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Before you request or write a piece about a product, think about the big picture. Are you writing a data sheet? If so, why? Is it part of a product launch? If it is, think about also writing a press release, contacting analysts, doing a direct mail campaign, or maybe even writing a related white paper or bylined article. Are you writing a white paper? If so, why? Is this a thought leadership piece? Then maybe you should have an analyst write it instead of someone inside your company, because that could give it more credibility. Is this a technical white paper? Then ask yourself, "does this add to what the data sheet already says?", "is a data sheet more apporpriate?", or "do I need to write a data sheet in addition to the white paper?".
One very important aspect of a data sheet is that it must be easily scannable. Chances are, the recipient will not read the entire piece (despite the fact that it is only a two-sided sheet!). Select the three or four topics which you want most to highlight, be they benefits or features. Add four to eight bullets under these categories. These are what the reader will almost surely read (or scan, at the least). Then, in the actual paragraphs, you should add further details about these bullets, diving in deeper but recognizing that there is a good chance that these paragraphs may never be read.
If you can, start every bullet with an active verb (for example, "Streamline your collaboration efforts"). Active verbs are powerful, descriptive, and let the reader quickly realize the benefit that he/she can gain. Also, be consistant with your verbs. That means: 1 - use a verb at the beginning of EVERY bullet or none of the bullets, but do not use verbs at the beginning of some and not others; 2 - use the same tense every time, meaning do not use past tense on some and present on others; and 3 - make every verb refer back to the same noun, meaning do not make some verbs refer back to the user (for example, "Increase visibility into the full product lifecycle") and some verbs refer back to the product (for instance, "Provides quick and accurate results").
Bullets are an important part of a white paper. While the majority of the paper should be paragraph text, bullets are useful for highlighting important points. Bullets are particularly important in a long white paper. They break up the text, making it easier for the reader to continue reading. They are also what the reader will see if he/she decides to only skim the paper.
This is a constant dilemma: which should I highlight, the features or the benefits? My personal feeling is the benefits. You can show the features using the benefits, but honestly, what does the customer care most about? What he/she can get from the product, how he/she can benefit from making a purchase, and how can he/she justify the cost of the purchase - these are the questions for which the customer wants answers.
A white paper can be authored by a variety of people, depending on the purpose. A thought-leadership piece is often written by a person outside of the company, since this gives it more credibility. A technical piece may be written by someone in product marketing. If someone in product management writes a piece, it should always be at least reviewed by someone in product or corporate marketing. There are two reasons for this. First, often times product management writers can get too technical, in particular because they are so enmeshed in the product. Second, the marketing team must read the piece to assure that the same messaging is being used across all collateral.
Generally, if a piece is corporate marketing collateral, the marketing team has it covered in its budget. However, if a piece is not corporate marketing collateral (e.g., training manual), this piece should most likely be covered covered by the budget of the requesting team.
Do not try to do your own graphics, unless you are merely giving a professional an idea of what you want. Remember, your presentation is a representation of your company, and when your presentation looks unprofessional, so does your company. If you do not have an in-house graphic artist, spend the money to get an outside professional. In the long run, it is worth it.
Before you start a campaign, talk to everyone involved, and anyone else around the company who might be affected. For example, contact the marketing team director to assure that your request does not conflict schedule-wise, to be sure that the piece does not already exist, and to decide if the piece necessitates other aspects of a campaign, such as a press release or a presentation. Contact the sales teams, to be sure that the piece being written is something that they can actually use. Contact the product management team to be sure that you have all of the right facts, and that the product is actually at a point where you want it advertised in a marketing piece.
Do not use too much text on a slide or you may lose your audience's attention. It is difficult and tiring to read text if it is too small or if there is too much of it. If you have a lot of bullets, spread them over several slides. If you have a lot of information to impart, provide a handout or give a demonstration. In addition, try to break up the text with graphics if possible.
Keep your data sheet as short as you can, while still highlighting the most important benefits and features. If you can fit all of the information on one side of a sheet - great! Two sides are fine as well. However, you should not go longer than that. A brochure, which covers several topics (for example, a piece that touches on a suite of products or the company's product overview), can be four to eight pages. A data sheet, however, should be as concise as possible without losing any important details.
A white paper can be as long or as short as you want it to be. However, if at all possible, you should generally try to keep it within three to seven pages. This particularly holds true for a technical white paper. Thought-leadership pieces sometimes run longer. However, if you write something longer than seven pages, be prepared for the fact that the reader most likely will not read every word, and may only skim the piece or just read the first few pages.
Before you start any marketing writing projects, decide what rules should hold true for all requestors. For example, should they be asking you for the collateral or should they be talking first with the marketing director, who is in charge of your project plans and larger marketing campaigns? Do you have a collateral request form? If not, create one. Do you have certain writing standards and styles that are consistent across all collateral or across certain kinds of collateral? If so, state this to the requestor from the start. In addition, make it clear that every requestor must follow the same rules, because if some people follow them and others do not, soon everyone will decide that it is OK to break the rules.
If you want the reader to actually read your bullets, make them consise and to the point. If a bullet looks like a paragraph, chances are, the reader will ignore it. Get to the point at the beginning of the sentence, and tell the reader right away why your product is important, and what the product can do for the reader.
Before you begin a piece, first determine your audience. The reader level will set the stage for both the kind of collateral you will create and the tone you will take while you are writing that collateral. If the requestor does not know the purpose or the audience for the collateral, do not bother writing a word or you will be wasting both of your time.
Bullets in a white paper can be short and sweet or longer paragraphs, depending on their purpose. If you decide to include longer bullets, however, I suggest that you highlight the most important information at the beginning of the bullets. For example, you might bold the first few words or the first sentence in a bullet, and that bolded information should contain a summary of what is contained in the bullet's paragraph. Thus, if the reader decides to skim the bullets, he/she will at least catch the most vital information.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|