Outsourcing content creation is a practice that’s grown more common in our modern business environment. The factors driving this trend are many: economic instability, agility-focused strategies, and the rise of a “gig economy” among them.
In the 2021 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report from CMI and MarketingProfs found that about half of all respondents (49%) reported outsourcing content marketing activities, with larger companies more likely to do so. Among challenges faced by companies that outsource, two of the top three were “Finding partners with adequate topic expertise” and “Finding partners who understand/are able to empathize with our audience.”
Source: “B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends: Insights for 2021.”
Finding good help can be hard. But in many cases, misalignment on the topic or a lack of audience understanding are the result of details getting lost in translation.
The ability to write effective content marketing briefs, consistently and efficiently, is becoming an indispensable trait for marketing managers and content strategists. Let’s explore some best practices and tricks of the trade.
Creating High-Quality Content Marketing Briefs
The most oft-overlooked quality of a good content brief is actually in the name itself: brief. It can feel natural to want to include as many details as possible so as to ensure the writer doesn’t miss or misinterpret anything, but long, convoluted content briefs tend to do more harm than good. So our goal here will be to filter down to the absolute basics and necessities.
While needs can vary based on the client or project, there are three essentials you’ll want to keep in mind to set an external writer up for success: clear information about the client, the audience, and the purpose of the piece itself.
Whenever someone’s writing on behalf of a new client or company for the first time (even if it’s your own company), you’ll want to provide detailed information about that company, its background, its voice, and its vision. In my experience, failure to accurately capture the tone and style of a client is the most frequent problem with outsourced content.
Help the writer understand how the company talks about itself. Consider linking to the organization’s LinkedIn Page to see how they position the brand to a business audience. The company website and especially the “About” page can also be useful in this regard.
Other items to articulate (succinctly) in this section:
- What are the client’s values, principles, and beliefs that go beyond its core revenue-generating functions?
- What is the brand voice? Is it academic and formal or more casual and conversational? It can sometimes be difficult to concisely convey a brand’s tone, so I recommend linking to a few pieces of existing content that you feel capture it best.
- Who are the client’s competitors, and how do they differentiate? A comparative example can help clarify a company’s distinct value proposition.
- What product and/or services does the client offer?
Whenever possible, provide external links so the writer can conduct research on their own, as opposed to filling your content brief with tons of copy and causing their eyes to glaze over.
Empathy with the audience has been cited as a top challenge when outsourcing content creation, so it’s worthwhile to pay extra attention to this section. The ability to connect and resonate with a target audience is a make-or-break proposition for any content piece. When briefing the writer, do all you can to paint a vivid picture of the person they’re trying to reach.
Try to go past the obvious, high-level details and shine a light on key characteristics and challenges. If there are multiple audiences for a given piece or client, be crystal-clear on what separates them and how to alter the approach when speaking to each.
Some items to articulate (succinctly) in this section:
- What are the various professional pain points felt by the audience and how does the client help solve them?
- What is the end user of the client’s product or service trying to accomplish in their jobs?
- Which outlets, publications, and individuals do the audience look to as credible sources of information?
- What topics and trends is this audience generally tired of hearing about? (This is not always prioritized for briefs, but should be — fatigue is a legitimate concern in today’s content-saturated environment.
Content Purpose and Objective
It’s critical to set the stage by providing clear context around the client and the intended audience. From there, you’ll want to zero in on the piece of content itself. When we talk about the purpose and objective, we’re partially talking about the strategic goals — what is the desired user action and business outcome? — but even more so, we’re talking about impact.
What is this content intended to make the person consuming it feel? What specific value should it provide to them? How does the client hope that reading it will change someone’s perspective or assumptions?
Spelling out these intentions can often be more helpful for getting the writer into a proper mindset, and priming them to write in an empathetic way, than simply pointing to a marketing objective such as “We want them to click over to a product page,” or “We want them to subscribe to our blog.”
Of course, there are also the logistical and template-based specifications that you’ll want to call out. Ideally these can be presented as a quick-hit bullet list that the writer can keep handy for reference.
Content Brief Specs and Details
Again, the particulars can vary based on the nature of the content, program, and so forth. But these are some mainstays for guiding a writer toward the desired end product:
- Target keywords and search phrases
- Word count and structure
- Links to background info and source materials
- Call to action
Build Better Content Marketing Briefs
As you incorporate the advice above, here are a few final things to keep in mind and emphasize:
- Brevity is beautiful. If you can keep all this information on a single page — or better yet a half-page — the writer will have a better chance of absorbing and retaining all of the information.
- Prioritize and highlight details that are most critical. Human beings are naturally more likely to remember and focus on that which they read first. Is the word count or keyword really more important than the fundamental purpose of the piece or the nature of the client and audience?
- Give the writer as many breadcrumbs to follow as possible. Point them to the client’s company blog, social media accounts, and additional content relevant to the assignment. Great freelancers, contractors, and resources will do the legwork to inform themselves, and you’ll know those are the ones worth going back to.
Content marketing managers can eliminate a lot of headaches by crafting content briefs that cover all bases and make it easier for a writer to come in and get it right on the first try. Better briefs mean fewer rounds of edits, faster time to value, and less frustration for all involved.
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