Product and marketing writing, better together
It’s been said that marketing copy focuses on the company and the product, while product copy focuses on the user. It’s also been said that marketing copy is the place for using flashy words, while product copy is all about efficient communication. Some people (usually product people) see the departments as (almost) completely separate machines, each doing its thing — and hopefully, doing it well — in their own, independent worlds. They appreciate each other’s value: what’s the point of making a great product if no one is letting the world know about it? At the same time, selling will only get you so far. No matter how well you talk up a crappy product, you won’t be able to keep the business afloat.
I had the awesome opportunity to work in both departments, at the same time, within the same company. When I started, I had a rich and professional background as a writer. I had translated concepts into words for hundreds of clients around the world, in fields from biomedical tech to political science research, economics and finance to business correspondences and beyond. I had written scientific manuscripts and grants, regulatory documentation, newspaper articles, web pages, email campaigns — anything you can think of and more. But I had never worked in a proper marketing department or a product department. I was a clean slate, a dry sponge, ready to learn everything there is to know. That worked out great for my new employer at the time because they were drowning in copy needs across the board with only one copywriter in Marketing and none in Product at all to handle the flood.
I learned more in that first year about marketing, product, hi tech, professional development, about resource management and more than I dreamed there was to know. So despite the perceived division between marketing and product copy, I want to share my perspective on their synergy.
1. The USP feedback loop
To write landing pages, the first question you ask yourself is, “What are our USPs? Why should anyone choose us?” First of all, you have to know your product inside and out in order to answer this question and the best way to do that is to help build the thing. Writing the UI is the most up-close-and-personal look you can get. The UX writer who brainstormed the spec with the PM and UX designers and who provided the copy that the UI designers developed around, is in an excellent position from which to isolate and communicate the product’s USPs.
Once you have your USPs phrased concisely and convincingly for your marketing needs, you can turn around and sharpen them in the product, i.e., now that we know we should focus on certain benefits of our product in order to position ourselves against the competition, we can divert resources to sharpening those benefits even further.
2. Voice and tone precision
The first step in content strategy is a voice and tone analysis. The voice is the brand’s personality: Are we the class clown or the teacher’s pet? Are we an erudite authority or a friendly, down-to-earth, hand-holder? Brand voice is consistent, like a friend’s nature/temperament assuming they don’t have multiple personality disorder.
Tone is our tone of voice in the moment: even the class clown is focused when they’re making a major transaction at the bank or getting medical device. Even the erudite authority has a drink and loosens up after a big win. Voice is consistent; tone adjusts to a given moment in the user journey.
As UX writers, we think a lot about our voice and tone map while writing product copy — especially at critical touch points like onboarding and payment screens. Writing marketing copy also requires us to think hard about the user’s mindset and context when they interact with us. Who are they? What do they want? What do they expect of us? What do they want us to sound like? The difference is that marketers are thinking about the potential user and Product is thinking about the user we’ve already acquired.
Working in both departments provides a uniquely comprehensive view — where does our potential user’s persona and our loyal user’s persona meet? What is the different between them and how can we bridge the gap with our voice and tone? We don’t want to startle the user. Our personality should be consistent from when they first meet us, through all subsequent interactions. And by being on both teams, or at least by investing in communication between the two teams, we can make the relationship flow naturally to keep the users feeling good and coming back for more.
3. Holistic user-focus
User-centered design is all the rage in UX writing, and rightfully so. But the user doesn’t actually start inside the product. By including the top of the funnel/pre-product touch points, redefining the scope of our user journey map from the very beginning of the marketing funnel until the user stops using our interface (gasp!) we gain a more comprehensive perspective, and thereby, a more truly user-focused perspective than otherwise possible. By defining our content strategy from inside the product, we actually jump into the middle of the user journey. How better to understand the user and her needs and expectations than to start together with her from day one?
“How journalism made me a better UX writer” was the first of my copy meditations on how drawing on seemingly peripheral experiences can make a big impact on writing better microcopy. Understanding the contributions of my experience with marketing writing to my product writing makes me think there is a broader theme/truth here, that if we can all latch onto, will make the communication in our interfaces better for everyone. Especially because UX writing as an independent discipline is in such a nascent/formative stage, we all have a unique opportunity to leverage our “outside experience” to shape it. Join me in making UX writing better by drawing from whatever it is you did before, when you write.