Tweak. Such a harmless little word.
Problem is, “tweak” can mean one thing to you, the copywriter—and something completely different to your client.
You probably think of tweaks as small cuts, text tightening or perhaps rephrasing of a paragraph or two.
But your client might think tweaks include additional material, new quotes and massive restructuring and/or rewrites.
You can avoid this copywriter’s nightmare—and the bad client juju that comes with it. All it takes is some advance planning—and an airtight creative brief.
Not your ordinary creative brief
Let me clarify a point: When I say “creative brief,” I don’t mean the document you receive from your marketing director or agency creative director.
I’m talking about a project description—I call it an “Assignment Sheet” to differentiate it from a client brief—drafted by you.
This memo-style document outlines your copy project in detail. It’s collaborative: After you create it, you ask your client to review, offer suggestions and, ultimately, approve it.
The idea is to define the project now, before you start work. And set deadlines, pricing and expectations accordingly.
Ten Questions That Help You Craft a Rock Solid Creative Brief
To write a well-defined creative brief, ask yourself—and your client—a few key questions.
- Who’s the prospect? Broad definitions—“consumer,” “B2B client” “physician” “patient”—point you in the right direction. Demographics let you begin a rough sketch of your customer. But you need more detail to fill in and color your portrait. Rather than listing dry figures and facts, information needs to touch on your customer’s humanity. How can you discern what’s in her heart and mind? Ask yourself…
- What are your customer’s pain points and core desires? How does your product or service speak to her urgent needs and longings? In addition to easing practical pain points—saving time and money, making tasks easier—does your offering speak to her deeper hopes and desires? How does it address issues she values? Will it benefit a loved one? Will it make her feel more competent? Can it raise her status in the eyes of people who count to her?
- Where does your customer stand in the Sales Cycle and Trust Continuum? You can learn a lot about your customer by asking what she knows about you. Is she familiar with your product, completely unaware of it—or somewhere in between? For guidance, take a look at this timeline-based Sales/Trust Continuum from copywriter Sean Lyden. Sean’s simple visual aid lets you identify customers’ current relationship with your company, product or brand. With this insight you can plan more effective project content—and make informed decisions about additional tactical and and strategic tools.
- What do you want customers to do? Clients often identify passive copy goals like “building awareness,” “raising profile” or “educating.” Choose more active aims. Instead of determining what you want people to think, ask what you want them to do. Here, again, knowledge of the Sales/ Trust Continuum helps—by allowing you to choose conversion goals that move customers forward with trust. When you identify your customer’s place in the Continuum, you’re less apt to jump the gun and push for immediate sales or referrals. With customers just beginning the Trust Continuum your goal is very simple: To gain permission to market to them. Your call to action might ask them to bookmark or file your material, visit your website or join your mailing list.
- What incentives help them take action? Let’s say your call to action asks readers to contact you. Why should they? Really. What’s In It For Them? Consumers are busy and overloaded with messaging. If they want information, the great search god, Google, provides. When you need customers to take action, give them an enticing reason to do so. A tangible offer—a free white paper, discount coupon, free parking pass, invitation to an event—provides the extra push they need to do something.
- What sets your product apart? Marketers lie. Or maybe they just believe their own stories. Try asking a marketer about his product’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP). He’ll often spout a list of “one-of-a-kind” features. But his competitors make exactly the same claims. Marketers also tend to employ puffed up, overused terms—like “world class”, “unmatched,” “most advanced” and “synergistic.” These words carry specific meaning to marketing teams—and absolutely no meaning to customers. Dig deep and come up with real points of differentiation. If you can.
- How can you prove your claims? What if your product isn’t unique? What if it’s just really good—but not that different from your competitors’? You can still craft a variation of the USP—if you’re the first among competitors to position yourself and delineate benefits. This is the tack suggested by legendary adman—and inventor of the USP—Rosser Reeves.
- Can you delineate real benefits? But it’s not enough to claim unique features or—as Reeves cleverly suggests—to be the first to delineate them. Your product has to provide real benefits that give customers a genuine advantage. A laundry list of trumped up and irrelevant benefits wastes valuable copy real estate, erodes credibility and annoys customers.
- How will you measure response? Do you have an 800 number? A coupon code? Website analytics? Your means of measure don’t have to be sophisticated or complex—but some means of measure should be in place.
- What’s the project’s scope and word count? Don’t forget the basics. An understanding of the project’s layout and word count dramatically decreases misunderstandings between you and your client. You may fantasize about using storytelling elements, testimonials and loads of features and benefits—only to find out copy is limited to 300 words. You’re better off learning limitations before, rather than after you draft the War and Peace of collateral brochures.
Spend time now. Save time later.
I know. It’s a pain asking questions. It’s a bigger pain digging out answers. And it’s time-consuming to put the info into a detailed creative brief or Assignment Sheet. For small projects or jobs that require quick turnaround, it’s often not practical or possible. But for larger assignments, those that stretch over days or weeks and for which you bill substantially, the investment proves well worth your effort.
The payoff comes when you deliver surprise-free copy written to the specs of your brief—and with your client’s buy in.
And if your client still asks for major revisions? You’re well within your rights to ask for additional billing, if you choose to move forward.
But massive rewrites are an unlikely scenario. More likely when you’re asked to tweak, revisions really will be tweaks. As you define them.