Content briefs: Making your content a piece of art

Over five hundred years ago, Michelangelo completed the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Here was a masterpiece that inspired in its detail and became a beacon of artistic reverence, transforming European culture forever.

The outcome, as in all forms of work, was only as good as the brief. We like to think that Pope Julius said something along the lines of: “Paint an everlasting symbol of the greater glory of God and serves as an inspiration and lesson to His people. Freely draw upon the Holy Bible… Let it be so magnificent that people go away awed and humbled by what they see.”

With these inspirational words ringing in his ears, Michelangelo created a work of art that, 500 years into the future, is still one of the best-loved and most recognised pieces of art in the world.

What modern-day marketers can learn from Pope Julius II and Michelangelo is the power that briefs with detail, direction and understanding have in leading to impactful, bold, and transformational content marketing campaigns.

How can marketers give and receive briefs that yield digital masterpieces?

The cornerstone of content is a brief

The content briefing is the cornerstone of any project and ensures that work meets objectives – no matter if it is for the Sistine Chapel or a blog on the latest 5G developments.

Taking the time to create a brief is one of the best investments you can make for a content marketing project, ensuring efficient use of time and gives creators the confidence to produce a piece of work that will achieve its goals. A brief will arm your agency, writers or designers with everything they need to create content that is along the right lines, first time around.

Strike a balance with the information

A good brief is concise and clear. It should be the only yardstick to evaluate a piece of content.

Achieving this is easier said than done. Too little information and content creators must resort to educated guesses. Conversely, packing a brief with too much detail means key information gets missed. Keep a content brief short, snappy, and digestible to ensure all important information is in the content. As tech b2B content marketing specialists, we often get given what we call a ‘data dump’ involving long reports with tens of thousands of words of information. No doubt, all the information we need is there, but the key to a brief is including only the right information.

A brief should include the following information:

  • Objective – the purpose of the piece or the angle it needs to take.
  • Target audience – what they know, what do they expect and what actions should they take after viewing the content. What do they know about the content you are going to produce? What are their concerns or pain points? Note that ‘CEOs and decisionmakers in xx sector’ is not a good target audience definition.
  • Key messages – specify the key messages for this piece of content. Try to keep to just 3-5 messages.
  • Specifications – such as word count, document outline and form factor. A writer trying to pack messages into a 500-word article is implementing a very different task than someone trying to put the same messages into a 1,500-word blog, for example.
  • Supporting materials for context – background on a client or business that informs the content. The key here is to provide just enough relevant information. Spend the time considering what will be useful, and what will be overwhelming.
  • Reference content to match for style – previous examples of content and brand guidelines to ensure consistency.
  • Sensitivities or things to avoid – Any regulatory constraints to consider or topics to avoid.
  • Deadlines – when does the content need to be delivered? Remember to include any internal deadlines.

Now that we know how to give a brief, we need to discuss how to receive it.

Interrogate the brief

In a perfect world when a content creator receives a brief, it has all the information needed to develop exactly what a client wants. Yet, you might find the information is incomplete or there is so much detail that it’s difficult to extract any key messages. If you happen to be a content creator in this position, then ensure you challenge and interrogate the brief. Now is the time to understand rather than further down the line: remember that the cost of an error multiplies manifold the later you get in the process.

  • Ask questions – refer to the criteria above. Is the target audience vague? Are key messages not clear, or too ambitious?
  • Don’t confuse a product training session with a brief for a content asset. The two are related but different.
  • Create content that considers the target audience and key messages.

When it comes to a brief, content creators can never ask enough questions. If you find there is too little or too much information or data that isn’t relevant to you such as internal constraints, always seek out the answers before starting the project.

Giving and receiving a brief is a fundamental skill in content marketing for tech B2B audiences.

Experienced content reviewers will tell you that they can determine within the first 10 seconds if someone hasn’t understood the brief. If they haven’t, it’s important to determine where communication breaks down. Did the client send over a bad brief? Did the internal creator not ask the right questions, if any at all? This leads to frustration, deadlines pushed back, and what should’ve been a two-hour task, can take up the rest of the afternoon or a whole day.

Finding the balance of information for content creators and then, as the creator, extracting that information is essential – it’s a real shame that agencies and content creators are often reluctant to ask questions and spend the time to get the understanding needed. This will help reduce the time spent on a project and keep internal and external stakeholders happy. Create a concise brief, ask questions and develop content that a modern-day Michelangelo would be proud of.

Photo by Calvin Craig on Unsplash