A good brief: the difference between your words being read or disregarded

by Darren Clare

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Whether it’s a social media post, brochure or website, if you don’t know what you’re writing about, who you’re writing for and what the objective is, there’s every chance your copy isn’t going to be read, or understood, by your target audience. Instead, it could end up gathering metaphorical dust and never achieve your objective. So, what can you do to make sure your copy does the job it’s intended for?

Write a brief

While it may seem time-consuming at first, spending a little extra time at the start of a project can create significant savings down the line. Writing a detailed brief arms writers with everything they need to get the copy right first time and reduce the need for edits. Whether it’s for a new writer, or an existing one already familiar with your brand, here’s a list of eight essential ingredients to include in your brief.

1: Background to the brief

Ask yourself: What prompted this brief? What is driving the need for the piece? This will give the writer a platform to start from and help focus the thought process. It’s also important to give an idea of past activity. Is this a new project or has something similar been created before? If so, what was produced and how successful was the activity?

2: Objective / project deliverables

Ask yourself: What am I trying to achieve? What outputs do I need? A blog, a brochure, a piece of direct mail – or all three? It can be a mistake to jump to the project deliverables before you’ve identified your objective. What you’re trying to achieve should define the content, format and channel of any piece. With this information, writers have a good idea of what format (size, pagination) and word count to work with. Always consider if there are alternative ways to present the information – or leave this open to the writers so they can make their recommendations. A good tip is to revisit this section once you’ve worked your way through the full brief. Sometimes, what you thought you needed at the outset might not be what you finally decide.

3: Target audience

Ask yourself: What do I know about my audience? Who am I talking to and what action do I need them to take? We have just a few seconds to capture someone’s attention. The headline of an article or the subject line of an email can be the difference between your copy being read or binned. Knowing exactly who your audience is will help your writers understand if they are writing for decision-makers or time-poor executives. Consider including information such as how engaged these audiences are with your product or service. Also, think about your secondary audience – who else might benefit from reading this, and what do you know about them? The more insight you can include here, the better the writer will be able to target them. Another good three-point question to ask yourself is: What do you want the reader to THINK? What do you want the reader to FEEL? And what do you want the reader to DO? This last piece is the call to action – do you want them to pick up the phone or click on a link. Or perhaps you just want to let them know you’ve got it covered and they’re in safe hands.

4: Messaging

Ask yourself: Do I have a unique selling point (USP)? Your USP is your primary message, which needs to anchor the narrative throughout the copy. The more single-minded you can be here, the clearer the copy will be.
Having stated your USP, you can then add your supporting messages and proof points. These include key messages that make up the pillars of your communications – and any facts and figures to reinforce why someone should choose your brand, product or service.

5: Tone of voice

Ask yourself: Do I have tone of voice guidelines to share? An important part of choosing the right words is how you use them. Your tone of voice says a lot about your company, and consistency across all your marketing collateral is essential. If you have TOV guidelines, send them with the brief. Copywriters will use these as guidelines to target your audience with the right message.

6: Timing

Ask yourself: What is a fair time for delivery? An easy one to forget, but important to include. As ever, there’s a balance between speed and quality. Try to allow time for writers to digest the brief and do any background reading before starting the project. Depending on requirements, it might also be sensible for writers to produce a copy outline before starting on the full draft. Sharing and getting approval of an outline allows your team to input and help shape the copy, ensuring all key messages are being covered before writing starts and reducing the need for amends.

7: Measurement

Ask yourself: Do I want to drive people to my website, get people to fill out an online form or raise brand awareness? It’s essential to put some measurement in place so that everyone knows what they’re working towards. Identify the right metrics to measure success, establish a baseline and track response rates so you can review and, importantly, learn from your activity. Running ‘test and learn’ campaigns is a great way to compare the effectiveness of a change in a headline or call to action. You can then take these results and build them into future activity to better target your audience with messaging they’re proven to engage with.

8: Budget

Ask yourself: How much spend is allocated for this project? This information will help shape and guide the writer’s thought process and the final deliverable. Consider whether the writer will need to run telephone interviews with subject matter experts to source information. Do they need to do any background reading or research, or can you provide everything they need so they can get going straight away? As you’ll appreciate, the more you need a writer to do, the more time and budget you’ll need.

A good brief makes all the difference

In today’s busy work environment, taking the time to write a thorough brief can almost feel like an indulgence. However, the return on investment from doing one will be evident in your results. A solid brief gives writers the best platform to work from. They’ll more fully understand your requirements and your audience, giving your copy the best chance of being read, understood and acted on. At Stratton Craig, we believe in the power of a good brief so much that we even write them ourselves for some of our clients. This helps relieve some of their internal time pressures – and helps us to deliver consistently exceptional copy.

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