How to write a copywriting brief that gets you the results you need

There are two kinds of copywriters out there. One type will interview you and get you really thinking about your product or service offering, your target customers, and what they really want as opposed to what you think they should buy from you.

This leads to a marketing communications brief that is bang on target and will produce an excellent result across all media. This type of copywriter tends to be experienced, skilled, very, very good at the job, but expensive.

Many SME businesses can’t or won’t pay for this level of professionalism. To quote a very-swiftly-dumped-ex-client of mine, “HOW MUCH? Just for a little bit of wording?”

Mind you, usually they find out the hard way that it saves them fortunes to use real professionals after all. Remember this lovely saying: if you think a professional is expensive, wait till you try an amateur. It’s hard to feel sympathy for these businesses.

However, for local/small businesses that genuinely can’t afford high-end professionals, there is hope.

The second type of copywriter charges less, but only works to your brief. They are likely to be good at the craft of writing, but not the craft of thinking – at least not in the right way to guide you. You tell them what you want, they go away and do it, deliver it back and off you go with content that’s as good as the blueprint you gave them.

If you are building a hotel but gave them a blueprint for a skate park, the result won’t work. But it’s not the copywriter’s fault: they delivered perfectly to your brief.

Here’s how to make sure the next brief you give to a copywriter (or a graphic designer, web developer and any other soft-skills supplier) is the right marketing comms platform that will grow your business. (And not be a skate park blueprint used to build a hotel!)

10 key points to consider when writing and using a copywriting brief

1.Start by asking yourself some basic questions about your product or service. Is it something target customers are gasping to buy, or is it a solution looking for a problem? Be honest. If you’re not honest with yourself about this, it could be a very expensive mistake.

If your business is a solution looking for a problem, it’s likely to fail. No copywriter can dig you out of that hole.

2.OK, you know your product or service fills an important gap in the market. Have you researched this properly? Are you indulging in wishful thinking, or do you have concrete evidence that you have something customers want and/or need?

3.Take a lot of time and trouble over defining your target customers. Get to know them well. Identify and flesh out your “typical” customer or client. Give them a name. Imagine meeting them at a business networking event and telling them what you do AND, of course, what’s in it for them as new customers/clients. Your “why,” as well as your “what.”

4.Think about what makes you and your business unique. Yes, that’s right. Even if you’re an accountant in a town where there are 54 other accountancy firms, you need to find something about you that makes you unique. It doesn’t have to be financial wizardry, although that helps. More importantly, it’s likely to be …

  • Your experience in one particular specialisation
  • Your connections and activities outside the business
  • Your knowledge of the local business scene in your area
  • Your interest in helping certain market segments – e.g. start-ups
  • Your interest and participation in the local business scene including sporting and charitable activities

5.OK. Look at where your business is now, and define where it has come from so far. What successes can you share? What testimonials can you obtain to help reinforce your marketing communications?

Don’t even think about briefing a copywriter until you know you’ve got your marketing strategy right

6.Gather together all this information, and write it down into a document so everyone gets the same messages. Then get your copywriter in. Sit them down. Give them coffee, tea, or whatever. But whatever you do, don’t bullsh*t them. Be honest and tell them exactly what they can extract from the information you have gathered together from points 1 to 4 above. Why? Because if you’re not honest with your writer (or other marketing creative supplier) they won’t be able to provide a realistic result that works for you and your business.

7.When the copywriter comes back with the first draft: how do you judge it? Step outside your own persona and imagine you are a prospective customer of your own business. Does this content ring your chimes? Does it make you want to click on (or phone on) for more information?

8.If it does, great. But what if it doesn’t? Don’t be too hasty in criticising what your copywriter has provided. Although the writer may have got a few things wrong, they may also have been misdirected by your brief … if that wasn’t clear enough to establish what your business is all about and how it can benefit customers. Also, don’t be bamboozled by your – understandable, but unhelpful – subjective interest here. Be objective even if it makes your eyes water.

9.When in doubt, go back to basics. Is this text/ copy/content based – however loosely, depending on its format – on what’s in it for you, the customer? Or is it still talking about “we,” what “we” do, and why “we” are “your” best choice? If so, it’s wrong.

10.Bottom line: it’s simple. Put yourself in your customers’ and potential customers’ shoes. If the text you have commissioned tells them that what you do can help them … stop them worrying about business issues that keep them awake at night … make their lives easier … make their businesses more profitable … you’re on to a winner.

Even a low-cost, inexperienced copywriter can do this for you, but only if you brief them right.

So don’t waste your money by getting your brief wrong.

Use these simple guidelines (above) and develop a marketing strategy/briefing that will help everyone in your organisation to do their jobs better … as well as providing the basis for a thorough, accurate brief to outsourced marketing suppliers.

What can you share regarding your own experience of briefing copywriters?

Please let us know!


About the author: Suzan St Maur

Suzan St. Mauer

This article first appeared on Suzan St Maur’s award-winning writing resource website, HowToWriteBetterHTWB … with more than 1,500 articles and tutorials on a vast range of topics from business to fiction, training to comedy, by Suzan and many other writing experts from around the world. An experienced expert in marketing communications, Suzan is now an author coach, book publishing consultant, and best-selling author.

This article was first published by Suzan St Maur

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