These days, an incredible amount of content is available on the internet and an increasingly dwindling amount of that is written in-house.
Not enough SMEs out there have the available skills and internal resources to write professional copy, and generally it’s more valuable for their employees to focus on other, high value tasks.
It’s for that reason that many companies choose to outsource marketing content. However, a remote relationship means communication and clarity is vital.
It’s possible that complications and bottlenecks arise if the individual or agency writing for your website doesn’t have the right information at hand to do it properly.
As a B2B marketing agency specialising in digital content, we know this struggle well.
Tell us what we’re writing
You might look at this and think this the most obvious point we could possibly come up with. You’d be right. So what is it about the process of writing briefs that means so many people end up missing these most important of details?
In fact, when people explain concepts they know well, they almost always miss out essential details – because humans are generally pretty awful at guessing how much other people know. We assume other people know the same things as us.
People who write briefs have to assume what the writer does or doesn’t know. In this situation they tend to do one of two things:
• Assume the writer knows everything already, and thus needs the barest possible information. ‘1,000 words our latest solution’ is sadly all too common a brief.
• Assume the writer knows absolutely nothing, and thus try as best as possible to convey everything they know in as many words as they can possibly muster, ensuring that the fundamental point of the brief is so deeply buried that even the savviest writer couldn’t possibly find it.
When a writer sits down to plan a task, they want to know three fundamental facts before they start researching and writing the piece:
• What is the thing I am writing?
• Who’s the audience?
• What’s the purpose?
So the ideal content brief should answer these questions first and foremost. For example:
“An 800 word blog discussing our latest product, which should seek to generate awareness and interest and provide relevant background to encourage customers to purchase.”
Every content brief you write should open with a sentence somewhere along those lines. Even the best intentioned writers in the world can’t write good content without these essential details.
Know what the writer is capable of researching
Freelance writers are generally pretty good at research. In fact, a big part of their job involves acquiring as much information about a subject as they can in as little time as possible. But all the research skills in the world won’t help if the information you expect them to find isn’t available anywhere.
The best content out there is commissioned to demonstrate a company’s exclusive knowledge of or opinion about a certain topic. Making the most unique content you can involves that little something that only your company can provide – and so it’s important that the writer is completely clued up as to what that is.
Give a little context
One thing that a freelance writer or agency probably doesn’t know is where the piece they’re writing fits into a broader content strategy. And it’s another element of good brief writing that plenty of people fail to outline.
Take for example if you’ve commissioned a set of landing pages for a range of new products. If you send each to a different freelancer, they’re probably going to want to know about the other ones – because it informs the background and structure of what they write.
Even if you send them all to the same agency, they might not end up being written by the same writer – so make sure all the information is there.
It’s also helpful for them to know what other pieces of content you generally write, have written, or will write, and where the new content fits into that. A good writer should spend some time on your website acquainting themselves with this anyway – but make sure the basic points are listed.
How to talk about your brand
And thus, we arrive upon that phenomenon that’s most often spoken about, but least well described: branding. Branding is, by its nature, abstract and symbolic, so learning how to do it in a way that conveys concrete information is pretty difficult. Even some of the most accomplished brief writers struggle with this.
People like to talk about their brand at length. That’s understandable; branding is the symbolic entity that unifies everything associated with the business. It’s somehow a colour, a style, a set of values, an aesthetic and a whole range of other seemingly unrelated things that must work together.
So how on earth do you communicate all that in the space of a brief?
The trick to doing this is to describe the brand rather than explain it. Limit yourself to between three and five adjectives that get beneath the surface of what makes it tick.
Find adjectives that wouldn’t usually belong together to build a diverse picture of your attitudes, outlook and style. Modern, inquisitive, exclusive… take your pick of words. Each adjective is a distinctive image and the mastery of describing your brand is in finding the right collage.
Remember that this brief should inform the design and graphics for the piece as well as the words themselves – so make it a good image.
It’s easier than it looks
The secret to a good brief is pretty similar to the secret of a good blog. Keep the essential information clear and simple and reduce or eliminate everything else.
The secret here is that writers are pretty good at making words appear on the page. Taking that little extra time to make sure the writer understands what words you want to appear is an investment that can only pay off.