Re: Shazam! You're a marketing writer!

Subject: Re: Shazam! You're a marketing writer!
From: Brad Whittington <brad -dot- techwriter -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Wed, 6 May 2009 10:10:15 -0500

Yo, Nancy,

As a digest reader, I'm a little late to the party.

I came to technical writing after 6 years in marketing and still make
part of my income doing marketing writing, such as webpage copy,
brochures, whitepapers, data sheets, etc.

The style of your copy will vary considerably depending on whether
this is marketing to consumers (which I know very little about) or
marketing to other businesses.

You need to establish a few things before you write a single word.

1. BENEFITS. For website copy, focus on benefits. Leave the features
for the data sheet or whatever they get when they click through.
Benefits are tied to pain points, the things that keep them awake at
night, the things they worry about, the things that will make them
look good to the boss. Benefits vary depending on . . .

2. AUDIENCE: This has been mentioned, but to dig further, the primary
and secondary readers must be identified. Possible readers: users of
the product, managers of the users, senior management, finance person
(who may have approval/veto power). The benefits vary by target
reader. They all want to know how this will make their job easier, but
their jobs are different. To write to an audience, you have to know
what their specific problems are, what keywords or issues will
resonate with them.

In general, a user wants to know how this will save him time, make a
difficult task easier, reduce the number of mistakes (bugs),
troubleshoot problems, make him/her safer, etc. A manager wants to
know how it will increase productivity in a department that has lost
half its people but still has the same workload, etc. The finance
guy/gal wants to know how this will save money, either one time
(CAPEX) or on an ongoing basis (OPEX). For effective marketing copy,
you have to speak to specifics in their daily world, not a generic

3. GOAL. Most of the time, the goal is lead generation. However,
marketing copy can have multiple goals beyond selling. You may be
looking for brand recognition, establishing the company as a thought
leader or innovator, connecting the company name with a specific
property (quality, value, usability), countering the competition, etc.

4. VOICE/STYLE. Just like in documentation, there are those who
like/dislike use of second person in the copy. This is determined by
the audience, by what is expected in a particular market, and by the
preference of the decision maker.


Before I start a project, I ask the contact person or stake holder to
confirm all the above things. Like in writing documentation, you have
to rely on SMEs for this information. They didn't come to you because
you know these things; they came to you because you can write. THEY
know these things, or if they don't, they know who does. Identify the
SMEs and work closely with them.

I find that most people, even marketing people, have a hard time
identifying true benefits. Over half the time when I ask for a list of
benefits from the lead marketing person for a product, I get a list of
features. For example:

* Easy to use GUI with automation support.

That's a feature. The benefit here is that it saves the customer money
through shorter configuration time (usability), unattended operation
(automation), fewer configuraton mistakes (both), allows non-experts
who are paid less to run expert-level tests set up by experts who are
paid more (automation) and others.

The key to finding the benefit is repeatedly asking, "So what?" until
the benefit of the answer is obvious, particularly in terms of saving
money or time (which is ultimately saving money), reducing risk or
injury, etc.

Regarding style, I make my copy as skimmable as possible, which means
bullets. I like to lead with an establishing sentence or two, then hit
them with a list of leading questions based on their points. The goal
is to have them saying, "Yes, that's exactly my problem! How are you
going to solve it for me?" Then I follow with the benefits, true
benefits. By that point, people who really need/want this product will
click through for more information. People who aren't your target
customer will not, which is fine. They're not buying, anyway.
Depending on the client, features may follow this or not.

That's probably too much information, but I got carried away.

Good luck,
Brad Whittington

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