Content briefs: Your blueprint for solid content

Posted on April 25, 2019

Feeling choked by a blank page is a common complaint among creators of marketing content. This complaint is voiced less often when the content is planned well in advance and/or produced as part of a larger campaign. Central to this planning is the content brief. Executed properly, this critical document can help the creative process and the organization move forward.

Ideally, a content brief should include:

  • Content types/genre(s). Examples are blog posts, articles, landing page copy, email blasts, sales sheets, brochures, white papers, product descriptions, videos, podcasts, and how-to guides.
  • Word count. Provide a range for the sake of flexibility.
  • Tone of voice. The piece may be friendly, formal, technical, educational, descriptive, or even lyrical, depending on the purpose of the content being created. Be as precise as possible when defining the tone of voice for standalone pieces and content campaigns. Keep in mind that one person’s wasted phrasing might be another’s evocative image.
  • Audience. Specify the recipients of your content. Your readership/viewership might include not only C-suite executives (e.g., CEO, CFO, CIO), but also finance or operations contacts, social media influencers, and professional service providers such as attorneys and accountants that assist corporate clients.
  • Content-specific usages. Decide whether to scrub out the passive voice, refer to “we” and “you,” and use the second comma in lists that follow the a, b, and c format. Some content creators prefer not to use commas after the next-to-last item in a list. However, these commas offer clarity, especially when the list is complex. Compare “I’d like to thank my parents, the Pope and God” with “I’d like to thank my parents, the Pope, and God.” In this instance, the serial comma makes the difference between a howler and a humble acknowledgment. Include appropriate usages such as these in your style guide if you have one; consider creating one if you don’t. A style guide is an excellent place to document editorial policy, standard usages, and language that’s legally prohibited because it overpromises and/or makes false claims.
  • Foundational style. To avoid inconsistency and confusion during the content creation process, many organizations use American Medical Association, Chicago, Associated Press, or similar industry style standards as their baseline for editorial guidance. Following industry standards like these takes the guesswork out of presenting outlier items that the organization’s style materials don’t cover.
  • Keywords (primary, secondary, tertiary) and required keyword density; for example, you might choose to include 1-2 keywords per 100 words of body copy. Keywords should refer to your organization’s products or services and, if relevant, its geographic location.
  • Title tag and meta description requirements. All webpages have title tags, and meta descriptions help search engine crawlers find your page and classify it appropriately. Title tags and meta descriptions should include useful, relevant keywords that will be repeated in the main portion of the content. They should also take strict character counts into consideration. As a rule of thumb, title tags typically display 50 to 60 characters (including spaces), while meta descriptions top off at 150-160 characters. Past this point, tag language is truncated, and users generally won’t see it.
  • Required links. Obtain prior written permission to use material from third-party sites.
  • The role of the content in a given campaign. E-vites, landing pages, and sponsored ads might support a single event, while print and web advertisements can help the organization meet longer-term goals. When multiple pieces of content are created for the same campaign, make sure that their content brief guidance is consistent.
  • Analytics and ROI expectations. Don’t create content in a vacuum. Instead, build a solid data framework before you write the first word of your content brief. Practicing good analytics hygiene will help you measure whether the content meets the needs of the audience and the goals of the organization.
  • Calls to action. State what you want the audience to do, feel, or know after accessing your content. CTAs like “Learn more” and “Watch the video” are important, and it’s prudent to list them in the content brief in addition to the content itself. Use caution when developing CTAs. “Click here” and “Click to continue” are outdated and best avoided. Also, don’t use “tap” as a CTA unless you know the content will be accessed only on mobile devices. This matters because boosting your browser’s zoom percentage can confuse some websites into thinking your laptop screen or desktop monitor is a touchscreen—when in fact, tapping or swiping it has no effect.
  • Design elements. List branded icons, logos/images, photographs, and other items to include vs. exclude in the content. Provide specifications and usage instructions for each graphical component.

Content briefs exist to guide the creative journey and ultimately promote click-throughs and conversions. Contact us to learn more about creating an effective content brief for your organization.