Technical copywriting

Proposed new landing page for TorrLube

I’m a technical copywriter–an adbiz guy, not a technical writer. My job is to learn your strengths and innovations and make a straightforward explanation in plain English.

Technical writers create instruction manuals and specifications and technical reference documents. That’s not me. Technical writing is aimed at people who have already bought the product.

The intent of technical copywriting is to persuade people to buy.

As a technical copywriter, I explain your products to people who may not already know all about you. I make it simple for them to understand the advantages of your product.

My methodology is to interview your engineers about their technical subjects and write a first draft. Then the engineers point out all my bone-headed errors and I rewrite until it is not only technically correct but also accessible to non-engineers.

After 25 years in Silicon Valley,
I have returned to Santa Barbara

I was Associate Editor of Santa Barbara Magazine in its first few years

I started out as a writer/editor at Santa Barbara Magazine in its earliest days. Now I write text for websites and brochures and ads the same way I wrote articles: as an informational conversation with a human reader. A copywriter assembles all the information about your company and refines it to bring the most important parts to the front.

I’ve written for many technical and scientific companies. I enjoy learning about companies who have  innovative offerings. I interview subject-matter experts and transform their information into a smooth presentation of the most
important facts to convey their enthusiasm with fresh persuasive text.

If you want people to read it, make it easy to read.

Most people seem to think “readability” is a foo-foo add-on, or catering to imbeciles. We’re too serious to worry about readability, see. Or, this ain’t school, we aren’t chained by your archaic “rules of grammar” that were made by old white men before there was even an internet.

As a freelance copywriter, I’m always looking for work. When I see “marketing” in the job titles the headhunter apps send me, I look at the sites of the companies that are doing the hiring, if they’re in the technical or industrial sectors, and I check their text for verbal readability using the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Index. I also inspect their visual readability: the typographic presentation of their text.

I’m not sure why readability is held in such low regard by technical and industrial companies, but it’s clear to see when you look at their sites.

For some, their website is a protective barrier, a moat to keep the looky-loos out. Glassdoor told me BEGA North America is looking for a Digital Marketing Specialist who has “a working knowledge of BEGAs identity, products, and market goals.”

You have to probe deep into BEGA’s site to find out anything about the company and what it does. The landing page has only 21 words. None of them tell you what BEGA does, nor a hint of a whisper about their identity, products, and market goals.

The entire BEGA landing page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you click on the PRODUCTS menubar item, you are taken to a page with no text except for  one-or-two-word captions. BEGA. Limburg Collection. BEGA home & garden collection. BOOM collection. BEGA New Products. LIMBURG catalog 5. LIMBURG New Products.

If you press in further you can find lists and specifications of products, yes. This company is telling us that they’re doing fine, they don’t need no stinking text. Their 210-page catalog uses the same text for every product.

If people know they need a 1/2″ I.P.S. pole coupler, and they know the product number, they can find it on the BEGA site without being bothered by much interfering text. And when they get to the page, all it says is that it’s a pole coupler that can be easily installed to poles. As if our target audience didn’t already know that!

 

The kind of copywriting I’m bringing to Santa Barbara

Reeves believed the purpose of advertising is to sell. He insisted that an advertisement should show off the value or unique selling proposition, (or USP) of a product, not the cleverness or humor of a copywriter. Reeves pointed out that to work, advertising had to be honest. He insisted that no amount of advertising could move inferior goods.

In a previous era of my career, my freelance copywriting assignments came from ad agencies and graphic design shops.

Now, they’ve been replaced by web-design shops.

I’ve been searching the websites of local web shops, hundreds of them, and I see that few of them mention copywriting, and even fewer list a copywriter on staff.

Their sites are devoted to their skills as designers and coders. When I ask them about copywriting, they shrug and tell me they use what the client supplies. The closest they get to it is to upsell some SEOsearch engine optimizationto ensure essential keywords are included in the text.

As a copywriter,  I follow the basics from copywriter Rosser Reeves’ book, REALITY IN ADVERTISING. His idea was to study a company and discover what their unique sales proposition was:  the essential thing that made them different from the competition, and superior to them.

You can’t do it by just saying “We’re Different!” This requires the reader to instantly ascertain which aspect of the infinite universe you are different from.

In my theory,  I write copy that simply show what you are. Let the cognoscenti judge for themselves if you are different or not.

My theory is that a site that paints a clean plain picture of what the company does, is something that will stand out from the crowd of self-promoters gushing that they are the best in the world.

I’ve moved back to Santa Barbara

My writing career began here long ago–I was on the masthead as Associate Editor for Issue #3 of Santa Barbara Magazine. I spent a couple years writing Dodge commercials for BBDO Detroit, then returned to Santa Barbara as a freelance copywriter in the 1980s. Then I left town to go to the Bay Area for the dot.com boom.

Now I’m back, semi-retired and looking for freelance opportunities.

What’s the first thing about your company that you want people to know?

Some companies have never articulated what it is they are offering. They have no elevator pitch. Their site assures us they are the best and that they deliver optimal solutions.

They proclaim that they are different from the other guys. They assume you have at the forefront of your mind every known fact about the other guys. They boast about what they are not, instead of what they are.

I start out by knowing nothing about your company–just like most people who are not already your customers. I study your existing information and interview your people who you think should have input. Then I present a rough draft. Often I make errors because I don’t know enough about you: this is the process by which I remove the impurities. I move the best information toward the front, to where it can be seen first by potential customers.

I call my process “zone refining” after a method of purifying metals by causing a narrow molten zone to travel slowly along a solid rod  to one end,  where impurities become concentrated. Lop off the end with the impurities and do it again.

I take all the existing information about your company and put it in the cauldron and start distilling it. I exam each datum and decide whether it is more important or less important, and shove the less important ones to the back. I add more information as the client inspects and comments upon my iterative drafts.

And then you have a fresh, clean explanation of your company.

 

What a copywriter adds when you’re advertising your technology.

Graphics folks and coders are typically indifferent to the substance of the text they are manipulating. They are highly focused on the look and the functioning of your site. They accept whatever text their technology clients provide.

I recently looked at the websites of a couple hundred web design shops on California’s  Central Coast. Virtually none of them have a copywriter on staff.

My father was a typographer and I grew up in close intimacy with the presentation of text. He said that legibility is the most important element of any typeface. Each letter in a word must work with all the other letters, resulting in a clean, harmonious design across the page.

I grew up thinking of myself as the intermediary between the information and the lettering. My goal was not to plaster the world with my ideas and opinions, but to channel the flow of information from a client and make it clear and understandable.

One problem with front-edge technology companies is that they don’t want to explain themselves to a wider audience. They want to show off in front of the competition. They throw down a gauntlet and sneer, “Keep up with us if you can!” If you are not already fully aware of the deepness of their technological importance, they don’t want to talk to you.

Some of it is their concern with security. It can be jarring to come out of a secretive lab environment and be told to blab it all to the world.

Years ago, I was called in as a freelancer to write a full-page ad for an aerospace company to announce their new flapper nozzle product. The division manager was shocked that I didn’t know what a flapper nozzle was. He treated me and my questions as though I were an enemy spy, at first. Some stupid marketing writer that the bosses had imposed upon him.

Click picture to read full text of this ad.

Then, after he realized I was interested in learning about his product, he relaxed and told me about the creation of the device and its competitive advantage in the current marketplace of the hydraulic valve industry. It turned out that these flapper nozzles were used in helicopters and private jets and cruise missiles, so I gave the ad agency a sketch of how to make these the graphic focus of the ad.

 My ignorance is my tool. My theory is that most people know as little about your company as I do. I report my surprise and delight at your expertise, and make your expertise easy to understand.

If it’s readable, it will work better.

For technical products, should advertising text be readable?

Hardly anybody ever reads advertising copy, even if it is the very best. So why go to the effort of making it readable?

Some people think the idea of “readability” is a concession to morons, a dumbing down, an insult to the seriousness of their corporate intentions.

In baseball they tell you, “Swing hard in case you hit it.” I make it readable just in case somebody besides a ‘bot actually tries to read it.

Readable text makes it easy for visitors to quickly understand what your site is offering.

If your technical product has an advantage over the competition, the best way to market it is with a clear explanation in plain language. Everybody prefers clear explanations.

I start with an attitude of throwing the company wide open for inspection, of making an effort to explain the company rather than expecting the outside world to make the effort. I give you a fresh look, a clear window into the company that invites response. I can make any company interesting to an outsider.

Technical copywriting and me.

Why do I think I’m qualified to do technical copywriting.

I’ve done a lot of it in the past, but I’m an adbiz guy, not a technical writer. I know how to separate out the boilerplate and chaff from a company’s literature and pare it down to the red meat of their story.

What I want to do is to write brochure sites for technology companies who want to let the world know what they are doing.

I’ve been studying science and technology all my life. I never completed my engineering degree, but I’ve been able to talk to engineers and translate their achievements into text that anybody can understand. I do it by being wrong about everything and letting the engineers show me where I was wrong, until I get it right.

My niche is not a certain category of companies. I see technical and industrial companies that are not explaining themselves well, companies that have a market advantage that the market is not seeing. Companies that have a new product that they want to distinguish from what the competition is offering. New companies with a breakthrough product.

I see them not only not explaining themselves well, but not explaining themselves at all.

As an outsider to their industry, I see that they are using the same word structures as other industries to make a generic façade of self-approval. They aren’t talking about what they actually do, they’re talking about industry norms in very abstract terms. So when they have a new product or a new method, they are unable to see it as an outsider might see it.

I can’t talk to anybody in any field without them telling me how technology has transformed their field. But they are so busy with their own field that they haven’t noticed the transformations in the next guy’s field. People think the changes in their own field are normal and well known.

I create a plain explanation to give potential customers a clear view of what you are offering in concrete terms, in active language, in context with the onrush of technology in your field.

How I do it

My creative goal is to learn what the engineers have accomplished and write it down clearly. My process is: rewriting. I interview the subject matter experts and get suggestions for further reading. I write a draft and show it to the engineers, and they laugh and point out my blunders. I rewrite it with my new understanding, and this time my errors are more subtle, but the engineers still find them.

Then I present a draft that they admit is a clear true explanation. And from there we devise a plan to market this explanation.