How is technical copywriting different from plain old copywriting?
Different types of copywriting, different strokes.
Technical copywriters bridge the gap between the technical and the non-technical.
The Definition of Technical Copywriting
For non-technical products, writing words that try to compel readers to buy is fairly straightforward because people would intuitively know how to use these products.
But using many technical products like software is not always intuitive.
That’s why they come with product manuals, specifications, and reference guides with instructions for people to follow. For people to buy these products, they need a good understanding of how they work and how they benefit from them.
Conventional marketing rules tell copywriters not to sell the features and instead sell the benefits. To be an effective technical copywriter, one must bend these rules and delve into the features to truly understand the benefits. It’s not enough to think you understand the benefits. In many cases, technical copywriters need to use some descriptive and technical writing to show how the product works.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of getting overly technical when describing a product or service, and the best technical copywriter knows how to strike the right balance between technical writing and copywriting. Researching the target market, its demographics, level of education and technical proficiency is necessary to find that balance.
The goal is to explain and clarify using as few words as possible, ideally making technical products sound simpler than they really are.
Not surprisingly, clients get confused about whether to hire a copywriter, technical writer, or a technical copywriter. There is a lot of overlap between these fields, especially in an increasingly technical world.
For the reasons above, technical copywriters have a huge advantage over the other writers. They have the proven experience needed to bridge the gap between the technical engineers and the non-technical users of that product.
To ensure there’s no confusion, we are not comparing technical copywriters with technical writers. Here is an article that contrasts technical copywriting against technical writing.
The Contrast Between Copywriting and Technical Copywriting
On the surface, technical copywriters and non-technical copywriters do similar work — get an inside look at what a copywriter does. The steps are not that much different:
- Understand the marketing needs of the client selling the product or service
- Research the target market and infer their struggles or pain points
- Do competitive analyses along with SEO keyword research
- Craft persuasive copy with keywords to sell the product to that particular target market
In a broad sense, they follow most of the same rules:
- Always focus on the ideal customer
- Catch the reader’s attention
- Use compelling language to emotionally connect with the reader
- Make it easy for the reader to understand
- Sell the benefits
- Overcome objections
- Show proof and testimonials
- Close with a Call-to-Action with a sense of urgency
But this is where the similarities end.
Technical copywriters need to go much further when marketing technical products to a non-technical audience. There are special rules for this, as conventional copywriting rules and methods are not enough to sell technical products successfully.
While technical copywriting is an extension of copywriting, there are clear distinctions that make it a far more difficult and advanced form of copywriting.
Special Rules for Technical Copywriting
Technical copywriting, as well as B2B copywriting, comes with its own set of special rules and guidelines on top of conventional copywriting guidelines. Only writers who are well versed in technology and in sales would be best equipped to create the highest-converting copy for businesses selling technical products and services.
In addition to conventional copywriting rules listed above, the following are five special rules that help make technical copy truly shine.
Understand the Product AND the Customer
Being a communication bridge between the technical and the non-technical in the sales and marketing universe requires you to understand both the product and the customer. This is the single most important rule for technical copywriters who are serious about their craft.
Understanding the product starts with learning its features and specifications. This is where previous experience in technology comes in. Past experience with software development makes it easier to communicate with software developers and product engineers－the nerds.
As a technical copywriter, being a bridge between the technical folks and the non-technical users is fraught with complications.
Many product engineers and software developers genuinely believe that if they make a product perfect, then it should sell itself and people wouldn’t need an instruction manual to use it. They’d ask:
“Why is any marketing or documentation necessary? It’s just fine the way it is.”
Although they know all the features of the product, where all the bugs are, and how the pieces fit all together, they struggle to look beyond the product itself－and at the very customers the product intends to help.
Without a properly executed marketing plan and persuasive copy to go with it, no one would know about the product. And if no one knows about the product, no one would buy it. The company would quickly go out of business. The product engineers and marketing team would be back on the job market.
The onus falls on the technical copywriter to understand the needs of the targeted customers. Not only is it vital to understand their existing struggles and pain points, but also how the product purports to help them. What do people want with this product? Who will use it, and how? What potential issues would people run into, making them call tech support? Are there any use cases that would help them out?
Once these questions are answered, the tech copywriter would then show how the features of the product can make the users’ lives easier and mitigate their struggles.
Simplicity is key. Nothing chases away a potential customer faster than text filled with technical jargon that makes it read like gibberish.
Using simple words, breaking down heavily technical concepts into easy-to-understand thought morsels is one of the most important things a technical copywriter can do to connect with the intended audience.
Technical copywriters need to always be aware of the audience and their level of technical proficiency. In almost all cases, the intended audience would not know anywhere near as much about the product as the engineers who created it. Assuming that they do, even if inadvertently, is a huge marketing mistake that cost many companies huge chunks of revenue.
The rule is to appeal to them by addressing their needs and－without any technical jargon－clearly showing how those needs can readily be met by using the product.
Use Personal Touch
Many tech companies fail to speak to their website visitors with a distinctly personal tone of voice. As difficult it is to transform dry technical information into an engaging piece that many people can relate with, it is as vital as ever to use language that reaches out to the reader. Otherwise, with attention spans at all time lows, readers will flock away to the nearest competitor.
Apple excels at this. This company knows how to engage visitors to their website, reaching out to them in a welcoming and personal tone, and drawing them into paying premium dollars for Apple’s products.
For example, when selling cameras, Apple’s website lists numerical specifications (12 megapixels, 4K video) and connects them with appealing adjectives as in “sharp, detailed photos” and being able to take “selfies worthy of a self-portrait” and “relive your favorite memories”.
These are highly personal words that appeal to an individual’s sense of self and their memories－and that’s what makes it a very powerful technique in sales and marketing. Apple’s technical copywriters have done a masterful job with selling the company’s products by the droves worldwide.
A case study on Apple’s copywriting discusses this in detail.
Don’t Get Too Technical
Technology can be intimidating to a lot of people. Visiting a technical website, or a company that sells software or technology products, can be a frustrating experience for non-technical folks. When visitors are intimidated, they tend to disengage and leave.
Technical copywriters need to do everything they can to make the website content less intimidating, easy to read, and more engaging. Ideally, the copy would be short and snappy, yet packed with important information about how visitors can benefit from using the products.
To keep the writing from becoming too technical, all jargon should be eliminated or kept to a minimum. A good technical copywriter would replace any large ten-dollar words or phrases with ten-cent words. For example, terms such as “assistive robotic devices” or “mechanical robotic applications” can be replaced with simply “robots”.
In short, technical copywriters need to keep the content simple while highlighting the benefits for the visitors. It is also important to emphasize how the products and services are unique within the marketplace to distinguish them from the competition.
Keep the Story Consistent
Communication between the technical side and the marketing side within a company can be fraught with difficulties and prone to misunderstandings.
What commonly happens during the product development is what I call intent-drift. What I mean by that is when a product is first conceptualized, the intent is clear. There is a pressing need, and there is a drive to develop a product that meets this particular need.
But, over time, and through many design and development iterations, people start to lose sight of the original intent. When this happens, they start adding features that address different needs unrelated to the original need. They drift away from the original intent－hence, intent-drift. Consequently, the finished product could be quite different from the initial concept.
When intent-drift happens throughout a product’s development, people get confused about what needs this product is supposed to address. The product engineers may think it meets need A, the marketing department writes the copy saying the product meets need B, and the salesman on the phone tells the customer that it’s supposed to meet need C.
Understandably, the user gets confused and out of frustration, posts a negative review online. Other users follow suit, and sales plummet.
With technology constantly growing and changing, there are understandably many cases where the product development cycles need to shift to meet a different need other than the original one. It is understandably difficult for all teams within a company to stay on the same page about a developing product.
A technical copywriter proves highly invaluable in such situations because that role is a unifying point of contact between the technical teams and non-technical teams. The technical copywriter would help keep the story straight by communicating with the product developers about its features, the marketing team about the intended target demographic, and to the target demographic about their current needs and frustrations that the product intends to address.
If no one seems to be on the same page, the technical copywriter will escalate the issue with the marketing director or CEO and give professional advice on how the company can best proceed to maximize their product sales.
Product sales perform best when the technical team, sales and support team, and the marketing team each synch up and agree on the same needs that the product intends to meet. The product copy, reflecting this consistency, would be more focused and powerful.
Best Technical Copywriting Strategies
If you’ve read this far, it would be obvious to you that technical copywriting requires more strategic thinking than non-technical copywriting. The technical copywriter’s job is to match the user’s mental model of how they think a product would help them, with the actual product implementation model.
If these models match, the user would clearly understand the value of that product and how it would help them, and consider it worth spending money on. Even a slight mismatch between the mental model and the implementation model would invite objections and hesitation from the prospective buyer.
To neglect this leaves money on the table with hesitant buyers choosing not to buy, or even worse, invite bad reviews from those who do buy and subsequently find that the product wasn’t exactly what they needed.
For this reason, clarification is vital.
It’s essentially about clearly communicating to your prospective buyers exactly how your product works and specifically how it helps them.
Aside from keeping the writing clear, simple, and engaging, there are some additional strategies technical copywriters can use to help prospective customers build mental models that accurately match the product implementation model.
Show Product Demos Using Video Content
One of the best ways to show how a product works is to do a video demonstration. With the expansion of broadband and 4G networks, there has been an explosion of video content all over the Internet. Video content can now be streamed onto PCs, laptops, tablets, and smartphones almost anywhere.
It has never been easier to capture a 5- to 10-minute video of a product demonstration and upload it to Youtube or Vimeo, to which you can embed a link in your website.
The benefit of using video demos is your viewers will see your product in action, making it easy for them to imagine using your product themselves. They will see what needs it meets, and if they have the same needs, a strong connection to that product will instantly form in their minds: “I want that! This is exactly what I need.”
Remember the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”? That’s just one static picture. Now imagine how many words a 2-10 minute video running at 30 frames per second is worth! While persuasive text is still necessary, a product demo video is a powerful complement to your online copy.
Based on research done by American Writers & Artists Inc (AWAI), including videos in your online copy is at least seven times more effective in getting your readers to take action than without. The Online Publishers Association ran another study to see how good video is at converting leads to sales. After following 1,241 Internet users, they found that 40% visited a website mentioned in a video ad and a whopping 8% made a purchase, which is astounding because 2% is considered a great sales conversion rate!
Video script copywriting is one of the best skills a technical copywriter can have, and it is proving lucrative for businesses who use both video and text to convert leads into sales.
Write Use Cases
Use cases are one way to demonstrate how a product works and benefits people who use it. When it comes to software or technical products, attempting to persuade readers to buy what you’re selling with only abstract thought is a grave mistake. In many cases, it is necessary to back your copy with concrete examples of how exactly your product is used. Showing a video demo is one way to accomplish this. Writing an use case is another way.
In the software and engineering universe, use cases are lists of actions or steps a person takes while using the product. These lists define all interactions between the product and the user to achieve the intended goal.
In technical copywriting, use cases clarify how to use the product, as in what specifically happens when you push this button, twist that little wheel, click on this icon, or pull that lever. In this way, use cases explain how a product is used to achieve a particular goal.
To minimize confusion, each use case should target only one action and one goal. If the company’s marketing director wants to show how the product meets three different needs through three different actions, three separate use cases are needed. To cram multiple actions and needs into one use case carries the risk of getting too technical and turning off potential buyers. Hence, to keep it simple, it is important to limit one action and one need per use case.
Use Metaphors or Analogies
Used properly, metaphors are excellent ways to position and market a technical product to a non-technical audience. Most attempts to market a technical product using abstract language are doomed to failure because many people learn best by example.
The problem with using examples to describe how technical products help your customers is that these examples use jargon and technical language. So how do you convey how a product works without getting overly technical?
Metaphors. But not just any metaphor. The metaphor or analogy you use must be chosen and constructed in a way that conveys the exact same process and meaning as how your product benefits your customer.
A technical copywriter who understands both sides is the best person to conceptualize your product with a metaphor that helps non-technical people understand how your product works.
Knowing the value of your product always starts with understanding how it works.
For example, to describe how SEO works, I use a metaphor. The purpose of search engines is to give relevant content to people who look for it. The key word is relevant, and search engines look for relevancy within the title, meta description, and headings on your web page.
My metaphor for SEO is best put this way:
Your website needs SEO just as a book needs a title, table of contents, chapters, and an index. Hoping your website ranks at the top of Google without using SEO is like putting a book without a title, table of contents, chapters, or index in a bookstore and hoping it sells.
Offer Customers to Try Before Buy
For many non-technical products such as skin creams and kitchen sets, many people are fine with spending a nominal price to buy without first trying them out. But getting your customers to spend a decent sum of money on your technology or software is a very big ask.
The most common objection to buying software or technology is “will it work for me?” The question isn’t whether the product works at all, it is whether the product works for them. Spending a large sum of money on technical products without some sort of guarantee is a risk most people are not willing to take.
The way to overcome this objection for technical products is to give prospects a chance to try it for free before buying. This is commonly done by offering a free trial, particularly for software or digital products.
However, it is not possible to offer a free trial for physical products such as cameras or solar panels. There are other ways to offer a risk reduction guarantee, however. You can either offer a guarantee of a full 100% refund－no questions asked－if the customer wanted to return it within a limited time period (e.g. 90 days). Or you can offer a warranty to cover manufacturer defects or damages.
For large and heavy products that are difficult to uninstall and ship back to the manufacturer, such as water heaters and wind turbines, you can offer to dispatch a technician at anytime for fast and immediate repairs free of charge.
The key here is to mitigate any buyer concerns that they are taking too big of a risk in buying your product, as technical products tend to be more expensive and complex than non-technical products. For the amount they are paying, they want the security in knowing if something went wrong, they will either get their money back or get quick support to correct the problem immediately.
Whichever risk-free guarantee you choose for your product, a great technical copywriter will make sure your guarantee stands out in a way that it converts on-the-fence prospects into sales you’d been leaving on the table all along.