Minimum Viable Pizzas

Crafting words for New Product Development at Booking.com

Complete with pepperoni (but more on that later).

“If it can be a test, test it. If we can’t test it, we probably don’t do it.” Thank you, Stuart Frisby, our Design Director. But what if it’s a new product, and we can’t test it (yet)?

Nearly 10 years of A/B testing experience. More than a thousand experiments running at any given time. Some of the most sophisticated A/B tooling in the world. Behind the gigantic marketplace that sells hotel rooms and more, there’s aggressive learning, iteration and exciting technological development at Booking.com. How do our writers take advantage of this when looking at New Product Development?

Usually copywriting at Booking.com involves analyzing user research, looking to competitors, reviewing historic data and brainstorming. When there’s little to no historic data or similar products in the industry, writers have to rely on their gut to get started — which we rarely do here. Data is in our DNA, helping to absolve subjective conversations around everything from button colors, to CTAs (or calls to action) and pagination.

I’ve seen my fair share of New Product Development in my 7-year stint here. It usually comes from following industry trends or seeing a customer pain point as an opportunity. From there we dig into data, form hypotheses and throw our best people in the deep end to create, test, validate and iterate on new concepts. No matter the size or scope, copy is an integral part of the development recipe. Complete with pepperoni (but more on that later).

Here’s how we write for new products at our organization.

Researcher Charles Kettering once said, “A problem well-stated is half-solved’
  1. ‘What problem am I solving?’

Understanding your user’s problem and or your team’s end goal helps you know how best to provide copy solutions. This may change from platform to product and can be influenced by design. But asking yourself why you’re writing something helps identify the user’s goal, and ruthlessly prioritize the information you’re providing them. What problem are you solving with these words? If you don’t know the answer, your users probably won’t either.

2. Data. Data? Data!

Once we know what problem we’re trying to solve, we dig into the data. Data-driven writing is perhaps what sets us most apart from other copywriters and e-commerce companies out there. This helps to minimize conversations around what we *think* something should say, and stay as objective as possible. It also helps to tune out HIPPO opinions (or highest paid person’s opinion). Who is your audience? What platform do they use the most?

How does tone of voice factor in? What product pages will get the highest traffic? All these questions help us know not only where to start, but make it as relevant as possible for the user.

How do you write for something totally new without data? There’s usually historic information about similar products, or we research our competitors. We also run design sprints, build wireframes and camp out in our local cafe and ask real humans. Guerilla testing is a great alternative when we lack in-depth data. True, it’s a small sample subset of users, but it’s still a great litmus test to understand if what you’re writing makes sense.

3. Write for a minimum viable pizza

Ok, this is a running joke mixed with some seriously good advice. Once upon a time, some of us copywriters had a good laugh thinking about what would happen if we changed all the CTAs to pizza emojis. Because who doesn’t love pizza. But in all seriousness, remember that with most New Product Development, you’re writing for an Minimum Viable Product (or MVP). Getting a product out there fast helps quickly validate if you’re going in the right direction.

Keeping it short and simple is your best bet to start. Sexy taglines are great for products that are already established, or second iterations. Competitor analysis, user research, multi-variant testing and successive iterations has told me that unless people know exactly what you’re doing, spell it out. It’s super important in terms of resource management to validate that the product is going in the right direction. Build it first, add pepperoni later.

4. Don’t be precious about your words

Now this doesn’t mean don’t be thoughtful or work hard to craft the right content. You should be able to justify to everyone on your product team why you’ve written something the way you have (because data). But just as the design of a product changes after internal feedback, user testing etc, your copy is going to change. A lot.

Once you get words to paper and have an MVP, you can test your hypotheses on your audience. How do you know if what you’ve written is ‘good’? The audience will tell you. This is fundamentally different from typical copywriting as its usually you or an editor who decides. It’s not personal, and you’ll feel a lot better about yourself and your work if you already put space between you and your words.

5. Lather, rinse, repeat (and see number 3)

Writing anything at Booking.com means that your copy will be constantly going through the developmental product cycle. This could be microcopy changes like CTAs in buttons or total rewrites of pages. Once you get something out to the public, the real work begins. This feedback loop lets you *really* understand your product, user experience and what resonates with your audience. Now your data-based hypotheses can be challenged, and you can create value propositions and messaging hierarchies that are aligned with your tone of voice and brand positioning.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

The process isn’t linear. The best thing about writing for New Product Development in our organization is full, end-to-end ownership of all the words and pioneering uncharted territory. As a copywriter, you’re empowered to think outside the box, challenge the development team, conceptualise, hypothesize and advocate for your user. At the end of the day, we aim to make things that people like, find useful and bring value to their lives.


We’re always on the hunt for new writing talent. Wanna join us? Apply here.