As technical writers (or technical authors in the UK), we’re often hired to write copy for ads or brochures. This involves having a sense of what works in selling and marketing. We need to know what words make readers want to learn more and what makes them want to buy. It’s partly art, but it’s also a large part skill. We learn what works and what doesn’t by study and by practice.
Back in the days after World War II, new consumer goods were flooding the market and customers were able to be very picky. Elmer Wheeler, a legend in the annals of selling, told his colleagues that if they wanted to make sales, they’d have to sell the sizzle, not the steak. That advise has held up for over half a century. If you want people to buy your product, you have to answer the question, “WIIFM?”
“What’s in it for me?” is the first question a consumer asks of any product or service.
“What’s the benefit to me?”
“What do I get out of buying something other than just the product?”
A product has two basic qualities. It has features, and it has benefits. As Elmer so rightly realized, a consumer buys a benefit, not a feature. It doesn’t matter that the shoes you’re selling are made of genuine wombat leather. What matters is how wombat leather is going to make the shoes more valuable. Is wombat leather superior to Corinthian leather? If so, you have to explain how PLUS why the superiority is a benefit to the buyer.
Facts, i.e, features, don’t sell anything. You can tell me the Belchfire 08 has a 240 horsepower engine, but, unless you can show my why I need that size engine, the fact just lies there.
Remember, a feature is what the product does. A benefit is what it does for the customer.
First, an example.
The 22 lb. Whipround electric lawn mower has twice the power of comparable mowers and a heavily insulated, sound modulated motor housing.
- Lighter weight makes it easier for you to push. Less effort. Less tiring.
- More power so you get the job done faster. More free time for yourself.
- Extra quiet operation that won’t disturb your neighbors. Makes you more popular in the neighborhood.
- You can mow any time. You mow when you want to, not when it’s OK with other people.
Now you try it. Write copy that shows how these features will benefit the customer.
The Firefly 157 MP3 player has 512MB of memory, digital FM tuner, impact resistant case, adjustable armband, USB connection, and uses 1 AAA battery.
The Peas Inourtym professional blender has a 3.5 amp motor, heavy duty base in pastel colors, 2-speed operation, 40 oz. Re-flect glass carafe, English and metric graduations, and self-cleaning blade assembly.
When you’re done check the solution below.
Exercise – Answer
The Firefly 157 MP3 player has 512MB of memory, a digital FM tuner , impact resistant case, an adjustable armband, a USB connection, and uses 1 AAA battery.
- You can store up to 120 of your favorite songs
- Record radio broadcasts and listen to them at your convenience
- Tough construction means you can use it anywhere without worrying about damage
- It adjusts to fit comfortably to your arm
- You can transfer files to or from other sources easily
- One battery gives you the ability to listen up to 16 hours of your music
The Pee’s Inourtym professional blender has a 3.5 amp motor, heavy duty base in pastel colors, 3-speed operation, 40 oz. Re-flect glass carafe, English and metric graduations, and self-cleaning blade assembly.
- Powerful enough for the pros, it let’s you create all your special dishes
- Built to stand up to the toughest use with a selection of colors that fits in with your décor
- The commercial grade motor makes every job easier and faster. Puree fruit or crush ice with equal ease
- The Re-flect carafe directs the food back into the blades for more complete blending
- The dual English and metric graduations make it easy and fast for anyone to read and simpler to follow recipe directions
- With the self-cleaning blade assembly, this blender cleans up after itself so you don’t have to
Did you notice the frequent use of you, lots of adjectives, and active verbs in the benefits? If not, you’ll want to go back and rewrite your copy to make it more personal and the benefits more positive.
Being a tech writer is a great job. Go interesting places, meet really smart people, learn new things and make really good money. Which is why it’s such a rapidly growing profession. The down side, though, is that there are people who get into the business without knowing as much about it as they should.