Want to write effective content? It all starts with the brief. Skipping this vital step leads to rewrites, misunderstandings, costly delays and, most importantly – the content suffers. Stuart explains the secrets to creating briefs that maximise the chance of content that will resonate with its audience – and keep your clients coming back for more.
Great news – you’ve got a new client on board. They want 100 pieces of content written in the next three weeks. Better stop what you’re doing and contact all your best freelancers, right? Wrong. You may be itching to commission your writers in a flash, but this is a risky strategy that is likely to lead to rewrites, confusion and no small amount of stress. Instead, you should put all your time and energy into nailing your content brief.
When I’m faced with a new project, there are a number of elements I consider when creating a content brief for our writers. We’ll go through them one by one:
- Target audience
Who is going to read the content you create? This is the single-most important thing to consider, bar none. You have to know your audience, otherwise you are simply wasting your time. Are they customers, looking to buy something? Do they want to be educated? Entertained? Amused? How old are they? Where are they from? What makes them tick? Your content has to make an emotional connection with your audience, otherwise it will quickly be forgotten. And once you understand who you are writing for, you’re well on the way to creating great content.
The tone of your content is crucial, too. The way you write, the language you use, your style, all has a bearing on the impact of your content. Your tone will depend, to some extent, on your audience, too. Writing for people under 30? Then write as if you’re talking to one of them. If you sound archaic and old-fashioned, you’ll turn your readers off before they’ve finished the first paragraph. Similarly, trying to be too cool for school when dealing with a more mature audience is not recommended. Your audience will put their trust in you if they feel reassured by your tone.
If the content is for an ongoing client, odds-on there’ll be a common structure the writer must follow – for example, if it’s travel destination copy, pages may have separate paragraphs covering the intro, things to do, the restaurant/bar scene, how to get there, average temperatures, and so on. If you’re writing several pieces of content, remember that potential customers will almost certainly look at multiple resorts, and they will be less than impressed if the structure fluctuates wildly from page to page. Again, put yourself in the mind of the reader – what do they want to see?
I’ll be frank. If people don’t like your intro, forget it. You’ve wasted your time. The romantic notion that people will patiently read through your finely honed content paragraph by paragraph, soaking up all those juicy facts and witty one-liners is naive. If a reader loses interest after just one paragraph, there’s no way in the world they’ll bother reading the rest of your copy. So your intro is your one and only chance to get their attention. It’s really that simple. Research has shown that many website users skim-read web pages. You don’t want that and your client definitely doesn’t want that, so don’t make it easy for your audience to do so.
- The essentials
Content briefs have a number of features that are essential to include:
- word count – what is it? If you don’t include this, brace yourself for some lengthy editing when you wanted 500 words and you’re sent a piece of copy that’s nearer 1,000. It’s not the writer’s fault if you didn’t make that clear at the start, and you’ll suffer financially, too, if the writer submits a bigger invoice than the amount you’d planned for…
- style guide – if the client has a style guide, you’re taking a huge risk if you don’t share it with your writers. The key with style guides is that the bulk of what’s in them is neither right or wrong – their sole purpose is to ensure consistency across a company’s literature, be it print or online. If all writers on a project have access to a client’s style guide from the start, it will mean far fewer amendments down the line, saving time when editing.
- deadlines – nothing frustrates a writer more than being told ‘asap’ when they ask when a piece of content is due. If you work with freelancers, then they’ll have other projects on the go from other employers, and it’s unreasonable to expect them to drop everything and start work on your latest project, no matter how urgent. All good freelancers know how to juggle their workload, and giving them clear deadlines helps them do that.
A great content brief makes life easier for everyone involved – but a bad one is almost worse than no brief at all, in terms of the extra stress and confusion it can cause. It’s tempting to start writing and commissioning straightaway when new work comes in, but if you spend the time to create a solid content brief, you’ll know your work was worth it when all that pristine copy comes flying in, each piece hitting the mark. Content briefs exist to make your life easier – and why wouldn’t you want that?