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COPYWRITING

When my company's product engineers submit text for exhibit demos and literature, it's all a bunch of techno-babble. How do I turn their babble into commanding copy?

Scientists and engineers often make terrific products. But just as often, they're too close to the underlying technology to see it objectively, and they think at a remote distance from the mindset of your customers, who have to use or apply that same technology. For marketers, technologically sophisticated products and services pose a special problem - translating that technical talk into the plain talk customers need.

From the depths of my experience with bits, bytes, high-voltage devices, and semi-toxic chemical compounds, I offer several suggestions that will help you turn good science into compelling marketing copy.

 Start with the results, not with the science. Sure, your chief competitive distinction may have its roots in new scientific breakthroughs. But before potential buyers will take the time to learn about your science, they need to understand something more fundamental first: How does your product or service help their businesses? So focus your text around results, rather than technology.

Techno-babble: ChromaPlastics offers advanced chromapolymer formulations that resist UV deterioration and environmental degradation.

Compelling copy: With ChromaPlastics, you can create lightweight plastic consumer products in just about any color that won't fade, crack, or peel outdoors.

 Paint a clear picture of the opportunity. While technicians appreciate analysis, the way to a buyer's heart (and checkbook) is through his or her imagination. Instead of merely detailing the features of your product or service, create a vivid demonstration of how they can be applied to the customer's advantage.

Techno-babble: The RoadWarrior laptop features an impact-resistant case enclosing the motherboard and display panel within shock-absorbing construction components.

Compelling copy: Drop this laptop off a table? Not a problem. We've built the RoadWarrior to take a fall from as high as 5 feet - and to keep on working, guaranteed.

 Climb down from the tower. For reasons that escape me, some people believe that an elevated rhetoric conveys a more professional image. They refuse to use the first and second person ("I" and "you"), insist on passive language ("bacteria are destroyed by the disinfectant" rather than "the disinfectant kills bacteria"), and opt for vague abstractions ("quality" and "excellence") to concrete specifics ("withstands hurricane-force 150 mph winds"). Don't make the same mistake. Speak directly to your audience in active language that embraces concrete, physical details.

Techno-babble: Superior outcomes are achieved by Blowhard Technology Inc.'s commitment to highly advanced hydro-resistant surface-treatment applications.

Compelling copy: Keep your basement dry. Painting your foundation walls with Blowhard SolidSeal gives your property a waterproof seal that's five times more durable than latex, polyurethane, or tar.

 Show it in action. The more complex your product, the greater the need for context. Make it easier for customers to understand your offer by using real-life stories that reveal why your product is necessary and how it solves a problem.

Techno-babble: MultiScape is the proactive solution for property managers responsible for a variety of outdoor environments.

Compelling copy: Exurb Partners manages commercial properties in various climates including dry deserts, wet coastal flood zones, and frost-exposed northern forests. By contracting with MultiScape, they've been able to create consistent, attractive landscapes regardless of location.

 Use pictures. As much as it pains this copywriter to say it, sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. And as always, less is more, especially when it comes to the amount of text you use on exhibit graphics. So when you have the opportunity, reveal the benefits of your product or service with photographs, illustrations, charts, and/or graphs. For the writer, the tricky part is creating effective captions. Instead of merely labeling the content of the visual (which most people are capable of seeing for themselves), good marketers use the caption to link the visual to an important selling point.

Techno-babble caption: The new Thermocannon Model XJ6.

Compelling caption: The new Thermocannon XJ6's rapid-firing heating elements remove three times more paint in half the time it takes for ordinary heat guns.
While you probably won't win a Pulitzer with your marketing prose, these five copywriting rules will help you transform tedious techno-babble into marvelous marketing copy.

- Jonathan Kranz, president, Kranz Communications, Melrose, MA

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