Your Beloved Product is Not the Protagonist
You had an idea. The idea was good. The goodness of the idea resonated with others. The others joined you as you turned this idea into something that improved the world: your product.
Now you’re ready to share it with the masses — but there’s no room in the budget for a digital copywriter.
Sure, like most designers or developers, you’ve done enough writing to survive grammatical scrutiny. But you’re not looking for survival. You’re looking for sales. How to present your project to the world? Everyone probably wants to hear about its origin story, right?
Whatever your product is — whether it’s a new kind of toaster, vacuum cleaner, or CMS — you got there in stages. Every step of the way, new problems, limitations, and goals emerged.
In fact, your product was birthed on something of a Hero’s Journey, a narrative pattern that’s been a part of humanity since we could scribble on cave walls.
“I left home to do a thing, not because I wanted to, but because I had to. I have returned, the thing I did is good, and we’re all better off because of it.”
Your product went on a bit of a Hero’s Journey of its own to become a real thing. You put an idea through stages and sprints and iterations and each one brought the idea one step closer to its culmination.
But I’m here to tell you that being too precious about your product by treating it as the hero of its own story is a big mistake. You won’t market it right. You’ll alienate non-designers from the product itself or tempt others to steal your idea and market it better. And you’ll leave the customer feeling unmoved.
Want to break out of your designer/developer bubble? Want to reach the people who inspired the personas you created to drive your decisions?
Then stop making your product the protagonist.
Tell Stories About People, Not Objects
Our psyches rely on stories. They help us make sense of our world and its history. Many of us spend our entire lives trying to make sense of our pasts in such a way that gives all of our experiences a trajectory.
Sure, you can connect with others through narrative identity — but your products can’t.
Product descriptions that list the product’s features and delve into their development narrative are not actually story-based marketing. They’re case studies. By all means, save those. Share them with budding novices, with other designers looking to evolve, etc. But don’t rely on them for staggering sales. Even in a case study, the audience isn’t connecting with the product’s milestones. They’re connecting with the people behind the product’s specialized tribulations, the people who went on the journey with the product.
Still, it’s your responsibility to connect consumers with the features of your product. How do you do that?
You make the customer the protagonist — not the object.
In addition to nailing your copy, you’ve also got to have a beautiful website. Learn the dos and don’ts of website design.
Empathize With the Customer (the Real Protagonist!)
To really connect with the customer, construct a story around them and make them the protagonist. For example, if you’re pitching them a car, don’t turn the car into the protagonist (“the Subaru Outback features an all-wheel drive and here’s how we came up with the design!”). Craft a narrative with the customer in mind, by asking “so what?” Here’s an example:
- Every Subaru Outback model features all-wheel drive.
- So what?
- So you can protect yourself, your passengers, and maybe even fellow commuters from ice, snow, and hydroplaning.
Consumers can’t sympathize with a car. They sympathize (maybe even empathize) with people who have been stuck in snow, or much worse. Here, emphasizing the benefit to the customer puts them into the story (a story of snow, ice, and hydroplaning) where they end up looking like the good guy.
Here’s another example from a different industry.
- The Snapdragon 808 is the most advanced mobile processor with top-rated hardware specs.
- So what?
- So your tablet’s processing power allows you to touch up pro-res images during your flight, giving you something to show potential clients for your jet lag.
- And so your tween can stop complaining about having to go see Aunt Whoever and just enjoy the awesome graphics on his/her mobile game.
Another key to successful marketing? Building an email subscriber list with your WordPress website.
Watch Your Pronouns
Here’s one more thing to consider when preparing your copy. (I can tell you it’s helped my web copy immensely.) I recommend avoiding the third-person point of view (he, she, it) whenever possible. Notice how, in the above examples, addressing the reader in second person enhances the empathy in the implied narratives.
The first-person plural can also be a powerful approach in copy for nonprofit work or other benevolent organizations. For example, the Audubon Society has a nifty way of transitioning from first-person plural (the writer as many) to the second person. They say things like (emphasis mine), “We must act now to protect the species and places at risk. With your help, we can fight back. We can protect birds and the places they call home — as long as we have people like you who will help.”
Whether or not you have a copywriter on staff, thinking of your product’s story as customer-centric will really help your marketing copy shine. Mechanical edits and narrative theory aside, look for points of empathy by continuously asking, “So what?” Now, get back to your CMS, turn your customer into the protagonist, and turn those features into benefits.
Still not convinced? Here’s why everyone in tech needs to bulk up their writing skills.