Let’s set an all too familiar scene in what we’ll call ‘content brief theatre’…
The lights fade in on a frustrated content editor, hunched over a desk with their head in their hands. Their posture resembles the curve of a question mark – it’s as if their very being is asking why they even bothered to get out of bed that morning.
It’s Friday. They want to go home, but there’s a deadline to meet. They’ve patiently waited all week for this urgent piece of content to grace their inbox with a satisfying ping.
Instead, they’ve been sent an incoherent dud of a document that’s wheezed its way across the e-stratosphere and crashed directly into their emails.
The content may as well be in a completely different language. Every key point the editor asked the writer to get across has been misunderstood. Confusion hangs in the air like a bad smell. Through the muffled expletives and bustle of a busy office, one crystal clear thought emerges:
Did they even look at the content brief?!
Shaking off the content writing brief blues
At writefully, we like to let our imaginations run around the room and get a little exercise, so the above scenario may sound melodramatic. But I’ll bet you could picture it well in your mind, right? Because if you’ve been in marketing long enough, you’ve experienced this time and time again (and ALWAYS on a Friday when you were about to log off for the week).
Behind every good game plan is an even better blueprint – but not every blueprint is followed correctly. While it’s frustrating to see a content brief not being followed, there’s an opportunity to analyse why this happens, and to create a bulletproof brief that’ll inspire a faster, more cohesive content creation process.
So, for newbies with no idea of how to write a brief and experienced content brief writing veterans alike, let’s shake off our frustrations and channel it into creating the perfect content outline. One that has everything you need to capture, captivate, and convert your readers.
What is a content brief?
First of all, let’s establish what a content brief actually is and what the purpose is behind even creating one.
Think of your larger business strategies as the fittings and foundations of a house. Of course, they’re going to require blueprints, measurements and planning in order to make it solid and dependable.
In this scenario, the strategy and goals for your business are the rock-solid structure. As for the content? Well, it’s the window that allows customers to get a better look into the more attractive qualities of your brand.
So, what is a content brief? It’s not just a general idea of what you want to accomplish and then type out at the last minute as an afterthought. It’s a document that tells your story to the writer – enabling them to accentuate your biggest selling points and shout about your brand to the right audience.
It’s important to be thorough when writing a brief like this. And no, being thorough doesn’t mean being long-winded.
The length of your brief isn’t half as much as its depth. It needs to clearly articulate the direction of your business goals while keeping customer engagement in mind through brand values and tone of voice.
It’s just a matter of figuring out what makes a good content brief in order to achieve your specific goals. To do that you’ll need to take some time to self-reflect. After all, rediscovering the core values of your business is like uncovering gold under the mountain of numbers, statistics and strategies of your brand.
What makes a good content brief?
What does this all mean for your print and website content briefs? It means following these five principles to unify all of your marketing materials and processes into one content brief template. It means having quick answers at hand for your writers, and less wasted energy repeating yourself over and over again.
Essential for anyone entrusted with crafting the content brief. Allow some time to break down what you want to accomplish – being self-critical with how you’ve communicated it. Is it clear, or have you underestimated the interpretation of some terms and phrases? Some words that are commonplace in your industry could mean nothing to an unfamiliar writer. So keep it straightforward and communicate:
- length and subject of the content
- who it’s aimed at
- the tone of voice
- what you’re looking to accomplish
- your expectations for the content
- what people should feel when they read it.
Simplicity is a gift. One clear vision for a task can unify all of your business goals and make writing a brief easier for you and your writer.
How the reader feels is an underutilised tool in modern marketing. It doesn’t matter how wonderful your products and services are, if your content can’t appeal to someone on a human level, they won’t reach the end of your first paragraph.
Your needs are going to change with each project, depending on where you are on the path to achieving your objectives. Inevitably, those goals may change. But when it comes to mastering the art of how to write a content marketing brief, you’re going to need to keep those goals and expectations consistent across all of your platforms and marketing channels.
Not only this, but you’re going to need to keep the tone and message in which you communicate these consistent as well. If you don’t have tone of voice guidelines, here’s where you’ll need to knuckle down and create some. If you do, and you’re still struggling to nail your content, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and reassess.
It may sound like a lot of work on your end, but implementing consistency will save you time in the long run. A solid content brief template gives your writer more details to work from and relieves your editing duties significantly.
Consideration for the bigger picture
From the snappiest tweet to the longest blog posts, every piece of written content should feed into the bigger picture of your marketing plans.
Are you asking the writer to include a combination of internal and external links? Be sure to keep in mind the association of those links with your overall values and vision. Remember: everything you post is a cog in the larger wheel of your business.
This approach isn’t just beneficial for external marketing practices – it helps to sharpen internal processes as well. As your writing team expands, so will your number of briefs. By mastering this now, you’re helping to develop a more streamlined approach to content creation in the future.
Capitalising on a key selling point
A unique selling point won’t sell a thing without good content to fuel its momentum. And good content has no direction without a clear USP to guide it. In other words, the content of a project brief needs to hit the following points in order to achieve its goals:
- give the writer a clear idea of your unique selling points
- allow them the freedom to articulate those points creatively.
While it sounds like something of a contradiction like saying ‘do whatever you want as long as it fits in this specific box’, it can be done.
Think of your content writing brief as a paint by numbers canvas. You’re giving the writer a very clear path and an idea of what colours to use. But you’re also allowing them some creative freedom to give it that artistic flourish to sell the piece you’re painting.
Follow these steps and your USPs should be pretty clear. All that’s left is to create the template and let your artist fill the blanks.
Oh, and stick to one key selling point. Mentioning other benefits is perfectly fine, but too many can overwhelm a reader. Nobody wants to be beaten over the head with statistics. Less is more, especially if your blog post is between 500-1500 words.
Capture the essence of your brand
In order to get your brand found by those actively searching for what you offer, you’re going to have to explain what the essence of your business is in your briefs. It’s the smaller details that shape the depth of good content. Something you think may not be of interest to your customers could be the catalyst for a sudden explosion in creativity.
Understanding the heart and soul of your brand is one thing. Helping your writer to understand it in a brief is another thing entirely – this is the final hurdle of a content writing brief. The challenge is in taking what you know and conveying it in a way that’s easy to understand and makes the writer aware of how you stand out from your competitors.
This is integral to a stress-free project brief, regardless of your industry. Are you a complex technical brand? Tell the writer what’s beneath the circuits and silicon valley slang. Are you a hip young company ready to burst out onto the scene? Explain the vision underneath all of that noise.
If you’re a startup business outsourcing your work to agency writers, this part is essential. If you’re not providing subjects, titles or keywords, you’ll need to ensure that the writer fully understands not only what your business does, but what its character is as well.
How to write a content marketing brief: the writefully template
Whether you’re working with an agency or helping some newly-hired content writers to hone their craft, the right content brief template can be the difference between a conversion and complete apathy for your audience.
Below is a template that’ll help you to stay on point and focused on the objectives at hand, without losing the human touch that inspires readers to explore your business further.
|Description||A simple summary of what’s needed:
(let’s use this very post as an example)
A long-form blog post that covers everything needed to create the perfect content brief. Include a template for readers to take inspiration from to save them issues with their project brief creation.
|Title||If you aren’t providing a title, then be sure to set a character limit so your writer isn’t going overboard.
A general comment like ‘five places to eat sushi in London but can we make it a little more interesting’ is perfectly fine. Again, you’re providing a solid guide that leaves room for the writer to do their thing.
|Content length||This will vary depending on the type of content you’re creating.
For this post – after our Head of Copy has given it their stamp of approval – we’re aiming for around three thousand words.
|Main Keyword||If applicable, give the writer their main keyword, or let them know if they’ll be expected to research any keywords.|
|Secondary Keywords||If needed, add the secondary keywords here and encourage the writer to include them (ideally) twice in the content – and in a few subheadings.
Does it sound like basic stuff? Good! Never assume a writer knows what you want, or that something everyone is aware of in your company is commonplace elsewhere.
A few simple instructions here saves you hours of editing headaches come deadline day.
|Tone of voice||Let’s use this very post as an example again:
We want this post to help people save time and stress less over content briefs. We know this frustration.
So, how are we going to communicate it to you in a way that’s helpful, reassuring but also serves a purpose for you? Our tone of voice, of course.
This can be as general as you please: friendly/confident/professional/humorous but it rests on your shoulders to provide this to the writer.
|Target customer||Business owners who hire content writers to make their blogs, web pages and social media posts.|
|Intentions of content||We want to reach frustrated business owners and people in marketing who find writing a brief difficult or don’t quite know what it should include.
The intention is to relieve that pressure and make sure anyone, even experienced marketing professionals, reads it and takes something away that’s of use to them.
|Examples of similar content||Impossible – there’s no comparison to writefully:)
But if you’re creating a brief it’s handy to attach some content you’ve read and felt captured what you want to achieve.
|Competitor links||Provide links to your three main competitors
Feel free to add comments about what you like and don’t like about what they do. It all helps to shape that perfect piece of content.
|Comments||Here’s your chance to add a few extra tips to steer them in the right direction. Does it seem rather insignificant to you? Chances are it won’t be for the writer.
“A lot of blogs like this include auto-generated content briefs or links to try and get people to subscribe to some kind of content technology. Let’s steer clear of this. We believe that good content that serves a purpose is what makes a piece of content engaging. Thanks!”
|Deadline||Always confirm a deadline.
If you’re new to sending out content briefs it may be best to agree upon a quick catch up email or call to be updated on the progress of the project.
|Contact details||Give them the direct email and other contact information of the person they’ll be delivering this content to.|
Generating subjects for your content briefs
Businesses tend to have a specific subject in mind for their content. However, there are times when companies prefer to simply hand over these tasks to a marketing agency and let them research topics, keywords and competitors in order to accomplish their objectives.
Neither of these two methods is necessarily wrong. But if you’re a relatively new business that needs a little guidance towards getting you where you need to be, here are a handful of ‘cheat sheet’ ideas to get your creative juices bubbling.
Consider some of these ideas for blog posts and other content before deciding on what you want:
- conduct surveys online asking customers what they want to see
- monitor your best selling products or services and build content around them
- study what your competitors do and find ways to stand out from it
- look on forums for common issues and complaints, then create content that offers solutions to these problems.
When you come to that content brief, you’ll know exactly what you want to convey and how you want to go about doing it – you’ll even have proof that it’s serving a purpose and appealing to the emotions of your audience.
The writefully content brief checklist
Okay, you’ve now learned how to write a brief. You’ve come this far and turned what could’ve been a slapdash content nightmare into a shipshape content brief. It’s time to deliver this baby to the writer and let them show you what they’ve got.
But before you press send and grab that much-deserved coffee, make sure you’re able to check off each of these questions from our checklist.
- Is your content brief template clear?
- Have you included a word limit and subject title?
- Have you included keywords if this is an SEO content brief?
- Is the brief relevant to the specific task that’s being asked of the writer?
- Would someone who knew nothing about your business be able to understand what you offer – and what your brand values are based on this template?
- Is it simple and to the point?
- Have you used unnecessarily complicated language or phrasing in the brief? If so, remove and simplify.
- Have you established a very clear tone of voice for the writer to adhere to?
- Have you made it clear what type of person this content is for?
- Have you included a timeframe for delivery of the content?
- Are the contact details of the person responsible for working with the writer on the template?
- Have you included examples of previous content that’s similar to what you’re looking for?
- Is it consistent with the kind of content you usually put out?
A little substance creates a lot of content
If you take nothing else from this guide to creating a content brief, take the notion of a good brief being able to help your business grow and sustain itself with an endless supply of ideas, avenues and areas to cover through your content.
Do that and you’ll not only begin to understand what you’re looking for more clearly, but you’ll also be able to express your needs in a more productive manner.
We began this post with an all too familiar scene in a stressful office. Taking all of our pointers on board, let’s picture a brand new scenario in content marketing…
We fade in on a fresh-faced content editor at a desk. They sit upright as if their entire body has felt a surge of excitement and inspiration. Something powerful has arrived in their inbox. It has travelled from their laptop screen, down to their fingers and is now coursing through their body. Is it…… a sneeze? An awkward smile? A bad lunch repeating on them?
In fact, it’s one of those rare business and marketing anomalies – the satisfaction of seeing a content brief followed and executed perfectly. Every key point the editor asked the writer to get across has been followed. Relief fills the air. With one final nod of approval from the editor, a crystal clear thought emerges: this is EXACTLY what we were looking for!