How to write a content brief [Free template]

By Joel Stein, Content and Creativity Lead

We recently created a comprehensive content briefing template to make our own lives easier, and it’s now available as a free template in Miroverse so you can use it too.

It’s designed to improve your chances of producing effective content, and to make the whole process of content briefing and production more efficient.

This canvas makes creating brilliant content briefs easy, so writers and designers have all the context and assets they need to develop content that meets organisational goals and helps real people.

Why this format?

We’re suckers for a handy canvas here at Code, so when a colleague suggested creating a template to make content briefs a breeze, this felt like the obvious format; it puts all the important stuff in one view that’s easy to scan and digest.

Who is this content briefing canvas for?

Product managers and marketers can use this to brief their teams (or agencies, or freelancers).

Content designers and copywriters can also use the canvas to organise essential information before starting a piece of content work.

The ingredients of a brilliant content brief

The canvas is designed to simply pick up and use – the Miro board gives you all the relevant prompts, and also has a completed example underneath. But if you’d like to know more about what’s included before you have a play, keep reading…

The content briefing canvas aims to help you with three big things:

  1. Getting clear on audience needs and business goals (the reasons for creating your content)
  2. Making sure your user’s wider context is considered (the behaviour around your content)
  3. Arming content people with everything they need to do a brilliant job

Get clear on the fundamentals

Audience

The first box in the canvas is where you fill in who the content is for. Then you add their immediate need, plus the bigger/longer/deeper reason that need matters. As an example, the immediate need for someone using this canvas is “a simpler way to create content briefs”. But that need only matters because it unlocks something bigger – “producing more brilliant content we’re proud of”, for instance.

The audience box is also where you capture any key frustrations or motivations that might be shaping your user’s mindset when they reach your content.

Challenge

This box asks you to answer two fundamental questions:

  • Why is this content important to the organisation?
  • Why will users care?

The web is full of content that nobody needs. 91% of all web content gets no traffic from Google. This section forces clarity on what the organisation hopes to achieve (in plain English) by creating a specific piece of content, why it’s a priority over all the other problems content could help solve, and why you expect anyone to care enough to read / interact / share.

Why now?

“Why now?” is a question I always ask in some form when I get a content brief – it helps me uncover context that often isn’t provided upfront – so I’ve included a section where you can highlight any new insights or changes in the wider world that have triggered the brief.

Effectiveness

Content briefs often include “success metrics” or similar, but teams often fail to track these things in practice. And knowing what success looks like doesn’t necessarily help you test, learn, and iterate your way there. So rather than “success metrics”, this canvas has “effectiveness signals” – this helps you:

  • Decide what to observe in the short-term to get a feel for whether your content’s working.
  • Decide what metrics you might use longer-term to guide decisions (e.g. whether to archive, refresh and update, or totally overhaul a piece of content).

This section also asks you to describe a view of failure (what would make this content a waste of time and effort?). Why? Because articulating what failure looks like helps content producers avoid pitfalls and create something better. Sometimes killing a piece of content early is the most rational thing you can do – you should always be open to signals that suggest you’re wasting your time, so you can move onto something more valuable.

Add critical user context

We’re big fans of something called the “core model” at Code – a beautifully simple canvas created by veteran content strategist Are Halland. In many ways, the canvas I’ve introduced in this blog post is just a more elaborate version of the core model.

The thing I’ve always found most useful with Halland’s core model was that both inward and forward paths for users are included. This context is critical for any web content or UX work – it’s why we do things like journey mapping.

Once content writing begins, however, there’s often more conversation about CTAs and onward journeys than there is about what users see or click before they arrive. But how a user has been primed (and the behavioural mode they’re in) can completely change how they react to your content, so we need a place to capture those details. As content designers, this helps us empathise with users and communicate in a way that respects their needs and emotions. Ideally there will be deeper user research going on too.

Keep things running smoothly

The other sections in the canvas are more focussed on the sleeves-up, (possibly) caffeine-fuelled practical stuff that it’s helpful to include in a content brief. Adding these things straight into the brief helps minimise time wasted hunting for stuff or sending distracting emails later. The canvas includes boxes where you can:

  • Link to existing assets (e.g. photography) and supporting documents (e.g. brand guidelines)
  • Capture any key messages the content should communicate
  • Document key people (e.g. who will review or sign-off), communication tools, and important dates
  • Highlight any related work that’s ongoing or already been done

Will the brief tell me what content to create?

No. This template is not an order form. It intentionally keeps the solution open.

Once you’ve got a clear brief, a content designer or copywriter may be able to make a start straight away. Alternatively, you could run an idea generation session using a method like Lotus flowers to explore different possible approaches for your content.

What if I can’t fill everything in?

If you’re struggling to fill in some of the boxes on the canvas, that probably means some more work is needed (audience research, or brand definition, for example). We’d love to help you out, just get in touch at hello@codecomputerlove.com.

Try the Content Briefing Canvas for yourself in Miro.

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Looking for a content design agency? Learn more about how we can help you plan, manage and create your digital content here.

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