You wouldn’t head off into a strange city without a map or GPS on your phone. Or go to court without preparing a case for the prosecution or defence. Why would you embark on the most critical of your business communications tools without a plan?
But you’re human, and so is your web content writer. What we think, what we say, what we hear, and what our brains receive and reproduce can differ substantially through each phase of the briefing and writing process.
Reduce the risk of misinterpretation
An effective, written web content brief reduces the risk of misinterpretation. It can save you days, even weeks, of revision, rework and frustration. On both sides. You’ll be glad you invested the time.
It doesn’t have to be long or complex. You don’t need a Ph.D in business and marketing to complete it. All you need to do is follow the prompts and answer them clearly.
Keep your responses short and to the point. If you can, restrict each answer to 25 words or less. The discipline will repay you in ways you won’t believe.
Let’s go with our eight steps to building a web content brief.
1. Your story
Start at the beginning. Tell your web copywriter who you are:
- What are your three primary principles (the personal beliefs by which you live and engage with your world)?
- What is your life’s purpose (why are you on this planet)?
- If you were to have one, what would your epitaph (inscription on your grave) be?
2. Your business
- Why did you start your business?
- How did you start your business?
- Why do you remain in business? What motivates you and your people to keep going?
- What are your business’s three top values—the beliefs through which your business engages with staff, customers, suppliers, investors, community, and the world?
- What is your product, service, or cause? List all if there are more than one.
- How do you collectively express your belief in it, or them?
- What is your company or organisation’s purpose—your reason for existence, or why you do what you do?
- How do you try to reach your targets? Share with your copywriter anything you use to market your business now—a current website, brochures, flyers, newsletters, advertising. If these are governed by brand and style guides, share those as well. Every insight can lead to new or refined ideas.
3. Your target/s
This section narrows in on the flesh-and-blood, thinking-and-feeling people who make or break your business. You may have more than one kind of audience or target, for more than one product, service, or cause. No problem.
Just be sure to answer the questions for each audience.
Test yourself here, and be very specific. Let’s use an example—suppose you’re a florist.
Pointless target description:
- Local residents/passing traffic
Everyone is a local resident, somewhere. You can’t hope to reach everyone with the same message.
Focused target description:
- Local businesses who understand the value of fresh flowers and plants but lack the time and resources to manage them regularly
- Local real estate agents who get the difference flowers make at home inspections, and who reward successful home buyers and sellers with flowers after a sale
- Local funeral directors who sometimes have to deal with short notice for floral arrangement
- Maternity and nursing homes who could benefit from weekend or after hours floral services from a local supplier
- Bridal designers and wedding planners who value customised nuptial arrangements for their clients.
As well, ask:
- Why are they your perfect target/s?
- What is their age, gender, relationship, and parental status?
- What influence do they have over buying decisions?
- What do they know and think about you right now?
- What do you want them to know and think about you as a result of your website?
4. Your targets’ desires and fears
People buy for two reasons. They convince themselves they must have something they want—desire. Or they’re worried they’ll miss out on what others have—fear.
How can you help them understand and express these needs and wants?
Does your business, product, service, or cause:
- Offer a clear improvement to their lives?
- Offer a competitive advantage to their business?
- Make them feel or look better in the eyes of family, friends, colleagues, and community?
- Remove a threat or worry in their lives or business?
- Reduce stress?
5. Your targets’ objections
Marketing lore says we need on average 17 communication touch points before we make a buying decision. And when we finally do make the decision, it’s based on justifying an emotional urge, rather than a logical or rational process.
Let’s re-visit our florist:
Her prospective clients’ concerns could focus on:
- Our business has limited staff who are flat out with customers. How can we trust you to stick to a weekly, unsupervised schedule of fresh flowers and plant care and rotation, without intruding on our operations?
- Our agency deals with hundreds of home sales and purchases a year. Are you able to meet that kind of demand weekend after weekend?
- How do we know that you can maintain a consistent quality of product and service in such a seasonal business?
- What qualifications do you and your staff have, and what levels of refresher training do you undertake
- How can we rely on you to consistently surprise and delight our customers with stunning floral art?
- Flowers are a commodity business, but our management and sales consultants don’t have the time to shop around. How can we know we’re getting a consistently good deal with your products and services?
These are fair and reasonable queries. We all ask questions like these with every purchase we consider, consciously or not. A skilled copywriter will know how to answer them, and other objections special to you.
6. Your people
The people who work with and for you are mobile billboards for the kind of organisation the world perceives your business to be. A good copywriter will want to know:
- What kind of people do you like to employ? Use analogies such as: ‘If they were an animal, a flower, a colour, a brand of car, a game…what would they be?’
- Why do your people stay with you?
- Why do they leave?
- What stories of outstanding staff loyalty or exceptional customer service can you tell?
- What is your company culture?
- What personal values and behaviours do your people willingly and actively display on your behalf?
7. Your unique point of difference
Everything until now is a brick to build your unique business message. Amazingly, when asked to directly identify their unique selling proposition (USP), most companies or organisations:
- Identify a vague feature similar to their competitors—‘best’, ‘professional’, ‘experienced’, ‘fast’, ‘guaranteed’, ‘cheapest’, and a million more ho-hum claims that every business makes.
And old adage applies here: ‘If you chase three rabbits, you’ll catch none.’
It follows for your website visitors too. Don’t expect them to remember more than one highlight of their visit to your website. But make absolutely sure it’s the single, compelling benefit (not feature) you want to be known for.
Which means that…?
A good copywriter will pursue this, relentlessly if they have to. They may drive you a little crazy each time you put forward a USP by asking: ‘Which means that…? until you reach that diamond-like point of difference.
It may not be easy, or fun. But the rewards will astonish you. Let’s visit our florist once more:
‘The art of beautiful floristry is just the foundation of our business—we train all our staff in four additional skills that no other florist in (name your most wanted sphere of influence) does:
- Interior design
- Colour matching
- Personal styling
- Customer service.
8. Your call to action
Congratulations. You’ve done all the hard work. You’ve found your website content writer and you’ve prepared, or had them write, a web content brief covering:
- Your personality
- Your business
- Your targets
- Your targets’ desires and fears
- Your targets’ objections
- Your people
- Your point of difference.
They’ve followed the brief, written great copy, and your designers have woven it into a brilliant website. Now what?
Suppose you were running for a place on your school board, local council, or national legislature? What would you do next?
You’ve done your research into all the issues affecting your community.
You’ve canvassed opinion on their needs and wants.
You’ve thought through and formulated solutions.
You’ve costed and presented your policies.
Now it’s time for action. What do you want visitors to do?
Remember, if content is king, data is the ministry of information and intelligence. Your website should not only inform, engage and inspire. It should deliver you contacts, fans and advocates who not only want what you’ve got but can’t wait to share it with their contacts and friends.
Your call to action
Every call to action your web content writer recommends should have a trackable, recordable result:
- Follow a link
- Join a mailing list
- Make a phone call
- Download a free resource
- Become a member
- Subscribe to a news feed
- Complete a survey
- Enter a competition
- Send to a friend.
‘There are a few loose ends to follow up, but in general we’re very pleased with the website. This is probably the sixth one I’ve worked on, and I think the end product is best out of all those. So good job. Much appreciated.’
Alex Szabo, Head of Business Development, Circadian Technologies Limited, Melbourne
Now you have a comprehensive guide to preparing a website content brief, why not make it easier and contact a professional marketer and writer to do it for you?
Give me a call on 0438 935 905.