Email envelopes with briefs and boxers

How to Write an Effective Email Marketing Brief [Free Template]

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The answer to the question “boxers or briefs?” might tell you something about a person’s choice in undies or perhaps their personality. But what if you asked marketing teams if they use an email marketing brief or not?

While that has nothing to do with undergarments, drawers, bloomers, or skivvies – teams that write up email marketing briefs know how it supports a creative vision and the strategy. (See what we did there?)

Maybe you’ve heard of marketing briefs and creative briefs before, but you’ve never used one as an email marketer. So, what goes into creating one of them, how do they help, and how do you write a brief for email marketing purposes? Let’s get some answers.

What is a marketing brief?

A creative brief or marketing brief is an internal document that’s created at the start of a project to help communicate details, dates, and strategic guidance. Depending on the project, the marketing brief may serve as an outline, and it should include important information such as the project’s purpose, the target audience, the key message, and the deadline.

A lot of digital marketing agencies use creative briefs to pass along information from person to person. For example, the account manager may have special requests from the client, and the creative director may have important ideas and directions to share. All that needs to be communicated to copywriters, designers, and developers in a clear, consistent way.

Whether it’s a hard copy or a digital document, the marketing brief travels between team members and stakeholders to make sure everyone is on the same page and following the same plan.

A brief can also be helpful for larger internal teams, or it can serve as a tool for remote teams that are working together asynchronously. Briefs can help freelancers manage client projects, and they can even help a one-person email team stay on track.

Types of creative marketing briefs

Nearly every type of creative marketing brief will include answers to some common questions: What brand is it for? What’s the goal of the project? Who is the target audience or persona? And the brief usually comes with a timeline of project milestones, or at least the main deadline.

Of course, different types of marketing projects have unique requirements and details that are specific to what’s being created. Here are some examples of what you might find in various types of creative briefs:

  • Design creative briefs provide info on the brand and the style guidelines to follow. They’ll also include specifications for sizes and file types as well as links to assets and examples.
  • Ad campaign briefs will have details on ad placement, targeting, budget, timeline, KPIs, and expected results for measuring success.
  • Content marketing briefs may provide instructions on the word count, keywords for SEO, resources for research, and an outline containing key points for an article or blog post.
  • Web development briefs will include website features and functionality, key pages, as well as info on the domain, hosting, and other technical specifications.

Likewise, an email marketing campaign has its own unique set of details to communicate, and an email marketing brief provides answers to all the questions that come up before you hit send. Let’s take a closer look.

What goes into an email campaign brief?

When you step back and look at all the puzzle pieces that need to come together before you launch a new campaign, it’s easy to see why an email marketing brief is beneficial.

Here’s an example of a completed email marketing brief. You can download your own version of this template below. But first, let’s break down the information you see in our example.

email brief example page 1 with filled fields, deadline date, and checkboxes
Click to view a larger version
email brief example page 2 with filled fields

Type of message

Emails tend to fall into several common categories such as newsletters, promotions, and transactional messages. Identifying the type of email being produced helps everyone involved understand what’s needed of them.

If your team has pre-made email templates, they’ll know exactly which one to use. If you’re using an email design system, knowing the type of message can inform the team what components and email modules are needed.

Deadline

This is an obvious one. Your project deadline should be near the top of your email brief, and it should reflect the date when everything needs to be ready to launch. Of course, you may want to give yourself some wiggle room by setting the deadline at least a day or two before the send time.

Campaign description

Give the team a few sentences that explain the email campaign, including what it’s for and why it’s happening. Maybe you’re redesigning automations based on A/B testing or because the brand style guide was updated. It could also list the content you plan to include, the email’s core message, or any other insights that describe what’s being produced.

Objective

Here, the email marketing brief should clearly explain the defined goal of the campaign. Are you solving a problem, delivering educational content, communicating product updates, or something else? What are the expected outcomes?

Your campaign objective should be more than just “increase sales” or “drive traffic to the blog.” Give everyone something clear and concrete to shoot for.

Target audience/segment

This part of your email marketing brief explains who should receive the campaign. In most cases, you will list certain segments of subscribers to whom the message is most relevant. Getting detailed information about the target audience prevents email teams from blasting messages to everyone.

Some messages are meant for existing customers while others should be sent to prospects. Are you nurturing leads at a certain point in the funnel? Is the message meant for subscribers in a certain geographic region? Is it most relevant for a specific age demographic or job title?

Be straightforward about how segmentation plays a role in the email strategy.

Copy and design assets

Is there existing material or marketing collateral that will be used to produce your campaign? Link to those things or let your team know where to find them. Writers and designers can also add asset links into the brief as they are completed so that everything is ready to go when it’s in the hands of the email developer.

Subject line and preheader

While these two elements may be part of the email copywriting process, they are so important that it’s smart to include them in your email marketing brief as separate items. It makes the subject line and preheader easy to review and improve upon in one central document.

This part of the brief is also a good place to suggest subject line options to split test. If you adjust the subject line or preview text during the production process, be sure the change is reflected in the email brief. This document is like a roadmap or a blueprint for the email, and you don’t want to steer anyone in the wrong direction.

Sender name and reply-to email

Along with the subject line and preheader text, the sender name is also part of inbox display. If you want to use a “friendly from” in the campaign, make that clear. You could also define different sender names for certain segments of subscribers. For example, you might want messages to appear as if they came from the subscriber’s account rep, or maybe there’s a brand evangelist or even a mascot you want to be the sender.

If a particular person or department should respond to email replies, make sure you list the right reply-to address as well.

Call-to-action (CTA)

It’s best practice to have one clear and effective call-to-action in an email campaign. Use your email marketing brief to define exactly what that is. Based on A/B tests and email analytics, you may know certain CTAs work better with certain segments or in certain types of emails.

You can also use this section to identify the destination of a CTA button when clicked. Put the landing page URL here so your developer can code it along with a bulletproof button.

Testing and QA

Once everything is written, designed, and coded up, you should be running some email quality assurance to catch potential problems before the campaign is deployed. The email marketing brief should contain information about what to watch for during testing, and who should review the test results.

Those results could include spam tests and deliverability, an assessment of email accessibility, and email previews that show screenshots of how the campaign renders in different clients like Outlook, Gmail, and Apple Mail.

For example, if your email includes GIFs or interactive elements, you could use the brief to note that special attention should be given to whether fallbacks are working in clients where those things aren’t always supported.

Send time

Communicating the date and time an email marketing campaign should launch is yet another key detail to include in your email marketing brief. Some campaigns are very closely tied to specific dates and times. That could include promotional offers, virtual and in-person events, product launches, and more.

A little too early or a little bit late and your email could be a lot less effective. A webinar reminder that comes after the event isn’t very helpful. And receiving a promo code that isn’t activated yet could be a frustrating customer experience.

If you’re segmenting your campaign by geographic regions, you should also take time zones into account.

KPIs

After you hit send, how will you know if your campaign was a success or a flop? Including the key performance indicators (KPIs) that will be evaluated helps the team write, design, and code more strategically.

Keep in mind that your most important KPI may not necessarily be an email marketing metric. You might be measuring registrations, video views, or average order value instead of just opens and clicks.

Additional instructions

If you can’t cover everything in the standard sections of your email marketing brief, include extra notes on anything that’s out of the ordinary or didn’t fit elsewhere.

For example, if the email is going to be personalized, you could supply some details explaining how. You could also use this part of the email brief to suggest other elements for A/B testing. Maybe there are certain things to avoid or include that didn’t fit into the normal fields of your email creative brief.

Use this last section to wrap to tie up any loose ends.

4 ways an email marketing can help

You’re already busy as all get out. So, if the thought of writing an email marketing brief just feels like meaningless busywork, that’s understandable. However, if you truly take advantage of this strategic tool, you’ll find there are ways it makes your life easier.

1. Clear communication

Do you find yourself constantly reminding your teammates when things are due, where to find assets, and how to run email QA? Do copy and design tend to miss the mark because the target audience is vague? Use your brief to clear things up.

An email marketing brief is like a living FAQ document connected to a project or campaign. When someone has a question or needs clarification, they can look at the brief instead of waiting for someone else to respond or wasting time looking for answers.

2. Stronger strategy

Knowing the who, what, where, when, and most importantly the why of an email campaign keeps everyone on the same page. When there’s a defined goal for the project, and everyone is following the same game plan,

Organizations that document their marketing strategies see more success and a higher return on their investment. Not having a documented strategy for your email is like throwing darts while wearing a blindfold. You might hit the dartboard now and then, but you’ll only get a bullseye if you’re super lucky.

3. Fewer mistakes

When communication is clear, and the strategy is defined, the entire email production process goes smoothly and efficiently. Now, we’re not saying writing up an email marketing brief guarantees no one ever makes a mistake again. But it certainly reduces the risks.

Going back to fix mistakes in emails before they’re deployed takes time. Emails that go out to subscribers with mistakes in them are not only embarrassing, but they can also be costly. An email marketing brief is a roadmap that helps prevent people from getting lost and making mistakes.

4. Streamlined collaboration

What happens when someone from outside your team needs an email campaign? Let’s say customer service, sales product, or even HR needs you to develop an HTML email. It’s highly unlikely these “outsiders” will know or remember all the details they need.

An email marketing brief is a fairly foolproof way to get all the information you need. At the very least, it provides a starting point and guides your colleagues as they make a request. But it’s also a way to have a conversation about how to write and design the email effectively.

Garbage in, garbage out

In the end, a marketing brief is only as good as the information you put inside of it.

A global study of 1700 marketers and agencies found that 90% of those surveyed agreed that briefs are an important but often neglected tool for “creating good work.” Results showed the biggest problem is briefs end up being unclear and unfocused. So, get your strategy straight, add all the details, and don’t blow off the process of writing a brief.

Tom Fishbourne (aka The Marketoonist) has had plenty of fun joking about less-than-stellar marketing creative briefs. His comics make it very clear what not to do.

Get an email marketing creative brief template

The format of your email marketing brief can be whatever works best for your team and your workflow.

It could be as simple as a Word document or spreadsheet template. It could also be a digital form that’s connected to project management software and automatically creates tasks.

If you’re just getting started, you can download our free email marketing brief template. It’s a fillable PDF you can choose to print or send a digital version to colleagues as you go through the production and email QA process.

Grab yours right now with a click! No form filling is necessary.

email marketing brief thumbnail

How Email on Acid can help

Whether it’s an email design system, email marketing briefs, or the steps you follow in email quality assurance, having defined processes helps. There’s a reason the phrase “trust the process” has worked its way into the cultural lexicon.

At Email on Acid, it’s our mission to simplify the complexities of email marketing. One of the ways we’re doing that is with Campaign Precheck, our automated pre-deployment checklist. It walks you through each of the email tests and optimizations in our platform, from inbox display and accessibility to email previews on all major clients and devices.

Use Email on Acid along with your email marketing brief and consistently deliver an ideal inbox experience.

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Author: Kasey Steinbrinck

Kasey Steinbrinck is a Sr. Content Marketing Manager for Pathwire (a Sinch Company). He understands how email and content work hand-in-hand to create a strong strategy. Kasey has also spent time working in traditional media, e-commerce marketing, and for a digital agency.

Author: Kasey Steinbrinck

Kasey Steinbrinck is a Sr. Content Marketing Manager for Pathwire (a Sinch Company). He understands how email and content work hand-in-hand to create a strong strategy. Kasey has also spent time working in traditional media, e-commerce marketing, and for a digital agency.

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