How to Write a Copywriting Brief that Doesn’t Suck

So you've decided to work with a copywriter. You've looked around and every copywriter has a different copywriting brief. Some give you little more than a text box, whereas others are reasonably lengthy. If you've never worked with a copywriter before, this can be very confusing. In this blog post I will explain how to write a copywriting brief. But before I do let's talk about what a copywriting brief is and why you will find it useful.

​What is a copywriting brief?

A copywriting brief is the first part of a copywriting project. It provides your copywriter with enough information to give you a reasonable estimate of how much the project will cost and how long it will take to complete. It also gives the copywriter all of the information needed to complete a standard copywriting project.

​Some copywriters use a short contact form instead of a brief because they are either inexperienced, or want to use your details for a hard sell later.

I think that longer copywriting briefs are a good sign for your project. It shows that the copywriter wants to understand you and your business. And this should make for a more successful end product, and a less stressful experience.

A copywriting brief can also help you understand your business better, by making you think from a different perspective.

​What is a copywriting brief used for?

A copywriting brief is like an instruction manual for your content. It sets out what the final product should be (web page, brochure), and what information we can use to get there

What's the risk of not using a copywriting brief?

The risk of not using a copywriting brief is that you end up with a piece of content that is not what you want, wasting time and money.

How to write a copywriting brief?

The nine steps below will give you a good idea about how to write a copywriting brief.

1. What's the name of the company and what do you do?

Do you sell products? Do you sell services? Are you developing iPhone apps?

We want to keep this really simple and plain-speaking. We don’t want to use any jargon. We need to use plain language so that there’s no confusion, no doubt about what terms means. Again, we just need to get that clarity between a copywriter and the client.

2. How does your company help its customers?

What benefits does your product or the service provide for it’s customers? What problems do you solve?

A lot of websites focus on the features of their products, but features don’t sell products – the benefits do. Because this is how you will change your customer’s lives. Does it make something easier? Does it make things quicker? Does it mean you can do more with less? Does it earn you more money? Does it leave your shoes shiner than anything else?

3. What are the objectives?

We need to have one main objective for this piece of copy. Whether it’s to go to the website and place an order, or fill in this form and send it back to us, or call 0800-whatever and speak to one of our team.

We need to have that single call-to-action, that single, clear objective.

4. What makes you different?

Next I want to know is what’s your unique selling point? What is it that makes you different to your competitors in the market? Why do I want to know this? Because I want to be able to make you stand out from the crowd. Why your potential customer should be coming to you rather than going to your rival down the road, who’s providing the same product but doing it slightly differently. Do you offer a more personalised service? Are you cheaper? Do you include free delivery? Are you more available?

​These are the questions I would want you to think about – what is unique about you that sets you apart from your competitors?

5. What about your competitors?

Now, tell about your competitors. Who are they?

What use is that? You might ask.

​Well, as part of my job as a copywriter, it’s my responsibility to research your competitors to find out what they are writing about themselves. How are they differentiating themselves from you? Are there any tips I can pick up from them that I can use in your copy to make it as good as possible. This isn’t copying, but getting a greater insight into the marketplace and your potential customers.

6. Where’s the proof?

Now we have talked about you, your product and what differentiates it from your competitors.

​What I’d want to see now is some form of evidence to support everything you’ve told me so far.

Best-selling product? According to who? How was this measured?
Award-winning service? What award? Who gave it to you?
Customer testimonials – is your service as good as you claim it is?

Things like these give a bit of credibility to your claims. Now this might not be possible if you’re launching a new product or if your company is new to the market, but where possible we’ll try to get some evidence to support what we’re going to be saying about it.

7. Who is your audience?
Moving on, we need to look and define who your audience is. If you have developed an audience persona or avatar within your company it would be very helpful to share it. If not, as a copywriter I would talk through how we would go about developing that, and help you to develop your audience avatar.

What we are looking for is a basic, template customer. Who is your typical customer? Are they a 30 year old man with an iPhone? Are they a young man with kids? Are they a couple in their 70s? One word of warning: millennial are not your target audience – there are 14 million of them in the UK alone. (Related reading: Why I Hate ‘Millennials)

Also let’s think from a business-to-business perspective. Are they the Finance Director of an SME? Are they the marketing manager of a top 500 company?

This is going to help us to tailor  our writing towards the people who will be most receptive to them. What are their challenges?

After this, I’d want to know about secondary audiences, although I couldn’t guarantee that two audiences could be reached with the same content. But at least I know that if I have that information I can look into that possibility.

Related reading:

8. What’s your Tone of Voice?
Your Tone of Voice is your branding for your writing. This is how you talk about your company, and how you talk about your products or services. How do you like to come across? Do you use a conversational tone or are you more professional? Do you use passionate language or is it more technical?

I’ve done a lot of work in the charity sector where I’ve written a lot of copy around passion and inspiring hope. But I’ve also written for digital agencies where language is a lot more fun.

This is a crucial element of copywriting because if this goes wrong, you’ll have a piece of content that clashes with everything else you are saying.

​Being able to adapt to different Tones of Voice is a skill that copywriters pick up through years of practice. It’s not something you can learn on a Udemy course, so any copywriter who doesn’t discuss tone of voice with you should be avoided.
It’s important to discuss this up front so your copywriter can tailor their language from the start. I can guarantee you that they will not get it right first time. Any guidance that a copywriter can have over tone of voice will save time further down the line. Even if your tone is conversational, there are different degrees of chattiness. It’s those nuances you want to spend your time revising, rather than whether it is conversational or not. Dealing with the tone of voice up front allows us to do this.

Related reading:

9. The rest
The other things I’d want to know in a brief are things like deadlines and budgets so that I can plan the actual piece of work itself. Then I can make sure that I deliver you with a quality piece of content that will help you generate more sales or click-throughs or make people pick up the phone and call you.

I hope this article has been able to help you through the minefield that is copywriting briefs. As you can see, there's a lot that goes into a copywriting brief, but hopefully you can see how we copywriters use that information to help you to reach your goals.

Neal Brown

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