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What to ask before you create any content.

What to ask before you create any content.

Ahhhh, the never ending challenge of creating content. If you’ve signed up for this, for yourself or for your clients, you know the drill for Content Marketing. Strategy, plan, research, interview, execute, design, produce, optimize, publish and distribute—over and over again.

No big deal. Just about anyone can do it, right? Things get a bit more challenging when you’re in the weeds everyday trying to create quality content that online visitors will find and recognize as a “cut above” the mountain of dreck that’s on the web.

Content Marketing now required.

Inbound software provider HubSpot recently released research that indicates more and more organizations are abandoning “old school” outbound marketing. In fact, Hubspot claims that over 80% of small businesses are involved in Content Marketing at some level. The reasons are simple:

  • It costs less
  • Delivers better value + results
  • Is measurable in so many ways
  • Provides the opportunity to produce content assets that have permanency and can be owned forever

The result is that more people and organizations are on the continual content creation bus. And they’re picking up speed on their journey.

No short cuts to get to a repeatable, reliable outcome.

To get to that special place of quality content, you’re going to have do things a bit differently than just copy/paste whatever’s trending in your Twitter stream. That’s right, like it or not, you better get a process in place to make this never ending requirement a manageable task that delivers consistently good results.

Because without a repeatable, reliable process, it’s a virtual guarantee that your content will suck. Or worse, you’ll bail and simply stop trying to make anything relevant, valuable or worthy of sharing—with anybody.

That outcome is the fastest way to invisibility and irrelevance on the internet. Not a good choice.

Where to from here?

There’s no better place to start than with a Content Brief. What’s that?

A Content Brief is probably the single most important thing that you can do to ensure that what you write, develop and deploy is going to be successful. Without it, chaos is likely and wasted resources, frustration and lengthy delays will ensue. Almost guaranteed.

Why? Because if you haven’t spent the time and effort to get the people who want the content to pause, answer some essential questions and most important of all—invest in the successful outcome of that content that you’ll collectively create, how will you ever know that what you’ve done measures up to your defined goals?

A credible BS detector.

Before you ever even think about producing content think about completing a well structured and organized Content Brief. This isn’t just a procedural exercise. It’s the fastest way to find out if a piece of content is just a fuzzy non-achievable dream or something that all parties recognize as worth investing real time and money in.

What’s in a Content Brief?

Below is a helpful check list of questions that must be answered before content creation begins. The answers, in effect, become your guide about where to start, what to avoid, what’s relevant, what your key message is, and most important of all—how you’re going to measure the success of what actually gets developed and deployed.

If you want to get everyone aligned, be clear on what to do, who does what, and mitigate disaster in a transparent and accountable way, start with this list and add anything that is particular or specific to the content asset that your client or team member seeks to have on the internet.

Content Brief Essentials
What is the primary objective of producing and delivering the communication?
What’s the point? What pain or need are you addressing that will motivate someone to “consume” (think read, watch, interact, share) your stuff. Better get clear on this before you ever leave the starting gate. Otherwise you’ll be looking back with regret on why you ever left on your content creation journey.

What is the background, frame of reference, and relevant context for the communication?
You need to understand what environmental, timing, message or deployment issues will affect or influence the opportunity for your content to get noticed. By knowing this, you’ll be able to affect your content approach, style and format.

Who is the target that this communication is directed to?
Know precisely who you are talking to and why they should care. With out a target and understanding their needs, wants, and desires, you’ll never get the action or outcome that you seek. What used to be called a target audience is now a “persona”. They may be different handles but their function is the same.

What issues, challenges or pain is your unique target facing that your content helps them to overcome?
That person you want to reach? The more intimate your understanding of what their challenges are, the better your content will be able to address them. The more specific you can be the better. And that usually requires some research, time and understanding to absorb their characteristics, emotional triggers and where they go to address their needs.

What single benefit do you want prospects to remember or act on?
You need a core benefit integrated into your content’s key message. Benefits engage and drive action. Without a benefit, there’s no reason to consider or act.

What are the things that allow you to make your benefit claim? How can you prove it?
If your content offers a core benefit, you better be able to back it up with simple and understandable features and support points that prove your benefit is not just some over-the-top claim that’s unsubstantiated or worse, unbelievable. Your support points also become the opportunity to expand your content with more details. Focus on how they reinforce your key benefit and address the needs or challenges of your target.

How will you reach the target prospects with your message + benefits?
Once you hit the publish button and push your content to your site, you’re done, right? Unfortunately, no. Just because your content is on the web and it’s optimized for search, it doesn’t mean people will find it or see it. Because once you publish, you’ve only just begun.

More than ever, 50% or more of your content creation efforts should be focused on getting your content distributed. And if you’ve invested in creating quality content, not just robotic spam, your content asset is something that you can come back to again and again to update and keep timely and relevant to the targets you want to reach. Today, every piece of content created needs to have a distribution strategy connected to it. Make sure you build it into what you create.

What absolutely needs to be included in your content?
Are you clear on what’s mandatory to include in your content? Things like logos, product names, research resources, links to deeper or related content, and more are important to understand before you start. All of these essential details could and should influence how your content will be written, visualized, packaged and presented to your target.

What voice or aspirational impressions will your message + content have?
With so many sites and resources clamoring for attention on the web, a distinctive and unique voice is essential to be recognized and heard. If you don’t have one, it’s time to start developing one. Because without it, you can count on blending in. Exactly what will ensure that no one ever finds, sees, reads or looks at what you create.

What is the reader or viewer of the content to do after “consuming” it?
There’s no better place to start your content creation than at the end. That’s right. If you’re not clear on what the result of the content is, you won’t be able to set up and drive someone to take the next step or action in their journey to address their need. Without a CALL TO ACTION that directs your target to what to do next, they’ll simply move on and the result of your brief engagement will be dismissal and an unmemorable message.

When does the content asset have to be published, deployed + distributed?
Deadlines matter. Know your deployment date and work backwards to build a schedule of tasks to meet it. If the date is unrealistic, set one that sets you up for success and educate everyone why it makes sense. That way everyone will know what needs to do to get to the outcome everyone is hoping for.

What is your budget and what resources will you apply to this effort to make it successful?
Time and resources are expensive. Match the content that someone seeks to the value that it will deliver. Discount creation prices usually yield content that gets discounted.

Who are the individuals responsible for reviewing and approving the content that will be created? What are their roles and responsibilities?
There’s no better way for your content creation efforts to go off course than by being clueless about who will be reviewing and/or approving what you create.

Know that in advance and be clear on your development, review, production and deployment process. People who show up in the middle of the process are never adequately informed, invested or aligned with where you’re going. Gain consensus with those that matter on the course that you’ve developed to get to the great content everyone wants.

When an outsider to the process engages at the end to provide approval or direction after content is created, it’s guaranteed that things will get more than interrupted. It can often lead to unproductive tension, increased costs and unnecessary delays that puts the content at risk.

How will you measure the success of this content?
Identifying and agreeing on a set of metrics puts a stake in the ground and gives everyone a guide on what thresholds need to be crossed to yield the desired result of the content.

Conversions is one of the best places to start. This is directly connected to the CALL TO ACTION that should be integrated in your content. Having a related conversion benchmark to compare to will help everyone identify and agree on whether or not your content measures up.

How will the content be used or reused to extend its reach?
Creating and deploying additional content assets around or related to your primary content to extend it’s reach is standard practice these days. These can include tweets to promote the content, or LinkedIn and Facebook updates as well as press releases or other summary documents. They all require time and resources so make sure they’re included in your budget and schedule.

What other unknowns should be disclosed to all parties to ensure that the content is successful?
Asking an open-ended question sometime reveals another aspect of the project that your client may not otherwise mention. The more informed you are the greater the chance that your content will be successful.

Not optional: Incomplete answers or selective disclosure.

As stated earlier, getting these questions answered is not an administrative task for the procedural nerds. The clarity of the answers and insightfulness of those asking them, will set up your effort for success or failure.

Until there is agreement with all parties involved on each and every answer in your Content Brief, it doesn’t make sense to commit to creating content. No excuses and no short cuts. Just the clarity that you and everyone else needs to get to the great content everyone is looking for.

For those non believers, just wing it a few times and see what happens. You may get lucky once. After that, there’s guaranteed pain ahead.

And you?

So what’s your process? Do you use a similar set of questions before you start the content creation process? What would you add to the list? Come clean and share how you succeed.