- “I need a website!”
- “Erm… what do you mean?”
The Web Team build, manage and maintain websites all day every day. It’s what we do and it’s what we spend our time thinking about. Which is why people who come to us asking for a website are often surprised when we challenge them to tell us why they think they need one in the first place.
There are a number of important reasons why we try to do this.
Most straightforwardly, the creation of a website should be as a solution to a problem. You wouldn’t walk into the Doctor’s surgery and say, “I need a two week course of Amoxicillin, one tablet, three times a day please”. Instead you would describe the problem you were having and, hopefully, your doctor would help you to find the most effective treatment.
If we’re going to do a good job for you and hopefully help you solve some of your problems, then we need to know what those problems are so we can help design the best solution.
You may not need a new website at all, or you may need improvements or amends to existing pages. You would be surprised how many problems can be significantly improved by removing existing web content, rather than creating more. It’s a common misconception that once you’ve created some web pages, then the information they contain is somehow immediately found and understood by the people who need it. It may be that there are more effective means of communication available to you. We most often end up doing some work on the website to help solve problems, but it’s perfectly possible that you actually need a social media campaign, some digital advertising or a smartphone app. Who knows, you might even need a poster!
At a more detailed level, the secret to finding the right solution for your problem lies in gaining a shared understanding of what you are trying to achieve and for which audience. When we ask “Why?”, that’s the important conversation we are kicking off.
To enable this important part of any web or digital communications project, we use a tool called a ‘Communications Brief’. It’s a template document that helps you to answer, or begin to answer, the important questions that will give us the information we need to help design a good solution for you.
The Communications Brief includes questions like:
- What are the purposes of the new project?
- In three years’ time what are you hoping this will be doing for you?
- Who is your target audience?
- What is a typical task each of these visitors needs to perform?
- What do these people care about? Why are they interested and what trigger would prompt them to take action?
- What do the target audience think and feel about this area currently? What do you want them to think and feel?
- How would a new project help to achieve this goal?
- How will you measure the success of a new project?
These are important questions for anyone trying to design any sort of service, not least a communications channel like a website. It often surprises us how few of the people who knock on our door have stopped to consider questions like this. Without stopping to do so, it’s impossible to be precise about what any new project is aiming to achieve and therefore it’s very difficult to say whether any new piece of work that is delivered has been able to have a genuine impact.
Working through the Communications Brief is always an interesting and enlightening process. It gives us in the Web Team the chance to ask the sort of dumb questions that can raise interesting discussions and suggestions, and it gives our clients the chance to really think through the detail of what they need to help make things better.
We encourage people to use it however best suits them. Some like to compile draft answers themselves and then circulate to colleagues for comments. Others like to ask a larger group of people to give answers which can then be collated. The template works particularly well as a framework for a group discussion.
The answers can, indeed should, be brief and to the point. Some of the questions may not be relevant to you, but by considering them before writing ‘Not Applicable’, then you can be sure you have been thorough. In all, this doesn’t have to be an onerous process at all, but it is a very important one.
It’s also a great tool for getting buy-in. Once a draft Communications Brief has been completed, asking managers and other colleagues whether they agree is a great way to brief them and to bring them into a discussion about what you are trying to achieve.
We meet people from time-to-time who are ploughing through this process on their own, convinced that they have all the answers to these questions and have no need to confer. Very occasionally those people are maverick geniuses. Mostly they are just people like you and I who need a little help to open up what they are thinking to create collaboration with other colleagues. The Communications Brief, simple as it seems, can really help with that too.
We’ll be posting more advice on how to tackle some of the questions in the Communication Brief in the future. In the meantime, please take a look at the template and consider how it might help you in gathering your thoughts about any aspect of your digital communications.
It’s based on a template we’ve been using for many years, so if you have suggestions for how it can be improved, then please post your comments!
And next time you knock on our door, we hope you’ll say:
- “I’ve got a draft Communications Brief for you to consider!”