If you have to fire yet one more freelance writer for not delivering the content you want, you swear you’re going to scream.
Or maybe you’ll just go home and hide under the bed.
You’ve hired at least six different writers for the same project, but you still haven’t received anything even close to the content you envisioned.
The style is off.
The tone is all wrong.
The content is not even the right length or for the right audience. And none of them used your all-time favorite resources or included all the links, keywords, and headers you envisioned.
Don’t they know what you want?
Here’s the thing:
No, they don’t know what you want. Unless you tell them.
While writers may be fantastic at many things, there’s one thing they’re not: mind reading. Unless you specifically outline what you want with any given project, you’re probably not going to get it.
The truth is, poor communication from a client wastes an average of 30% of an agency’s (or writer’s) time. And a weak, ineffective, or nonexistent content brief is the epitome of poor communication.
“In recent years, the creative brief has become a bit of a lost art. Marketers aren’t investing the time that’s required to write a great brief. And if you want great work, you need to know how to write a great brief.”Joe Talcott
1. What Is a Content Brief?
A content brief is a document that provides all the necessary details your writer needs to ensure the piece meets its goals. Think of it as a roadmap for content success. A great content brief will answer fundamental questions, such as:
- Why do we need this content?
- What is the content’s purpose?
- Who is the content targeting?
While the brief can contain additional information to help writers better understand your brand, it’s essential to keep it, well, brief.
You don’t want to send off endless attachments that include anything and everything ever researched, written, or created about your company. You need to tread the fine line between necessary information and information overload.
The best content briefs are designed to guide and inspire the writer, not drown them in a deluge of directives and details.
“The brief was always supposed to be a springboard for great work. Not a straitjacket.”Dave Trott
2. Why Should You Use a Creative Brief?
The top reason to use a creative brief is straightforward: it greatly increases the likelihood that you’ll get the end result you desire. Writers are no longer forced to ask you endless questions or guess at what they think you want.
The brief puts it all right there in front of them.
A well-written content brief helps both you and the writer:
- Save time.
- Reduce frustration.
- Avoid unnecessary questions that could have been answered from the get-go.
- Decrease or eliminate the merry-go-round of revisions.
- Establish parameters with the scope, objectives, and deliverables outlined from the start.
- Create better content that’s consistently on brand.
An annual Content Marketing Institute survey asked both B2C and B2B marketers what factors contribute to their content marketing success.
- 77% of B2C marketers said higher-quality, more efficient content creation.
- 85% of B2B marketers said higher-quality, more efficient content creation.
And how do you get that higher-quality, more efficient content creation?
With a creative brief.
3. How Do You Write a Content Brief?
The recipe for writing an effective content brief contains:
- One part strategy.
- One part creativity.
- One part careful thought.
You don’t want to rush through the brief, cobbling things together willy-nilly. Unless, of course, you want the final product to be equally as disorganized and unclear.
The best creative briefs will be thoughtful. Organized. Streamlined. And contain a number of basic elements no brief can live without.
Key Points for Every Content Brief
At the very least, every creative brief needs to contain the:
- Content topic, title.
- Project due date.
- Content length.
- Tone and narrative voice.
- Target audience.
- Content Topic
It’s OK to provide a general topic and title—as long as you’re OK letting the writer run with the research down any avenue they may take. Giving a writer the topic of “5 Gardening Tips” is a lot different than giving them:
- 5 Indoor Gardening Tips
- 5 Outdoor Gardening Tips
- 5 South Florida Gardening Tips
- 5 Gardening Tips to Combat Insects
- 5 Gardening Tips for Flowering Shrubs
The general topic could end up as any one of the more detailed topics—or something totally different. Make sure you’re clear on what you expect and then include the necessary details so the end results meet your expectations.
Project Due Date
For best results, the project due date and the project’s publishing date should not be one and the same. You want to leave a little breathing room for revisions and fine-tuning once the initial piece is submitted.
Not sure how long a piece should be?
Long-form content has become the rage, with the average word count for articles on the first page of Google weighing in at 1,447 words.
If you’re going for long-form content, make sure:
- Your topic is meaty enough to merit it.
- You break up big blocks of text with proper formatting.
- You include images to keep the reader scrolling down the page.
Short-form content typically consists of articles shorter than 500 words. With the long-form trend in full-swing, smaller bits of content are better suited for social media posts or subsections of longer articles.
The piece can be any length you wish, of course. Just give the writer a heads-up on what you envision so they can gauge their research accordingly.
Keywords are a must for your brief. It’s the only way for your writer to know which keywords you want to rank for. They play a role in search engine optimization, as well as shaping the direction of the piece.
Conduct your keyword research in advance, indicating which short and long-tailed keywords to include for SEO. You may also note how many times each keyword needs to be used.
Tone and Narrative Voice
Tone refers to the tone of voice. That is, the writing style, type of language you want the piece to use, and the overall feeling you want the piece to evoke.
As with all your content, the tone of the piece needs to align with your brand voice—although some types of content may be more casual and laid-back than others.
Examples of tone include:
The narrative voice you choose determines if you want the piece written in first, second, or third person.
- First Person: I | We
- Second Person: You | You
- Third Person: He, she, it | They
For content marketing, the most engaging narrative voice to use is second person. Using “you” draws in readers and makes it feel as if you’re speaking directly to them.
Third person is the most formal, and is often used for academic papers and similar types of content.
A piece of content written for a group of students is going to be a lot different than content written for a group of professors. For best results, you want to tell your freelance writer who the content is for.
You can provide a rundown on your target audience or, better yet, attach a copy of your buyer personas for the writer to review. Buyer personas are profiles of your ideal customers, and brands may have more than one. Buyer personas include details such as:
- Job titles and industry.
- Preferred method of communication.
- Favorite online hangouts.
- Go-to websites and publications.
The content you’re creating may be targeting a single persona or more than one, depending on the content’s objective.
The customer journey stage is another valuable piece of info you can include in the content brief. This lets the writer know where the reader is in relation to their knowledge of and interest in the company and the product or service they sell.
You’ll find variations of the customer journey, containing anywhere from four to seven or more stages. These stages can include:
The objective refers to the new content’s goal, or the purpose of the content. It typically aligns with the stage of the customer journey your reader is in.
- Content for readers in the discovery stage may aim to help them learn more about a specific topic.
- Content for readers in the investigation stage may aim to help them learn more about solutions to their pain points, with your product or service positioned as one of the solutions.
Other objectives can include things like:
- Entertaining and informing.
- Building brand awareness.
- Increasing organic traffic.
- Prompting email opt-ins.
- Signing up for a free trial.
- Purchasing a product or service.
Basic Info for Content Briefs
In addition to information about the specific topic, you want to make sure the freelance writer has a solid feel for your company or brand. This means your marketing team may want to include:
- A Business Description.
- The editorial style guide and/or brand guide.
- Formatting options.
Your business description gives the lowdown on:
- Who you are.
- What you do.
- How long you’ve been around.
- Your size: are you a small business or a large enterprise?
- Your industry.
- Anything else of note pertinent to the content.
Samples can include examples of:
- Your existing content.
- Content from others you like.
- Content from others you don’t like.
Your editorial style guide or brand guide is another handy reference for your freelance writers. Guides can be particularly helpful if your brand has exacting standards when it comes to creating content.
Formatting options provide instruction on things like:
- Headers, subheadings.
- Bullet points, numbered lists.
- Internal links, external links.
Deeper Specs for Creative Briefs
Content marketers who want to get even more detailed with content briefs can include things like:
- Style elements.
- Things to mention, such as your company tagline or new location.
- Things to avoid, such as religion, politics, or mentioning competitors.
- Sourcing requirements, such as the number, type, or exact sources you want the freelance writer to use—and if you want them linked within the content, listed at the bottom, or footnoted.
4. How Can I Use a Creative Brief With a Writer Who May Not Know My Industry?
Just because a content brief is supposed to be brief, it doesn’t mean it can’t contain supplementary info. This especially holds true for content writers who may not be familiar with your industry.
You can provide industry information that includes things like:
- Trends or market conditions making an impact.
- Your main competitors and what they’re doing.
- If you’re aiming to do something similar (but better) or something completely different.
- Industry content or approaches you like and don’t like.
- How you differentiate yourself from competition.
- Links to industry resources and educational content.
Again, you don’t want to inundate the writer with too much information—but you do want to supply ample trusted resources where they can learn as much as they need to deliver what you want.
5. What Are the Types of Creative Briefs?
As you’ve already seen, there is a lot of variation when it comes to crafting a great content brief. And the options aren’t done yet. Briefs vary based on the type of content you want the freelance writer to create.
You can create briefs for:
- Social media posts.
- Blog posts and articles.
- Emails, email newsletters.
- Video scripts.
- White papers and reports.
- Books, e-books.
- Case studies.
Content briefs can be used for all types of content—and all types of content creators. They’re as useful for writers as they are for designers, illustrators, photographers, and other creatives working on any type of project.
No matter what you’re creating and who you’re creating it with, briefs are an integral part of your overall content marketing strategy.
6. What Are Some Content Brief Templates or Tools That Make the Project Easier?
While you can certainly create content briefs from scratch, you don’t have to. You can tap into the cache of content brief templates and tools at your service.
- WriterAccess Creative Brief Wizard: When you place a writing order at WriterAccess, you get automatic access to a Creative Brief Wizard right in the order form. This brief builder gives you a ready-made list of specifications you can check off and include with your order.
- Save-able Creative Briefs: Once you create a brief in the WriterAccess platform, you can save it for use on future orders. While you may need to change the order topic and title, your company details, target audience, and other details may stay the same.
- Clearscope: The AI-content optimization tool Clearscope can generate creative briefs to help with the content creation process. Enter your topic, generate a report, and you can get a content brief to go with it. These briefs contain information automatically identified by the platform, such as:
- Top competitor content.
- Search volume.
- Semantic keywords.
Keywords are listed down the side of the page next to the content creation field. Clearscope automatically tracks when a keyword is used and provides a running content grade based on keyword use throughout the content.
7. Biggest Struggles With Creative Briefs—and Workarounds
Although the concept of a content brief is fairly simple, content marketers can find themselves struggling with its creation and execution. Here are some of the biggest problems related to content briefs, along with workarounds to fix them.
Not Spending Enough Time on the Brief
Two lines in an email or a few scribbles on a sticky note don’t count as a brief. Neither does attaching random company history files to an order request and hoping for the best.
Workaround: Even small marketing teams can create powerful creative briefs if they put their minds together. Schedule a meeting, have a discussion, and use a creative brief template or tool to craft an amazing brief.
Then save it for future use. Do the heavy lifting right and you’ll only have to do it once. Subsequent briefs can be adapted from the original one, saving tons of time and energy going forward.
Although your content brief can contain loads of info, it needs to contain only a single message. If you find yourself compiling a whole list of objectives for the piece of content, your brief lacks the required focus to truly resonate with your target audience.
Workaround: Make the brief laser-focused when it comes to messaging. Determine the one thing you want readers to take away from the piece once it’s finished. That’s the message you want to communicate.
Forgetting Each Brief has Two Audiences
Every content brief has two audiences to take into account:
- The readers you’re targeting with the content.
- The writer creating the content.
Too many briefs end up containing a lot of juicy information regarding the audience but not enough info for the content creator.
Workaround: Remember the writer! Make sure to highlight the key thing your writer needs to communicate. Keeping the needs of your writer in mind will help ensure your message is on-target and your instructions are clear.
Drowning the Writer in Needless Info
More is not necessarily better when it comes to content marketing. And the same holds true when it comes to content briefs.
It’s the quality of info, not the quantity, that matters. If your content brief is longer and more complex than the piece you expect the writer to create, you’re doing something woefully wrong.
Workaround: Again, remember the writer. How much info do they actually need to know to get it right? A succinct rundown on your brand personality? Yes. An 88-page report on the history of your company and why it’s now located in Poughkeepsie? No.
Failing to Keep Things Organized
Let’s say you do create and save a content brief so you can use it again and again. But you have no idea where you saved it. You’re also having a heck of a time finding your brand style guide, sample content, and other attachments you want to include with the brief.
Where did it all go?
By the time you find everything you need to send off the brief, it’s somewhere around midnight. And you think you might have an outdated version of the style guide.
Workaround: Make a master file called Creative Briefs. Then save everything you need right in that file. This includes:
- Brief templates.
- Completed briefs for various types of content.
- Brand style guide, instructions.
- Content samples.
- Anything else that makes sense.
For even greater efficiency, create subfolders within the main Creative Brief folder. One for blogs. Another for social media. You get the gist.
Summing It Up
With all the info you gleaned on creative briefs, you should be raring to go on your next project. And your writer will be, too. That’s because you:
- Have a solid idea of what a content brief is.
- Know what to include (and what to leave out).
- Can use a brief template and save the brief for future use.
- Created a main folder to store all your files.
- Are aware of the most common problems—and how to avoid them.
Crafting an effective brief will still require time and effort on your part, but the results will be well worth it. You’ll be primed to get spot-on content every single time—because you gave the writer what they need to succeed.
Content briefs are just one of the many tools to use for content marketing success. Learn to ace them all by earning Content Strategy Certification from WriterAccess Academy. Sign up now. And get instant access to the Creative Brief Wizard on the platform with a free trial.