The Secret To Writing Killer Product Copy
So much has changed for the better in the business world since Web 2.0 began, but there’s one thing that seems like it’s still stuck in the mid-90’s: the way we write about the products we’re building and selling.
I have two thoughts on why this is the case, one more concerning than the other.
Most people just aren’t great writers.
For many people, writing is a brutal exercise. It’s not enjoyable, they don’t know what to write, it takes forever or the result makes no sense.
And that’s totally fine.
What good would a team be if it was made up of people who all had the same skills, anyway? Personally, the way I just described how most people feel about writing is exactly how I can feel with big numbers or when I have to play around in Excel with large data sets.
Marketers have become obsessed with having technical chops.
This is the concerning one.
We get so caught up in a long list of technical skills because everyone wants to “build something” or be “data-driven” these days that one of the most important skills in business keeps getting sent to the back of the line: writing.
But here’s the thing.
You don’t need to be a professional writer (read that 2x).
I don’t consider myself a writer at all.
Much of what I write would probably get shredded by an English major or anyone with an AP Style Guide.
The most underrated (and I’d argue important) skill that you need as a marketer today is simply the ability to write like a human.
“Here’s a simple trick for getting more people to read what you write: write in spoken language.” — Paul Graham
“The simple way to get better at business writing: don’t do business writing.” — Seth Godin
“Let the real writers keep blowing our minds. Meanwhile, we’ll try to get our message across as clearly as possible.” — Ali Mese
At Drift, we call this customer-driven copywriting.
It doesn’t matter if it’s an email we’re sending, copy on a landing page, or text in a tool-tip inside of our product, everything that we write has to be written in a way that our customers will understand and care about.
We always try and ask ourselves these questions:
Why should someone give a shit about this?
What’s in it for the customer to read this?
Is this how you’d explain this to a friend over a cup of coffee? Or if you had to walk up to a stranger in a bar?
Here’s the welcome email for signups from Drift.com. Simple, and sounds like something you’ might actually say to a real human:
Segment is a tool that’s built for engineers. If they can write amazing copy like this for a very technical product, so can you:
Same with Stripe. Built for developers, but something that my Mom could understand. Sure, she won’t know what “a set of unified APIs” means, but the great part about this message is that if you delete the first line, it’s still 100% clear what Stripe does:
PillPack is an online pharmacy that ships prescription medicine right to your door. It would be pretty easy for them to get into the weeds of their business, but they keep things simple, clean and clear.
The key to rememeber as a marketer is that your job is not to stuff an entire idea down someone’s throat the first time they visit your website. Your goal should always be to get someone interested enough to take the next step. PillPack does that by offering a better, simpler experience — something that most people don’t expect to get from a pharmacy.
Finding Inspiration For Customer-Driven Copy
I’m going to share a secret with you to help with your next blog post, email, landing page, whatever.
Your customers are all over the Internet writing things in their own words.
Instead of trying to get inside of your customer’s head or staring at a blank screen thinking to yourself “what would a customer say?” you can go out and find those messages to use in your copy — and you don’t even need to be a good writer.
Here are a few places to look.
Notes From Customer Development
Get tight with your product managers, designers, sales reps, and anyone who is talking to customers daily. If they’re any good at their job, they will have pages and pages of notes of things customers said directly. Use those notes to write messages in the words of your customers. Why make things harder than they need to be? Say it how they say it.
I’ve been spending a lot of time (again) on Quora. It’s an incredible resource because the intent is so high: someone came to a question and answer site to ask a question about something. It’s one thing to think it, it’s another thing to go over to Quora and ask a question.
We have a tool that helps you measure NPS inside of your app, so I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to figure out how people talk about NPS in their own words.
Quora has been a goldmine, and many of the comments there helped to write this post on NPS.
There are rarely brand new ideas or products anymore. Use this to your advantage. Product Hunt comments can be a great resource for copy.
The great part about Product Hunt is that the community is super active, so there are usually a lot of comments from users of that particular product.
We recently launched a free tool that shows you who your VIP leads are (you get a daily email or Slack notifications) so I plugged a few ideas into the search box on Product Hunt and found a few startups that had built similar tools in the past but had been acquired and then shutdown.
These comments were a huge help for writing a lot of the copy for the new free tool:
It’s easy to dismiss tweets. They’re nice, we’re vain, it’s fun to see people sharing tweets about your product. But try and go one step further — what did they say? How did they say it?
There are two things most people do with tweets:
- Re-write them in their own words so the tweet sounds original
- Re-write them in their own words so the tweet can fit in 140 characters
Bingo. You can use tweets about your products as inspiration for copy. These are people saying things in their own words.
For example: new leads with context. That’s not a message we led with for Drift, but it’s a great message!
Have you ever noticed how many people write reviews for products on Amazon? Every product — from books to shoes to shampoo.
Plug in something that is related to your business on Amazon, find a product, and mine the reviews for copy ideas — straight from the mouth of a potential customer.
Even if you aren’t building a consumer product, there are plenty of other ways to find reviews.
Are you building a new marketing software platform? There won’t be reviews for marketing software platforms on Amazon, but there will be reviews for books about marketing.
It doesn’t matter where you go looking for ideas, but the point is that there are copy ideas everywhere. Sometimes we just need to get out of our own heads a little bit in order to find them.
Thanks to David Cancel for the inspiration for this post.
If you got something out of this post, I’d be pumped if you recommended it.