Good Grief, You Haven't Got A Brief?!

Do you write creative briefs for your e-mail campaigns? Your initial response may be, "Oh no, creative briefs are painful and create more work." After all, do we really care about the target audience, performance metrics or attitudes? At the end of the day, I think we do. Furthermore, I think we want our teams to care too, and we want everyone on the same page--so they understand our customers and what to do in an e-mail. Which brings us to the point of creating a brief.

Most of us understand the purpose of creative briefs, but we just don't create them. For those who do, the process is painful because the briefs become three-page nightmares that are rarely used, aside from communicating deadlines.

So what does a brief mean to you? Done well, it is one of the most useful tools you can have for planning, executing and benchmarking your program over time. At a minimum, it obliges the program manager to put a stick in the sand and think about the consequences of the campaign. But it also serves to keep you on task and not change at the last minute.

With a brief in hand, you'll be able to communicate unambiguously with agencies and internal staff about goals, objectives and intent. You do want them all to be on the same page, don't you?

Well, that "page" is the creative brief. Next time you write a creative brief, you might add a few elements that I've been using over the past few years, as follows:


Audience Segment Objectives. How many of you have received an e-mail selling ladies' shoes to gents or vice-versa? Not smart. You can segment by lots of criteria, but you should set these goals discretely and keep track of them.
Audience Personalization. When does "Dear Sir" become "Hi Joe" (or even "Hey Dude" for Gen Y)? How personal do you get, and at what stage? Should it differ by segment?
Audience Segment Attitude. Does your segment live for e-mail (checking it ten times a day), or do its members experience inbox rage at every ad that comes in? Communicate the "e-mail" attitude of your audience segments.
Environmental Consideration. Are all inboxes created equal? You may need to talk to other considerations at the inbox level based on different experiences (e.g. AOL, Yahoo, MSN/Hotmail, Outlook, Eudora).
Testing. Include a test matrix that you can draw from. But remember, you should only test what you are willing to change or improve. The point is to set the ground rules for testing up front.
Subject Line. This is the first thing your customers see. Is it the last thing you write before you hit send? Remember that the subject line introduces the creative and sets the context for the main message. Don't wait to do it at the last minute.

Now your creative brief is four pages long, which is slightly out of control. Or you are still asking yourself, "Why should I go through the motions? I can't possibly create a detailed brief for each e-mail campaign." While I agree this process may seem like overkill at times, it does keep you honest in your direction, does make you reflect on what you have learned, and does keep your teams on task. The difference between overkill and value can only be measured through application and time. I see great value in having a creative brief, and use briefs in evaluations of programs because they give me insight into the mindset of the marketer before, during and after campaigns. You'd be amazed at what you see on reflection!

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