’t tend to ask enough about. Once you have those data points, you’ll see how you can weave personalization through email in interesting ways.

Even if the only thing you know about prospects is they’ve attended your events in the past, you can evoke that to remind them of the quality experience they participated in.

What questions on your email creative briefs would you recommend adding to this list? Let Karen know for future columns.

Meet Karen at ClickZ E-Mail Strategies in New York City on May 19 and 20.

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