Written content is an essential part of any successful marketing strategy. Blogs are needed for SEO and thought leadership. Bylined articles and press releases support PR efforts and drive awareness. Captivating web copy catches the attention of site visitors and increases the time they spend on the site. White papers, well-crafted emails and landing pages are critical to lead generation campaigns.

Content that is interesting and easily digestible for your target audience can truly bring in leads and help sales reps close deals. While there’s no magic formula for creating compelling marketing content, any talented writer can use the following pre-writing checklist to help create content that sends the intended message to the intended audience.

Planning Makes Perfect

In my experience, time spent planning is saved in revisions. Do yourself and your reviewers a favor and be sure you’ve considered these 5 steps before you write:

  1. Who is your target reader? Is it existing customers, prospects, peers, or a combination? What are the job roles, challenges and buying criteria of your target readers?
  2. What message do you want your target reader to receive? Has your marketing team defined specific messages and keywords for this segment? If so, use them. If not, work with your executive team to create the messaging and agree on a list of keywords.
  3. What approach tends to work best for this reader? Is the reader business-focused or technology-focused? Will they respond to an approach that is high-level or specific?  Will they appreciate something witty or more straightforward? A deep knowledge of your target reader will help you answer these questions.  
  4. What specific action do you want to drive readers toward? Find out whether the intention of the piece is to generate leads, promote an upsell, drive awareness or some other action. Then make sure that action is clearly communicated.
  5. How will the content be distributed? Whether it’s email, collateral, web copy, web banner, print ad or video, get information on how, when and where it will be used so you can set the proper tone. If you’re writing an email, for example, know who it will be from, whether it’s being sent in conjunction with an event or promotion, whether there will be an accompanying graphic that needs copy, etc. 

A thorough creative brief will answer all these questions, though every startup or fast-growth company appreciates a marketing writer that doesn’t need a formal creative brief to get started. If you’re an in-house marketing writer, take part in discussions about messaging and sales strategy so you can increase your ability to answer many of the questions above.

If you find yourself doing rewrites or multiple revisions, think about whether you really had the right answers to begin with. Once you can answer the above five questions, it’s time to write. Notice that there are no tips here for how to write. That’s where the art and talent comes in, along with training, practice and experience. However, additional help is available in the accompanying blog, “The Essential Content Review Checklist,” which offers 10 questions to ask when reviewing content to make sure it hits the mark.

Dawn Mortensen (@DawnMortensen) is Sr. Marketing Writer for Axcient, and has been writing content professionally for 17 years.

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