When I had a “copywriting brief” page on my old website, it was one of the most-visited pages.
And I used it for a long time in first-time conversations with prospects. Until I discovered gaping holes in the copywriting brief – at least, when used to guide conversations with new leads.
These are the two major flaws:
One: We Usually Only Think We Know the Answers
Unless your prospect has done extensive research, they are guessing at the answers to the copywriting brief questions. In particular, most marketers who hire conversion copywriters don’t yet know enough about their audience. This isn’t a criticism, it’s simply a feature of business at the earlier stages. Entrepreneurs and growth marketers often just haven’t had the time to get to know their audience deeply enough to write an effective copywriting brief.
Two: The First Conversation Should Be a Value Conversation
If you’re using a copywriting brief to guide the first call with a prospect, you’re missing an opportunity to sell yourself as a strategic advisor and consultant.
Instead, you should use that first call to a) understand the problem and b) ascertain whether you can solve that problem profitably. (Blair Enns is brilliant on this topic.)
The problem is really the gap between the current state and the desired future state. The problem is not the lack of or need for a specific solution, such as copywriting.
When I stopped using initial calls to go through the copywriting brief…
When I started using those calls to explore needs, I closed far more projects.
Now, I only gather detailed briefing information if we’ve agreed on a contract.
In that first call, I only want to understand the company’s desired future state vs. where they are today.
The Copywriting Brief
With those two enormous caveats, I give you The Copywriting Brief:
A series of questions every client should cover with a new copywriter before kicking off a project. Or cover with your client if you are that copywriter.
(Scroll down for a link to an editable copywriting brief template.)
About You/Your Brand
- Company name, brand name(s), product or service name(s)
- Market landscape, including industry and competitors
- Your position in the industry & unique value proposition
- Do you have a brand strategy or messaging guidelines?
- Does your brand have a defined tone of voice?
Your Copywriting Project
- Project description – what’s in, what’s out?
- Any existing or related copy we can review?
- Deadlines for drafts, final copy?
- Any constraints? (for example, word count or design)
- Keywords (if applicable)
- Any essential inclusions?
- Anything we should definitely avoid including?
Your Copywriting Project Goals
- What are your objectives for this project?
- For each copywriting asset we’re writing (page, email, ad), what’s the one most important action you want the prospect or customer to take after reading the copy?
- How can we measure your goals for this specific project? (Think % increase or absolute increase.)
- Increased leads
- Increased sales
- Increase average order value
- Increase average revenue per customer
- Increase average revenue per visitor
- Micro-conversions, e.g., increase clicks
- What metrics do you have on your current performance against these objectives?
Your Product or Service
- What makes your product or service different and better?
- What’s included in the offer, at what price?
- What are the main benefits for your customers? (emotional, practical)
- What proof can we use to back these claims? (testimonials, industry memberships, awards, research, third-party endorsements, credentials)
- Any broad demographics? How did you define these?
- Motivations: What problem or desire brings them to you?
- Perfect World: What result are they hoping to achieve?
- Experience: What else have they tried? E.g., competitors, alternative solutions
- Awareness/familiarity: How well do they know you?
- Barriers: What might stop them from saying “yes” to you?
- Triggers: What might motivate your audience to take action now? (Think: fear of missing out, fear of things staying the same, excitement, a desire to belong)
- Where do you think they might hang out online? (Any media, brands, or influencers they may follow?)
- Is there a vocabulary your audience uses that I should know? E.g., professional or industry terms, group-specific slang or insider expressions.
- Is there anything I should be sensitive about saying/not saying?
- Tell me about your reader’s path to the copy we’re writing:
- What search terms might they have entered?
- If they were directed here by email, social media, or another link, tell me about what they were reading/viewing when they chose to click.
- If they landed here via your paid search ad, what did the ad say?
We’ll need to do our own research before we write copy – and that means accessing data.
What research do you have on hand? Can you provide:
- Site polls or surveys?
- Chat transcripts?
- Heatmaps or click tracking?
- Analytics from your site, your ads, your social media?
- A/B tests?
- User testing?
- Our most important insights come from qualitative research. Do you have customers we can survey or interview for this project?
(To learn more about how we do qualitative research for conversion copywriting, check out my appearance on Copyhackers’ Tutorial Tuesday.)
Ready to Gather the Copywriting Brief? Use this Template.
There you have it. The copywriting brief is a solid guideline for the next time you’re in a kick-off call, whether you’re the copywriter or the client.
You can use this Google doc with all of the questions above for your own briefing.
Just know that our opinions are never enough. And often, they’re wrong – especially if you’re launching a new brand and don’t have buyer data yet.
That’s why we have to get out there and find out who our customers really are, how they think, and why they might choose you over the competition.
And sometimes, the copywriting ‘solution’ we think we need to reach our goals isn’t always the best or only solution. That’s why you should always start the discussion with goals and be flexible on the copywriting project scope.
Need More Copywriting Expertise, Guides, and Tools?
Conversion Copy Co helps B2C e-commerce brands get more immediate conversions and more long-term customer loyalty. Set up a free consultation via the contact page to discuss your conversion goals.
Or, get a conversion lift faster when you book a VIP Day.