While I do work with agencies, most of the time I’m hired directly by my clients. And that usually means we create the copywriting brief together.
It can seem like unnecessary process – “we need a brochure and here’s what we do, over to you” – but a good brief is the surest way to great copy.
A copywriter’s job is to describe you in a way that sets you apart from your competition and inspires your audience to take action. And the more your copywriter knows about you and your audience, the easier it is for them to put all their energy into stringing the perfect words together.
But time and again I’ve noticed that there are questions in my standard copywriting brief that have my SME clients pausing for thought, scribbling notes and scratching their heads.
Not because the questions are odd (if you’re a copywriter, you’re bound to have similar ones in yours), but because they really go to the heart of my client’s marketing approach and even their business.
In short, there can be surprising insights for a business in creating a strong copywriting brief. These are the questions that we often linger over:
How will the copy appear?
A potential client recently approached me for a Facebook ad. We talked about his business, his goals and how much money he charges. It was clear very quickly that he needed a landing page and to focus on his social media presence before he’d see results from an ad.
It’s a slower approach than he wanted, but now he’s working on some fantastic stuff that will see him creating a consistent source of clients.
Who’s your audience?
Sounds simple, but do you really know who you’re selling to? This question is often a challenge for start-ups. A new product or service idea might be a brilliant solution, but to sell it you need to have a clear understanding of the problem it solves for your customer.
Find your ideal customer and get into their head. What keeps them awake at night and how do you help them sleep more easily? Focus on your customer, not what you’re selling.
Your copywriter will find the words that agitate your potential customer’s pain and then describe how you will melt it away.
What’s your audience’s point of view about your product or service?
Is your copy designed to attract new customers? Or do they already buy from you?
I’ve been working on two projects recently where my clients are focused on selling different products to their existing customers or making repeat sales elsewhere in their organisation.
Existing customers already know and like you. You can use them to convert their colleagues, or you can show them that you also work on bigger/smaller/other sector projects with all the same qualities they’ve already experienced.
You don’t need to spend your time converting these customers. You need to remind them why they love you already and then show them more ways you can help.
What do you want them to do? What is your call to action?
While the answer a client is most likely to give is “buy from us now”, it’s more likely you’ll convince someone to call, or give you their email address, or book an introductory appointment.
You need realistic expectations of what your reader will do next and be prepared with another engaging step to move them closer to buying.
What’s the single, most important thing that makes your product/service/brand the best?
A simple question, but it often requires some thought and some research. You might love your product and think it’s industry-leading, but do your customers?
Talk to them, check out your competition. And don’t let your pride get in the way. Your product might only be “good enough”, but your customers love your exceptional support and how easy it is to troubleshoot a problem on a Sunday evening.
This is what your copywriter will want to sing about and pull in testimonials for. A copywriter offers impartial eyes and will sell what your customers value in you.
What evidence is there to support your claims?
This is probably the conversation I have most often. Handed a thousand stats, product descriptions, design specs and words from the exec office, I always ask for evidence.
Whether it’s industry nominations or awards, or customer testimonials and case studies, potential customers want social proof. Don’t be shy about asking for reviews, and if your product or service is complex, a longer case study might be a compelling way to bring your benefits to life.
Having your existing customers shout about your value will boost even the tightest marketing budget.
Can anyone else make a similar promise? Who are your competitors?
Writing copy – however good – in a vacuum is a bad idea. Your competitors are out there, and you need to make it incredibly clear how you’re different to them. Even if the difference isn’t huge.
Like the “single most important thing” it’s about really understanding why your customers choose you.
What do, and don’t you like about your current marketing materials?
Even if you’re going for a full rebrand, at some point you loved the materials you have. Strip away awful photography, or stuffy jargon, or every third word, and see what it is that’s you.
Sometimes I talk customers out of a project, or into a much smaller one because they have something wonderful already. They might just need a better description of benefits, or to add reviews, or even to spend time on Pixabay getting better images.
What other marketing materials have you seen that you like the look and feel or tone of?
Keep your eyes open for things you love. Don’t worry about the industry or the product but think of brands which represent themselves in a way you envy.
Don’t feel guilty: it’s not about nicking stuff or plagiarism. A writer and a designer can learn a lot about you from what captures your imagination. They’ll then use it as inspiration for something quite different.
A client handed me a pile of leaflets for a recent project. A quick scan and I could see the language and tone were off for their price bracket. But the underlying warmth and service focus showed their priorities. It was then much easier for me to find the right words for a wealthier audience.
Do you have any keywords to include?
Yes, this is important for search engine love, and keyword research is a big task in its own right. But it’s another opportunity to hang out with your potential customers and learn some more about them.
Keywords are just what people sit and type into Google (Bing, Yahoo, Baidu…) at the point when they’re almost ready to buy. And you need to get into their mind before they type.
A friend recently added a new service to her business. She’s excellent at it and has some gorgeous examples of work she’s already done. And she’s gloriously creative so picked a wildly romantic description of what she does. Some basic research and I’ve gently integrated the keywords her customers will use to find her with her story.
Go and visit the forums your customers use, trawl the comments they leave on your site, check your Google search console results. Find out how they describe what you do and what they want to know. Your keywords are right there.
If you hire a copywriter, really get stuck into the copywriting brief process. You’ll get better copy, and you might be surprised by what you learn about your business.
This post first appeared on Amy Boylan’s blog.