The quick takeaways and samples below can guide you toward more compelling copy for a brochure, catalog, blog, website, ad, etc. Read on for additional explanation.
Key Takeaway 1
When writing or reviewing copy, keep the needs/wants of the target audience in mind. Her/his perspective is often, “What’s in it for me?” and if you let this concept guide your copy, chances are it will be more compelling.
Key Takeaway 2
Focus on “benefits” in copy and don’t let a “feature” (especially in a list) go unmatched without its companion benefit. An example for a diesel engine cooling component, a variable-speed fan clutch, follows:
Variable-speed operation (Don’t let an important product feature like this one stand by itself. Even if the benefit is common industry-knowledge or generally understood, pair it with a benefit. New professionals may be learning the business and can benefit from increased understanding.)
Reduced fuel consumption and less noise
Sample Compound Feature/benefit for bullet/list use
Variable-speed operation delivers increased fuel economy and reduced noise
Know Your Audience
At a basic level, understanding the wants and needs of the target audience is critical when writing or reviewing promotional copy for a product, service or brand. Of course, the latter is nothing new. Sometimes, I have the good fortune to read a detailed creative brief. Other times, the marketer shares a valid persona. On occasion, I have an opportunity to review relevant (and expensive) primary or secondary research. Interestingly (to me at least), some of the most practical (and applicable) information comes from sales personnel, given they interact with customers every day.
Regardless, a keen understanding of the customer (or prospect) can guide the development of strong copy … copy (think messaging) that resonates, persuades or otherwise appeals to the reader. In simple terms, the goal is to help the audience feel more disposed to your particular product, service or brand than that of a competitor … and to take action accordingly.
Write to the Audience Perspective
Accordingly, it is equally critical to make sure copy is written to appeal to the customer’s point of view. Sometimes, I notice that my own enthusiasm for the product/brand and the writing process leads my copy astray. Two questions I try to keep in mind as I write (and certainly apply to my final review) are: “What’s in it for me?” or “Why should I care?” I use these two questions as a “litmus test” to validate the orientation of my copy.
As an example, some companies (in brochures, websites, blogs, sales presentations, etc.) tell the reader they are global … that they have operations in 68 countries. Intuitively, the reader may “understand” the associated benefit. For instance, it may mean he/she can get a part, an entire product, or service more quickly if he/she, too, has operations in or near that area. Time is money. If we apply “What’s in it for me?” or “Why should I care?” to the statement about having operations in 68 countries, we might amend the copy to read something like: Operations in 68 countries ensures prompt delivery of replacement parts and service to maximize uptime and profitability.
Features vs. Benefits
Don E. Schultz, Professor Emeritus at Northwestern University’s School of Integrated Marketing Communications, often waxed about the difference between a feature and a benefit. He made sure we understood the difference and to carry this knowledge into our copy for ads and collateral.
Key Takeaway 2, noted above, illustrates the difference and the value of pairing features with benefits. Too many times, fellow students would list a “feature” instead of a “benefit” in the requisite section of a creative brief. Don was not shy about sharing these oversights in front of the entire class. A quick search on the web (no author cited) uncovered the following definitions:
Benefits are directly linked to product features. A product feature has been designed (in most cases) to provide some element of value (that is, benefit) to the end-consumer. Therefore, as marketers, our goal is to communicate clearly what the potential consumer will gain from purchasing our firm’s products.
1.A feature is anything in a product that can be seen, felt, and used while a benefit is the advantages that a consumer gets as a result of buying a product or availing themselves of a service. 2.A feature serves to inform consumers about a product’s characteristics while a benefit serves as a trigger that will encourage consumers to purchase a product or avail themselves of a service.
If we accept the two quotes above at face value, then focusing on benefits in copy makes sense. Writing in terms of benefits also aligns well with “What’s in it for me?” and “Why do I care?”
The next time you have an opportunity to review or generate copy for a product, service or brand, think about the difference between features and benefits and apply “What’s in it for me?” as guides to compelling copy.