Is your email brief hurting your campaign results?

MarkBrownlowGarbage in, garbage out goes the saying and its true of email campaign briefs, a better brief delivers a better campaign. You’ll find the following tips the perfect guide to what you need to put into your email briefing template.

These tips come with my thanks to Mark Brownlow (yep, that’s Mark over to the right). He gave me a few minutes of his time and experience to answer some questions about email and copywriting. His answers resonated with me and I’m sure you’ll find them valuable.

Mark is a former email copywriter, business writer and current lecturer.

Q: You’ve been in email longer than most and are known for your Email Marketing Reports site. When was it you started in email marketing?

I began with a monthly email newsletter covering scientific communication around 1998. That experience led to a job managing a group of content newsletters aimed at online business.

Campaign reports back then were essentially “Your newsletter was sent”. Campaign optimisation meant remembering to actually hit the send button. Times have changed.

Q: Why is a good brief to the copywriter important?

Asking a copywriter to write “an email” is a bit like asking an architect to design “a building”. The more information you can give them, the more likely they are to produce something that actually matches your goals. Then you won’t get a 2-bedroom house when you wanted a 6-storey office block.

Quite apart from that basic need, a good brief saves a lot of frustration and email production time going back and forth with questions and corrections. As a marketer, the briefing process can also help focus your mind and identify campaign problems. You also have something to wave at the copywriter when they don’t follow the brief.

Q: What are the barriers to marketers providing great initial briefings?

Lots of possible barriers in my experience, some of which are perfectly understandable. Sometimes there just isn’t the time or resources to put together a detailed briefing.

Sometimes marketers are not sure themselves exactly what they want. Then the copywriter plays more of a development role, making suggestions and asking questions that help the marketer form a more concrete concept of what the campaign is all about. That’s crossing over into consulting then.

Sometimes it’s because they underestimate the importance of the briefing to the copywriter’s work. Coming up with words is easy. But coming up with words that impact the reader the way you want is far more difficult. That needs a solid framework to work in – the brief.

And sometimes they overestimate how much the copywriter already knows. You can see this in statements like, “Tell them about Product A’s benefits: ease of use, etc.”

As a copywriter, my job then is to ask the right questions, such as what are the benefits covered by the term “etc.”? Which benefits are most important to the people who are going to read this text? Are there any benefits you particularly want to highlight (the last two are not always the same thing).

In the ideal world, the copywriter goes out and finds this kind of information through research, talking to people, using the product, etc.. But deadlines and budgets make that impractical for many jobs, so you need to provide that missing information.

Once you’ve used a copywriter a few times, a lot of briefing details fall away, because they really do know a lot about you, your emails and your audience. But at least initially it helps to be quite detailed in your information.

Q: What is often missed out?

Priorities and precision. If you have multiple goals, multiple audiences, multiple product or service benefits, multiple content choices, what’s the priority (if there is one)? You often can’t have your cake and eat it in email, so what’s most important to you and the success of the campaign?

Precision addresses what I mentioned in the previous question. When you say you want to “drive more website visits”, what is it you actually want email recipients to do? What page do you want them to visit? Why?

Q: What should be included?

On a campaign basis I like to know:

  • What are the campaign goals? Specifically, what response/reaction do you want from recipients?
  • Any key statements/messages that must come across?
  • Details of what you’re “selling” (product, service, information etc.)
  • Who gets the email and when?
  • What’s the email and broader marketing context? (What other emails/campaigns are they exposed to?)
  • Existing relevant marketing materials
  • The email layout/design
  • Required text elements and any word limits

Broader background might include style guidelines, background information on the business, market and competitors, and similar.

A lot depends, of course, on the scope and scale of the campaign. And much of this information might be easily accessible on the web and doesn’t need addressing in the brief.

Q: What is the biggest challenge a copywriter faces?

Creativity isn’t always something I can turn on and off at will, so the blank page can be a challenge. Copious quantities of tea help, plus short deadlines are remarkably effective at rousing the creative spirit. Too short deadlines aren’t good either, mind you. I like to come back to a text after a night’s sleep for a fresh perspective and the result is always better.

Q: Is there any final piece of advice you can give a marketing manager when dealing with a copywriter?

I can only speak for myself – I like to be involved. Give me feedback and constructive criticism, let me know what you’re doing and why, what campaigns worked etc., so I can account for all that and do my job better next time. It’s easier said than done, of course, as we’re all struggling with time issues!


Thanks Mark for your time.