Planning Effective Marketing Content for Better Results
Anyone who uses freelance writers knows what it’s like when the content project goes wrong – missed deadlines, excessive revisions, and confusion about responsibilities. These problems can cause anxiety, longer work hours, and even extra costs. Worst of all, you are more likely to end up with poor-quality content. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A thorough creative brief can make all the difference and generate optimal copy results.
Providing a Creative Brief Gives Freelance Writers the Tools for Success.
It’s surprising how often a freelance writer (even one who has never worked with the company before) gets little to no direction. Without a creative brief, which serves as a roadmap, the freelancer may rely on guesswork or keep bothing the client with questions. Without the guidance that a creative brief provides, the content creation process can be hectic and deliver only middling results.
Freelancers aren’t mind-readers, and you can help them do their job better—and get what you need—by laying the groundwork first.
A creative brief provides the direction needed for a smooth, collaborative experience resulting in high-quality content.
A well-thought-out creative brief enables the writer to:
- Understand the specific objectives you want the piece to accomplish
- Put the content into perspective relative to your brand and program
- Create an angle that positively positions yourself against competitors
- Properly convey meaningful, relevant, and valuable information for your audience, building trust
- Work efficiently, based on a defined process
This article is based my experiences as a freelance writer, as well my previous experience as an in-house marketing executive. I’ve found that the creative brief makes it easier for the whole team—internal and external—to stay in synch and produce the best work.
While the exact format and information found in a creative brief may vary from company to company and from project to project, this article will give you an idea of what your brief should look like. No matter what format you use, the brief should always include details about the nature and purpose of the project, the audience you’re writing for, and how to determine if the content has been successful.
Read on for more information on each of these areas.
At first, I wondered whether or not to include this section–and decided it was worthwhile. The checklist below may seem very elementary, but it’s amazing (and maddening) how often basic information is hard to locate. How many times have you searched for a timeline or the right email address and couldn’t put your hands on it? When this happens, you’ll wonder why this simple information wasn’t in a convenient place for instant access. That’s where a “cheat sheet” come in.
Whether your files are in your desk draw or your computer, keep your cheat sheet at the “top of the pile,” in a consistent location for each project. Make sure to provide it to your freelance writer. Having this information right at-hand will save you time and aggravation–believe me! Plus, if your freelancer asks you to remind them of any of the information, you’ll have it right at hand (and be able to re-send it to them).
Your “cheat sheet” should be at the very top of a creative brief–and easily found in your project folder. It should include:
- Type of content (brochure, ebook, webpages, blog, etc.)
- Project Name
- Due Date (also attach a timeline showing who is responsible)
- Internal Team (names, phone numbers, emails)
- External Team (names, phone numbers, emails)
- Approvals (who will give appovals at each step and the final sign-off )
This area is also fairly basic, but this time it’s about the project itself. Occasionally, the project summary can bring up some fundamental questions, particularly for solo marketers who don’t have other team members to brainstorm with and bounce ideas off of.
It can feel like a tickle in your brain questioning if the upcoming project is the best way to meet your objectives. Instead of the ebook you were planning, would a series of videos be better? Or perhaps a white paper?
How this relates to your freelance writer: If you feel you may be off track, now’s the time to ask–before you’ve spent precious time and resources–such as fees for your freelance writer. If you have nagging doubts, a strategic writer with a marketing background may have valuable insights. If they’re at a loss and you need some marketing support, consider finding a writer with a more more in-depth marketing background.
Some relevant areas to think about with a strategically-oriented writer include:
- Is this type of content appropriate to meet my current objectives?
- What would other options be?
- How can I repurpose this content in the future? Should I consider more versatile content?
- Do I need a new piece of content, or can an existing piece of content be repurposed?
- Will this type of content fit well with current and future content marketing plans?
Now that you’ve got the basics in hand, here are some areas that will provide your external writer with the information they need to produce high-quality content that is on point. These items are especially important if the writer is a new resource for you.
Your writer needs to fully understand your needs and goals—as well as the context in which your company operates. Without a meaningful overview of your brand, your competitors, and your place in the overall industry, your writer will feel as if they are driving with blurry vision.
Many organizations just ask the writer to go through your website or marketing literature. While that’s a good start, it can also be helpful to provide them with additional resources, such as popular industry blog sites, trade organizations, and industry reports. The writer may also ask if they can interview members of your marketing and sales staff.
The tone and angle your writer takes will take these brand-related factors into account:
- What your brand “stands for” and takes pride in
- Your company’s marketing strengths and weaknesses
- Names of key competitors, and how you compare with them
- What your audience knows and thinks about you versus your competitors—and what you want them to think.
- What is your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)? What sets you apart?
This may sound like a lot of background information, but if you plan on having a long-term relationship with this writer, it will be worth it in the long run. Also, if you have trouble explaining your brand, take the time to find the answers to these questions; it will make your marketing efforts more successful.
Content Objectives & Measurements
The company overview will provide your writer with the big picture of your brand. Now it’s time to move onto what you want the specific project to accomplish.
Your writer’s content will directly reflect your objectives, so clarity and specificity are important. For example, are you trying to get leads who are technologists or top executives? Or, do you want to build broad brand awareness or promote a specific product? Or, is your primary goal to increase visitors or conversions?
Many marketers use the SMART framework to set their goals and objectives. This acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (we’ll get deeper into SMART in the next section). You can see that some of the information we’ve already covered will fit nicely into this model. This model can be applied to both discrete projects and larger programs.
This short video explains more about the SMART framework and why it brings you closer to reaching your objectives:
Now let’s get into the M, for measurement, in the SMART framework:
The metrics you set are vital to knowing how well your content is performing, how it’s performing against other content, and how it is trending over time.
Some common performance indicators include:
- For website campaigns: number of clicks, number of conversions (forms submitted)
- For Emails: percentage of email opens, number of clicks
- For ebooks or white papers: number of downloads, number of calls resulting from download
We know these metrics also important to you as a marketer, but it is also important to the freelance writer. They want to know if their content is hitting the mark, doing so-so, or needs a major adjustment. Often, they are left in the dark about how their content performed, which prevent them from doing their best job for you.
Based on your performance analysis, these are the key issues relevant to your freelance writer:
- Where the content is hitting the mark, and where it needs tuning up
- What kind of adjustments will be most effective
- If you can use A/B testing or other method to determine how content can perform better
Sharing these types of metrics with the writer lets you can share successes and also talk about ways in which the content might perform better. For the writer, good performance is motivating, and knowing areas for improvement can generate creative ideas.
What is your company doesn’t want to share specific metrics?
Even if the company is skittish about sharing such details with outside resources, you can still give the writer a good idea of how their content is performing, where you are satisfied, and where you need the content to perform better.
Effective content is written to inform, attract, engage, and build trust among a fairly narrow audience or niche. Content that is too general, irrelevant, or uninteresting to your target audience will cause them to click away from your website to a competitor’s.
Many of the techniques used by your writer—such as language, tone, format, and length—will be determined by your audience’s characteristics and information needs. Having a crystal clear picture of who the content is meant for will make all the difference in generating positive results.
A popular way to define your audience is by using audience personas.
We’ve already discussed why you’re creating this content, what your objectives and metrics are, and what your audience needs. Process relates to the mechanics of who does what, and when. Establishing these details from the start will help you and the writer be more efficient by shortening the review, editing, and approval processes—where the system sometimes gets bogged down.
These are some of the issues you’ll need to hammer out with the writer and your team before the writing even begins:
- Will you provide your writer with just a title or concept, a set of loose copy guidelines, or a specific outline?
- What are the deadlines for providing drafts and edits, and the final deadline for publication?
- What is the review and approval process, and who needs to give final approval for the copy?
- Does the content need to be supported by data? Will you provide it, or will the writer do the research?
- Who will find the images that will be part of the content?
- Is there a style guide that defines certain elements of written content, such as legal limitations or restrictions?
- How will SEO elements, such as keywords, be defined and implemented?
An Informed Writer is a Better Writer.
When working with a freelance writer, don’t get ahead of yourself. Start off with setting down the basics, providing company background, sharing objectives, defining the audience, and determining the process. Then, let your writer know how the content is performing.
The more informed your writer is, the happier you’ll be with the results and the process. A writer with expertise in marketing and is skilled at collaborating with clients will generate optimal content. Contact Westebbe Marketing, a freelancer with marketing expertise, to get content that generates results.