Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Should You Say the Obvious About the Product?

Copywriters are there to make words sell. We spend years figuring out what phrase has the most impact where. Along the way, it's a natural inclination to avoid repetition. We don't like writing the same thing over and over any more than the audience likes reading it.

However, a problem lurks in this always-wanting-creativity preference.

It is known as The Obvious Description.

You might be tempted to avoid the obvious when describing your product. The thought might pass in your head, "They must know that part already. I'd be insulting their intelligence if I wrote it out."

The problem we as writers have when this occurs is that we're too close to the product. It's a constant danger. As we research, we start assimilating facts and product characteristics. Even if we remind ourselves to pull back and examine what we've written through a "new customer" eye, it's hard to accomplish all the time.

So occasionally, we give into temptation and talk almost completely about benefits. That in & of itself is great. But you can go too far.

Like, failing to specify what your product even does.

That's Very Nice, But What Does It DO?
I've actually read technical copy where I couldn't figure what the product did until the second page! The writer spent a great deal of time talking about how many fields this product worked for, how easy it was to use, etc. And yet they didn't cover the Obvious Description early enough in the text to focus all of these benefits on.

Here's a basic example of what I mean by an Obvious Description: "Axis Security Suite 4 is an email security application suite which protects your user mailboxes."

It even sounds Obvious if you read it out loud. Extreme "Duh" moment. Yet this kind of copy is so easy to skip over - and it shouldn't be. I know "Focus on Benefits, Not Features" is the mantra. You won't sell any benefits without a fundamental description, though. It's not so much a feature as it is a core foundation.

How, Where and Why to Write Obviously
HOW TO WRITE IT - Write out the Obvious Description in the plainest language you can. You won't want to. Fight the temptation to dress it up or swap words. Then, put it down and go do something else.

When you come back, read over your target market characteristics before looking at the copy. The idea is to re-situate the audience firmly in your mindset when you edit. "You" don't know this product from the next. That way, you'll be asking yourself questions like, "What is this? Does it do what I need it to dot?"

WHERE TO PUT THE OBVIOUS DESCRIPTION - As early in the page as possible. No later than the first 2 paragraphs. If you can't begin the copy with an Obvious Description outright, aim for starting the second paragraph with the Description line.
For example, you could spend the first paragraph outlining the major business problem your software solves, and use that to introduce the software next paragraph.

WHY IT SHOULD BE THERE - In the case of websites, you're giving the reader an instant "I know I'm in the right place." Very often when visitors arrive at your site, they want to know one thing. "Is this what I'm looking for?"

You could actually type out, "Yes, this is the place. Stop looking." But it'd be easier and more fulfilling to answer the implied question - "What does this product do?" Bam. This is what it does. I'm in the right place.

So, back to the subject line - should you say the obvious about the product?

Yes. State the Obvious Description early. Back it up with product features, and sharpen your reader's desire with benefits.



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