8 Steps to Writing a Winning Ecommerce Project Brief

August 23, 2019

The term “project brief” is bantered around a lot. In the world of eCommerce, though, it has a pretty specific meaning. It is the plan for the development of a new or remodeled website or app that has one purpose – attracting and engaging visitors who then turn into paying customers.

Whether you are going to design and develop your eCommerce site or app in-house or contract it out, you have to have a plan. And that plan turns into a project brief so that those who will do the work can give you exactly what you want.

If you have never done a project brief before, don’t panic. You are about to learn the eight relatively easy steps to create one.

  1. Clearly Define your Objectives

What are you trying to accomplish with your new eCommerce design? You probably have several objectives, all leading to increased sales. But break down that goal of increased sales into smaller pieces, please. What will bring you those increased sales?

You may need to take a look at where your current website or app is not doing so well, to figure out what your objectives should be. If you have done the analytics (Google Analytics will give you a wealth of information), you should know how many visitors you are drawing in, how long they are staying, where they are bouncing, and how many are actually making the conversions you want – providing an email address for further contact, requesting more information about your product or service, or actually making a purchase. This data will tell you what your objectives should be.

If you are a new eCommerce business, you will want to check out the potential objectives below. They will be relevant to you too. And you get the benefit of those who have gone before you.

Possible Objectives

  • Increase conversion rates – list the conversions you want
  • Increase the number of visitors
  • Increase visitor navigation and time on site
  • Rank higher in Google search results
  • Streamline purchase and checkout processes

When you can clearly identify your objectives, the rest of the steps in your project brief will be driven by those objectives, and those charged with the design and development will have a clearer understanding too.

  1. Identify Your Key Audiences

If you don’t know who your targets are, and a lot about them, then your design can’t “meet them on their grounds.” It’s not about what you want here; it’s about what they want to see and read, what their needs are, and how your site or app can address those needs in the most appealing way. In other words, how can you show the value of your product/service.

Once you have identified your audiences, you will be able to decide the following:

  • What you should promote on your landing or home page
  • What your “about us” page should focus on. Tell your story in words and visuals that will appeal to your audiences and foster trust. If you are having difficulty telling your story, then get some outside help from creatives. Many writing services, like Studicus, have creative writing departments that can craft engaging stories.
  • Navigation, search setup, and responsiveness to multiple devices

And if you will have internal staff that will need to access and use/modify the site, you need to be certain that they can do their jobs:

  • The marketing department will want to change/add to your product pages and descriptions
  • The management team may need to run certain analytics and reports
  • Customer service may need to get in to modify customer account information

Have conversations with these people to understand what they will need and how you can streamline their tasks.

  1. Analyze Your Competition

You know who they are – those companies that seem to have an edge, that seem to be doing better than you. How are their websites and apps different from yours? What do their landing, about us, product, and checkout pages look like? Are there features that you should incorporate (not copy)? Are their product descriptions better? Do they have a cool explainer video that appeals to your audience in style and tone? Analyzing all of this will help you decide on the features you want to include in your final design.

  1. Identify What is Unique About You – What is Your Value Proposition?

If you cannot describe what makes you unique and what value proposition you offer, then you are not ready to design your eCommerce site. Without these things, you cannot hope to appeal to any audience. People need to know you and to understand why you are so good. Here are the things to think about as you get that uniqueness and value proposition down on paper:

  • What materials are used in production
  • Where have the materials come from and who produced them
  • How are your products manufactured?
  • What do you offer that no one else does?

If you want a great example of this, have a look at the explainer video that ran on the Dollar Shave Club home page for several years. It is funny, targeted specifically to a millennial audience in style, tone, and vocabulary, and clearly points to its unique offering and value. It doesn’t get any better than this:

Just as a side note, this video went viral, the company had trouble filling all of the orders that poured in, and today, this is a multi-million-dollar enterprise.

If you can nail your value proposition in a unique, engaging, even entertaining way, you will have visitors coming, staying, and sharing you with their tribes.

  1. What is Your Budget?

You need one whether you are using in-house or outsourced expertise. The money has to come from somewhere within your financial resources, so nail it down. When the doers have a budget idea, they can make their plan. For example, if you plan a video, who is producing it, where is the script, and how much will all of that cost?

To help the doers working within your budget, you will want to have two lists – those features that are a must-have and those that are a “would like to have.” This gives the doers the priorities that they need.

And once they have those budget parameters, they can decide whether to build your site or app on an existing platform (Shopify, Magento, Drupal, etc.) or to start from scratch (pricier but more customized).

  1. Describe Those Features that are on Your Two Lists

Get specific about those features you listed above. This may very well include technical specifications. For example, what must be built from scratch and what features will involve integrations with existing platforms, such as a payment gateway. What security platforms will be put in place?

What performance features are critical to you? Certainly, speed of page load will be one critical piece. When your site or any of its pages are slow to load, potential customers will quickly bounce and go elsewhere.

  1. Wireframes – Don’t Let the Name Scare You

Whoever came up with this term anyway? Non-techies don’t understand it, but here it is in a nutshell. You are now going to attempt to make a drawing (it doesn’t have to be beautiful) of the pages you have in mind and what you want included on each of those pages. This is what techies call a wireframe. You can call it a drawing or a sketch. Here you will include such things as:

  • What you want each page to look like
  • What behaviors do you envision (drop-down menus, links, etc.)?
  • What structure and content do you want included where?

Don’t stress out about this a lot. It is a very rough sketch to give those doers an idea of how to build your site or app. It’s their job to take all of your information in the above steps and come up with what you want.

  1. Timeline – You’re at the Final Step

You need to develop a timeline for each phase of this site build, especially if you are outsourcing the work. If you have an urgent timeline, then have the doers create a basic design up and running and keep adding more detailed features as they move along.

Consider 2-3 months for the full version of your site or app to be completed.

There you have it. Eight steps for your project brief. What you probably have realized is that the brief will require a lot of reflection and analysis on your part. This is the work that must be done before a project is turned over to the builders. Don’t skip any of these steps. If you do, you will not achieve the objectives you set up in step 1.

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