It’s been my experience that those who are involved in the design and manufacture of technology are sometimes challenged to identify the benefits of their products in a way their customer will understand. They clearly understand all the tiny details of the design but have difficulty seeing their product through their customer’s eyes. To make matters more challenging many product designers are also expected to write about their creations. Many product designers just want to get on with the next project. In most cases they are not interested, or don’t have the time to write about their products for media releases, web content or product literature. At the same time they often they fear that their products and services are being overshadowed by the competition.
Effective product literature and brochures are essential business communication tools. They can provide important support information for website download or as an email attachment. In print form, they can serve as a reminder of your sales call, or a visit to your trade show booth. They provide in-your-face information about your product or service.
Today business happens at the speed of your internet feed – FAST. It takes time and talent to write effective marketing material. At buzz4biz we assist product designers/manufacturers and marketing managers to develop marketing materials. We ask lots of questions to get the information required to write the material needed. Here are some tips to help you write effective product literature and brochures.
1. Identify the purpose of the brochure. Is it a general introduction to your product/service or does it provide a large amount of detailed specifications? What action do you want the reader take? What do you want your reader to do after reading the brochure? Do you want them to phone you, place an order, make an appointment, send you an email? What is your call to action?
2. Target your audience. Who is going to read the material? Are they engineers, purchasing managers, CEOs, front line managers, technicians, lawyers, school children or entrepreneurs. Be as specific as you can to paint a complete picture, including age bracket, income level.
3. Determine the appropriate vocabulary and writing style for the target. Are your readers familiar with the technical jargon or do they prefer snappy, humorous or clear and concise prose? What written material do they usually read? Will this be a web-based brochure or a print document? For web-based documents use headlines, bulleted lists and short sentences. For a print edition use paragraphs and slightly longer sentences.
4. What information do your readers need before they phone you; place an order; make an appointment; send you an email? Do they need information about sizes, prices, technical details, delivery information, quality assurance or do they need a general understanding of your company capabilities?
5. Determine the key benefits and differentiators of your product or service. Sometimes it is easier to talk about features of a product but buyers need to know the benefits. In preparation for writing your marketing piece, make a list all the features of your product and ask “So What?” It is the answer to that question that will provide valuable information to your customer. It’s the answer to the “so what” question that should form the basis of your written piece. For example, let’s talk about a ballpoint pen. After each feature ask, “So What?”
Feature: ink cartridge in a clear plastic cylinder
Benefit: visible indicator of available ink
Feature: metal ball nib
Benefit: writes every time you use it
Feature: plastic parts
Benefit: inexpensive, cost effective
Benefit: light weight, no hand strain to use it
Feature: ¼-inch diameter
Benefit: thin, fits in right or left hand comfortably
Feature: available individually or in boxes of 12
Benefit: buy them as you need them or have a supply in your office
You get the idea. Sometimes we really have to think about the answer. You need to state the obvious and assume that your customer is unaware of the benefits of the features of your product. Then you can rank the most important benefits. Which ones are critical to get your point across? Which ones are different from your competitor? You may not have room to cover all of them in your brochure.
6. Write in a conversational tone—the way you talk. Sometimes technical language is required, but keep it straightforward. Make it as personal as possible. Use the second person “you.” Involve the reader.
Draft 1: The company wants to hire a freelancer to write the brochure.
Draft 2: The company wants to hire you to write the brochure.
Draft 3: We want to hire you to write the brochure.
7. Use the active voice. Research paper writers often use passive voice but even that is now changing. You can make your message direct and to the point, and often reduce the word count, by using the active voice.
Passive voice: The research study was written by the R&D manager.
Active voice: The R&D manager wrote the research study.
8. Use positive statements.
Negative statement: Don’t write your own brochures.
Positive statement: Use an outside supplier to write your brochure.
9. Limit the use of the verb “to be” – is, are, was, were. Powerful and descriptive verbs add wind to the sails of good writing. The verb “to be” has no action or motion.
10. Edit: Read your draft aloud. Once you have written it, can you say it? Does it flow, as a conversation should? Does it make sense? Does it meet the criteria that you set? Will it answer your customers’ questions? For most writers, this step identifies what is missing, what is awkward and what makes little sense.
11. Set it aside for a period of time. Let the piece have some breathing room. If you have the luxury of putting it aside for a day two, do it. When you look at it again, you will have new insight. After the space of a couple of days, look it over again and fine-tune it. No time? Then, at the very least, work on something else for an hour or so and then go back to it for a final read through.
12. Proofread. Take one more step than your spellchecker takes. Thoroughly check every word. As the writer, your familiarization with the words cripples your ability to proofread it. Seek an independent set of trained eyes to do the final proofreading.
Model sailboat instructions read: “raise mats and booms for sails.” The manufacturer’s spellchecker approved “mats” as a legitimate word. Yes, it is in the dictionary but it is not the correct word in this context. It should have been “masts.”
13. Effective design enhances well-chosen words. Unformatted words on a page are unimpressive. The creative use of colour, images and white space helps to enhance your message. From the single page envelope stuffer or catalog sheet to a professional service package or major proposal, appropriate page layout combined with an effective message will deliver success.
Good luck with the process. Write winning words for www and for print.