8 Steps to Awesome: Content Marketing Starts with a Good Brief

Business.com / Marketing Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Content marketing starts with having good content to market. And good content stems from a good brief—think of it like the foundation.

Content marketing starts with having good content to market. And good content stems from a good brief. Much like a house requires a solid foundation, content too, needs a sound and comprehensive starting point to build upon.

Without it, you’re just grasping at smoke, trying your best to read minds when everyone knows that’s not your forte (it’s not anyone’s, so don’t feel bad).

Aside from being a complete waste of valuable content creating and marketing time, the absence of a good brief leaves one understandably frustrated.

The more effort you put into the brief, the better your chances of getting a good piece of content back. It’s what Abraham Lincoln meant when he said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”

Whether you’re the one assigning a writing task or the writer doing the work, a comprehensive brief is vital. This holds true even if you’re writing a piece for your own blog. Knowing what the requirements and parameters are upfront, leaves you free to focus on the writing.

At TopLine, no brief is assigned without first having answered these questions in as much detail as possible. Obviously, we’re not talking thesis-length answers, but one or two-word responses aren’t going to cut it either. What you’re after here is context.

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1. Publication Tone

The publication’s tone is an important factor when writing an article. It could be quite generic, for example, "business-y" or "conversational" or it could be very specific. Perhaps there’s a certain brand of humor, undertones of sarcasm or quirkiness even.

Capturing a publication’s tone is much the same as hitting the right note in music. Get it right and you’ll create flow and congruency, get it wrong and the piece will feel off. And that’s if it gets published. In all likelihood, it’ll be rejected outright or you’ll have to rewrite it. Check the publication’s guidelines and read old posts to familiarize yourself. The better prepared you are, the better the chances of the article being pitch perfect.

2. Deadline

Making the deadline clear at the outset might seem obvious, but you’d be amazed how often this all-important piece of information is omitted. Worse, though, than failing to provide a "do by" date, is lying about when you need something written by.

Rather than be known as the person who cries wolf (read: creates unnecessary stress), build a reputation as someone who can be trusted. That way, when you do actually have a really tight deadline it is far more likely to be met.

3. Length

Like with the deadline, you might think word count an equally obvious addition to any brief. In our experience, we’ve found there’s no such thing as too much or too obvious when it comes to ticking all the boxes of a good brief. We’re human.

People forget things all the time. Include the word count in the brief template and you’ll avoid having to tell your copywriter that their magnum opus needs to be whittled down to two or three compact paragraphs.

4. Target Audience

Not knowing who you’re writing for is like searching for a needle in a haystack. In the dark, with mittens on. Given how easy it is to find out who a publication’s target audience is, it’s inexcusable not to include this vital piece of information in the brief.

Knowing the target audience lets you know not just what to write, but how to approach the topic as well. It determines your level of writing, whether or not it’s okay to use insider lingo, and it’ll give you additional insight into the overall tone you should be aiming for.

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5. Purpose

I learned the hard way that while content is still king, good writing is only half the battle won. A witty, entertaining and well told story won’t automatically result in a flurry of traffic to your website.

Whether it’s to rank for a specific keyword, showcase your company as an industry expert or provide a template answer to a question asked repeatedly by clients, only once you’re crystal clear on this one point should you move ahead with the piece.

6. Target Keyword

Nowadays, unless you’re writing a novel or a Hallmark greeting card, SEO is going to play a role in what you write. A good writer will definitely be able to slot in target keywords after the fact, but continuing in the making things as easy as possible vein, it’s helpful to identify keywords upfront and include them in the brief.

7. Call-to-Action (CTA)

The CTA will tie in with the purpose of the piece. If you have something specific you want readers to do, for example, download an eBook, share the post or leave a comment, include it in the brief. It won’t always be published (the publisher might decide against it) but it’s always worth a shot.

8. Buyer Journey Stage

Along with tone and target audience, it’s important to know where along the buyer journey stage a reader is. If you’re looking to nudge your readers down the sales funnel, it follows that you’ll write according to where they are along it. The content you produce for a lead will differ vastly from something you write for a paying customer. The information you include, your tone and overall approach are all very much dependent on this knowledge. Leave it out at your peril.

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From a content marketing agency’s perspective, we’ve found the information listed above to cover everything that’s required in order to produce a really good piece of writing. It provides the writer with everything they need to know from the outset, which generally means fewer edits to the copy.

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