Better Copy in Technology Marketing. The Benefits Are Clear.

technology_marketing_copywritingAfter a morning conference call during which the expression WIFM (“wiff-em”, aka what’s in it for me) was used more times in 10 minutes than most people will use in a year, I was inspired to return to my bully copywriting pulpit to extol the virtues of benefit-oriented copy in technology marketing.

Technology can put a man on the moon, but it can’t resist a bullet list of features
In the spirit of disclosure, know that I began my marketing life as a copywriter. What’s more, I’ve spent my career of almost 20 years exclusively with tech and B2B agencies. I’ve never sold Pepsi, hocked used cars or spun summer blockbusters. Instead of waxing whimsically about highly emotional products, all my efforts have been focused on breathing verbal life into bells and whistles, speeds and feeds, facts and features.

Early on, it became readily apparent that the default copywriting tactic for most technology marketers is to list as many features as possible about their product or service and assume that customers will salivate with understanding and anticipation. The more technical the product, the guiltier the marketing department becomes of pursuing this ill-fated practice. I’ve been deep in the bowels of many hardware and software companies to witness the battle of wills between marketing, sales and engineering departments. And I can provide limitless testimony to the number of times companies say with either exasperated resignation or deluded distraction, “the customers will understand what it means.”

Guess what? The customers don’t always.

Regardless of IQ, people like simplified messaging
Many buyers of technology products and services are smart people. In the B2B world, many of them are incredibly knowledgeable, informed individuals. But they’re also general consumers. And beyond their job descriptions, they make dozens of purchase decisions every day. What to have for lunch, what gas station to fill up at, what show to watch on TV. And if you look at those decisions, there’s an inherent hierarchy to the information they’re presented:

  1. Quick, high-level messaging that grabs attention
  2. A handful of details that inspire consideration
  3. More specifics, as necessary

Consumers don’t want a deluge of information out of the gate. They’re actively trying to avoid information overload. They’re part of a culture conditioned to value sound bites. They want to know what’s being offered and, yes, what’s in it for them.

Don’t presume that, just because your prospects are smart people, you can skip communicating the benefits. The quicker you can impart that basic information, the sooner you’ll create interest and next-step discussions.

Clearly understanding product benefits affords prospects a sense of comfort. It makes them feel informed. It helps them prioritize their consideration, focusing first on the products they “get.” Immediately bombarding prospects with as many technical features as possible will turn them off. It says, “I have a really complex product that you need to figure out” before the prospect even has the chance to answer, “what the hell is this and why do I want it?”

Know thine audience
Yes, there are occasions when detailed technical information is necessary. But I suggest it’s only when the prospect has asked for it. We work with several clients who have customer bases largely comprised of engineers. And the dominant sentiment is that “engineers don’t like marketing.” They want to cut to the chase. And many times this may be the case. However, many engineers also have bosses. They have CFOs or purchasing departments to answer to. And those constituents must understand the purchases they’re about to approve. Providing intuitive, plainspeak information to those gatekeepers is as equally important as the tech specs are to the engineers.

Speaking in benefits casts a wider messaging net, becoming more inclusive in appeal. IT products, for instance, are typically subjected to decision-making by committee. As such, you have to tailor messaging to each sub-group as well as to the organizational whole. Here are a few ‘for instance’ examples:

  • If you have an open source software product that initially appeals to an IT department, the fact that it works with existing hardware infrastructure – precluding a rip and replace strategy – suddenly triggers the priorities of the CFO. Escalate it even further by communicating that the time to deploy is months instead of years and the benefits become obvious to everyone.
  • You may have a network security device with sophisticated encryption/decryption capabilities that makes the CSO happy. But the protection those capabilities provide to your intellectual property and your company brand deliver manifest benefit to ALL levels of an organization.
  • Your content management system may be highly interoperable with legacy systems, meaning less tech support for the IT department. But the fact that it works with more data systems means that you’re highly protected from a compliance perspective (i.e. Sarbanes-Oxley or HIPAA), and that resonates throughout the C-level strata.

No one, NO ONE, can deny that benefit-oriented marketing language is of value
There is no downside to every prospect you speak with understanding what your product does and the unique value it provides. Yes, it may take a few extra cycles to research and craft that language. Product managers understand part of it. Marketing execs understand part of it. Good copywriters know how to shape the words. It may take third-party perspective to validate the appropriateness of the messaging. But, first and foremost, there needs to be a mutual belief held by all stakeholders that benefit-oriented messaging is needed. The rest is a matter of execution.

A customer once shared with me a very memorable way to discern the difference between highlighting features versus benefits. He used the scenario of the Microsoft Zune against the Apple iPod. At the time of their respective introductions, the Zune promoted that you got 60GB of storage. The iPod stated that you could store 1,000 songs. While I’m sure those numbers aren’t a true apples-to-apples model comparison (so to speak), you get the idea. Even in the space of two or three words, you can convert features into benefits. It starts with knowing your audience, understanding what’s important to them, and addressing those needs unswervingly with simple, intuitive language.

With some additional effort, insight and discipline on your part conveying the WIFM, you’ll soon understand the WIFY of good benefit-oriented copy.

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