How to Write an Effective Content Brief
You’re reading this blog post because you are about to compose your first content brief for a writer who has accepted an assignment from you. Or maybe you just want to improve your current content brief process. Either way, you’ve clicked on the right page. Creating an effective content brief is a marketing toolkit essential if you’re a content editor or content strategist who is responsible for assigning and producing content.
While these guidelines focus primarily on business-to-business (B2B) content, you can follow these recommendations for business-to-consumer (B2C) content as well.
What Is a Content Brief?
A content brief is an instructional document that outlines all the information a freelance or in-house content writer requires to create a piece of content, whether it’s a blog post, eBook, white paper, or video script. It’s usually created by an editor or content strategist at the outset of a project.
Why Start with a Content Brief?
A well-executed content brief not only aides your writer, but also helps make sure you know what you want, what the goals of the piece are, and what you’re actually assigning. If you’re unsure of certain specifics, you can be sure your writer will be just as confused. Don’t let that happen.
We can’t stress enough the benefits of starting with a content brief:
- You’ll get your writer’s attention and put them at ease, encouraging them to work with you again and again.
- You’ll make the content development process more transparent and easier for a writer to engage with.
- You’ll speed up the editorial process, getting fewer questions from your writer, and resulting in a more complete, accurate first draft that hits all of your requirements.
Conversely, if your writer isn’t working off a content brief, you’re both more likely to engage in a frustrating back and forth of questions with a subpar first draft as the result.
“A carefully crafted thesis, sample interview questions, and source suggestions–they’re the trifecta of any concept brief,” says Cindy Waxer, a freelance writer who works frequently with Tendo. “With these three elements, I typically know exactly what the editor hopes to see in the piece, what will make the client happy, and what will most interest readers.”
10 Elements Every Content Brief Should Include
Some assigning editors provide a lot of detail and directives in their content briefs, while others keep it short and sweet. There’s nothing wrong with striving to create the ultimate content brief. However you approach it, your goal is to create a reference document that is as helpful as possible for your writer, so she reads it and says, “Looks great, no questions. Working on a draft now.” With that said, here are the 10 elements that all content briefs should include:
- Target audience
B2B content needs can target different audiences for different products or services. And audience is everything. Once your writer understands the audience, they can focus on the goals of the piece. Be sure to help your writer home in on the specifics of your ideal audience and provide background on:
- Who is the content for, what is their job title or persona, what do they do, what are their careabouts?
- What stage of the buyer’s journey are they in?
- How much do they already know about the topic at hand–should the piece be high-level or more technical?
- Content goals
Provide the short-term and long-term goals of the assignment. Cover any specific KPIs by which this content will be measured. Include details that answer questions like these:
- What is this asset going to be used for? Is it for the company blog, it is part of a larger campaign, is it for external publication?
- Where does this piece fit in the funnel? Is the asset going to be used to build brand awareness, increase reach? Will it be used to create new leads?
- Main takeaways: What do you want this piece to convey, what do you want the reader to do/know after engaging? What questions should this piece answer? If you know them, include the specific pain points your writer should focus on.
Providing a summary statement with a working or placeholder title goes a long way to narrowing the focus of the piece.
“A content brief should present the strategy behind the piece,” says Michael Semer, a freelance writer. “Why are we creating this piece of content? What’s the outcome we want from it, whether it’s SEO or a specific user action?”
- Type of content
Even if mentioned earlier in a statement of work (SoW), include the type of content you need. Is it an article, blog post, eBook, or white paper? Is it a thought leadership, trend, or opinion piece, or another flavor?
- Editorial guidance
Make sure to give your writer guardrails and include:
- Brand voice and tone: How should the piece be written? First-person, third? Specify if it should lean toward promotional, professional, funny, the right level of technical, etc.
- Messaging: Provide the writer with any specific messaging they should follow about the product, service, or situation they are writing about.
- Word count: Be specific
- Background materials
Providing your writer with additional resources is often an overlooked part of the briefing process. This means going beyond “take a look at our website” for more information. Be sure to include as many of the following support resources as possible:
- Include basic info about your company and products, along with competitive differentiators. If you have them, provide your company’s editorial style guide and a branding document if helpful.
- Attach or link to your in-house style guides, similar articles, in-house materials like product marketing materials, PPT decks, webinars, persona tools, videos, to help your writer get a clearer picture of how to represent your company.
- Provide additional articles or assets from competitive or other websites if third-party views will help with research.
- Subject matter experts
Even if you have a plethora of background materials, sometimes more information is needed, which is where a subject matter expert (SME) comes in. Your SME should be an authority on the topic, product, or service the asset will cover. If the assignment requires an SME, include a bio or LinkedIn profile along with additional context as needed. Make it clear whether the SME is available to answer questions over email or in an interview.
- CTA and additional links
Is there a main call to action (CTA) the piece should include?
- Should the asset link to a supporting blog post or webpage, a contact us form, a demo?
- Should it link to third-party research or other external links?
- SEO requirements
In addition to the asset itself, should your writer optimize content to boost search engine rankings? If so, be sure to provide:
- Focus keywords (primary and secondary) or a keyphrase
- External linking requirements
- The preferred format for meta title and description (include character count info, if you prefer a CTA approach, etc.)
- Social media requirements
In addition to the asset itself, should your writer provide social media copy? This section, like some of the others can be optional, but be sure to provide as much info as you can if social copy is required:
- Links to the social channels they are writing for and specific instructions, including voice differences for social
- Character count
- Social media template: If a lot of your writing assignments request social copy, you might consider creating a template that includes all of this info for the writer to fill out, usually once the first draft is okayed.
- Examples of successful social posts
- Deadlines and timing
Be fair when giving your writer a deadline. You should assign your content as soon as you know you have the need. This is your opportunity to set a very clear deadline. If you’re ambiguous, your writer might deprioritize your assignment.
Finally, a word about contact info: You’re a resource, too. Let the writer know how best to contact you and most important, be available. Content marketing writing is a two-way street. Make sure your writer can get in touch with you.
Content Brief Formats and Templates
Now that you have a handle on all the information that your freelancer needs to know, it’s up to you how to share it. Whether you have a kick-off call with the writer and other stakeholders, make some of this information part of an assignment letter instead, what’s important is that your freelancer has all the information needed to start their project.
What’s the best way to convey all this information? You can embed your specifications within your email or prepare a separate Word or Google doc with the information, as long as you make it a consistent, repeatable process. Create a format or template that you can reuse will save you time in the long run and ensure consistency from assignment to assignment.
Your content brief template may evolve over time, and that’s OK. While it should be a fluid document that is customized to your impending content need, working from a structured format will help you set the right goals, include the most helpful information, ensure a smoother content production process, and increase the chances for a success project. Plus, you’ll have a writer who will want to work with you again. Now, go write that brief!
Talk to Tendo
Want to hit a home run with your next content marketing asset? Assign it to Tendo Communications and our team of experienced B2B content creators. Learn more about our content marketing services or contact us.