Starting a business relationship with a new client is exciting—there’s the excitement of starting a new project (and the forthcoming paycheck!), there’s the potential to build a relationship that can become long-term…and there’s also the potential to quickly and easily mess things up entirely.
In a lot of ways, the first few interactions with a new client are some of the most important. They establish you as an authority and an expert and they set the tone for how the collaboration will progress.
To make sure that that relationship begins as smoothly and efficiently as possible, some creative freelancers/agencies turn to a brand questionnaire.
And now I’m going to tell you why that’s a terrible idea.
What is a Brand Questionnaire?
First, let’s make sure we’re on the same page. A brand questionnaire is essentially a survey that you send out to new clients looking to get information about their brand, their goals, their frustrations, their customers/target audience, etc.
A brand questionnaire is NOT the same thing as a creative brief. A creative brief is a strategic document for a project that outlines the objectives, deliverables, and key elements of that particular project.
Why is Sending a Brand Questionnaire a Bad Idea?
And, don’t get me wrong: The questions in a brand questionnaire aren’t the problem. In fact, brand questionnaire questions like “Who is your ideal client?” and “What is your brand’s mission?” and “What makes you different from your competitors?” are essential.
The problem with a brand questionnaire is that you’re sending it out to your clients and making them answer the questionnaire and making them send back to you. And that’s a MAJOR misstep at the beginning of a client relationship for three reasons.
1. You Need to Ask Your Client the Questions Directly
Whether in person or on the phone, you need to ask these types of questions directly. This gives you a chance to dig deeper into certain questions, explain elements they don’t understand, ask more questions that occur to you as you go, and truly collaborate in conversation with your new client.
Brand questions are never black and white and should never be left to a basic “input document.” Part of the expertise you bring to the relationship is the ability to offer insight and help frame the strategic view of all of the projects. You can’t do that if you just ask a client to “fill out a form.”
2. Too Often, You’ll Get Crummy Responses from Your Client
Think about it: your client hired you to write copy. Part of that is likely they don’t have time to figure it out themselves and they’re not a copy expert.
That’s where you come in. As a copywriter, yes, you’ll deliver copy. But you are also the expert at knowing what information you need to get the project done. Even if it’s your first project you will likely know more to ask as it relates to the copy than your client, trust me.
For example, if you ask “who is your ideal client?” They may say something like “female, 20 to 30.” That doesn’t tell you much, does it? You need to dig in and ask follow-up questions (and, anyone in the CCA knows we give you the tools to dig into buyer personas).
3. Sending a Questionnaire Comes Off a Tad Rude
If your client has just hired you to write copy, and you’re sending a long document and asking me to write a bunch of stuff out, that may not thrill them, and it’s certainly not going to leave a good first impression. If I’m paying you for your time, I expect you to get on the phone, Zoom, Skype, or any other platform and talk to me!
Sure, it seems efficient to send out a standard client questionnaire to everyone you work with, but you’re only going to be a few clients into your career before you realize that there is no “standard client.”
And when you send a questionnaire to a client, they take the time to fill it out and then, invariably, you have to follow back up with questions for clarification or more information you, you’re wasting your client’s time. That whole follow-up conversation would have never needed to happen if you’d just gotten on the phone, to begin with.
Yes, the questions in a brand questionnaire are absolutely questions that you should be asking. But if you’re looking to really be of as much service as possible to a client and do the best work you can, don’t send out a questionnaire—talk with them.
By the way, if you’re looking for what kinds of questions you should be asking when you do talk with them, here are some to get you started:
- What is your company’s mission? (Note: check your client’s website first! If they have their mission on there, you can skip this question, or may even ask, “is your mission statement up to date?” before following up with the next question.)
- Why is your mission important to you?
- What are some of your organization’s near-term goals?
- What products/services do you offer? (Again, do you research on their site, but get them to elaborate on what’s there!)
- Who is your ideal client?
- What challenges/frustrations does your ideal client face that you help them solve?
- What challenges/frustrations do you face when trying to connect with your ideal client?
- What are some adjectives you’d use to describe your brand and your brand voice?
- If your brand was a person (Mother Theresa, The Rock, Abraham Lincoln, Meryl Streep), who would they most resemble?
- Who are your main competitors?
- What do you do better than your competitors? What would you like to improve?
- What are your company’s short-term and long-term goals?
- Are there any marketing materials you’ve created that you feel best reflect the direction you want to go and why?
- Are there any marketing materials you’ve created that do not reflect the direction you want to go and why?
- What brands, whether in your industry or not, do you feel have a similar brand voice to yours?
Your turn! Do you have additional questions you ask clients to get the information needed to knock the project out of the park? Share them below!