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.
But then I discovered gaping holes in the copywriting brief – at least, when used as a tool for conversations with new leads.
These are the two major flaws:
One: We Usually Only Think We Know the Answers
Unless you’ve done extensive research, like most marketers, you may be guessing at the answers to the briefing questions.
The process of getting to real insight looks like this:
- Fill out the brief with our best assumptions
- Use research to get closer to the truth
- Come up with hypotheses as to what will convert based on our data
- Test and validate our hypothesis after it the copy goes live
Two: The First Conversation Should Be a Value Conversation
When I stopped using initial calls to take briefing information…
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.
We rarely talk about solutions – or the project – until we’ve explored the gap between the company’s goals and their current state. Because often the presumed solution isn’t the best solution to reach that future state. But we don’t know until we dive more deeply into goals.
So really, in call #1, we only cover off About You/Your Brand and Your Copywriting Goals (keeping those at a high-level, presuming we don’t yet know the actual copy assets the company will need.)
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 proofs 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 any 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.
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