How to Write a Kick-Butt Product Datasheet
Product datasheets are a checklist item in the technology industry; your buyers expect you to have them (or, at the very least, your sales team does). But does anyone really read them? And, more importantly, what can we do to make them more consumable and not just a bunch of dry words? Technology buyers WILL read a datasheet if it’s written and laid out well. The key is understanding that the majority of buyers will first scan it to pick up the main points, and, if they deem it useful or interesting, then they’ll skim the other content. If your datasheet passes the all-important scanning and skimming test, it's more likely that buyers will read it in detail. So it’s important to write good copy that gets to the point quickly and to use a very readable layout. These tips can help you write a datasheet that actually gets read.
Relentlessly focus on the most essential information.
Most datasheets are short—usually only the front and back side of one page. By the time you account for your template layout, you probably have only a few hundred words to describe your product. Spend some serious time thinking about the three or four most important points your audience wants to know (there isn’t room for more even if your product team is clamoring to include every feature in the last release.) Examples of basic questions to answer in your datasheet include:
- How does your product help your buyer solve their problems? (Keep this to three to four points.)
- What does it do? (It’s amazing how often this is forgotten. See #2 below.)
- What makes it unique? (Remember, this should be from your buyer’s perspective. What would they find unique about it compared to competing solutions?)
- How does it work from a technical perspective? (Keep this succinct and just hit the highlights.)
The key is to keep each of these topics relatively concise while considering your audience and what they want to know about your solution. For example, if the datasheet is for business managers, you probably don’t need to elaborate about how the product works technically. If it’s for network engineers, on the other hand, then that information may be critical.
- Include a product definition on the first page.
I rarely see this on most technology datasheets, and I think it’s crucial. Include a brief (two sentences or less) product definition right at the top of the first page including how it solves your audience’s high-level problem. It orients your reader to your product and provides context for the rest of the datasheet.
- Summarize product benefits upfront.
Give readers reasons why they should continue reading by including a brief benefits list on the first page. I often do this in the form of a bulleted list in a dedicated left- or right-hand column so it’s easy to scan. Keep the text very short but compelling.
- Compose headlines and sub-heads that summarize your main points.
Readers will scan these first so make them succinct and be sure they encapsulate your main content points. A good test is to read only the headlines and sub-heads of your rough draft—do they summarize your main points? If the reader only reads them and nothing else, would they be convinced they should read the datasheet in its entirety?
- Use bullet points and bold key phrases.
Bullet points break up your text so it’s easy to read and quick to scan. Keep the text short and start each bullet point phrase with an action-oriented verb. And here’s a copywriting trick that’s rarely used in technology datasheets: Bold key phrases of your main benefits—especially those that are listed in bullet points. Skimmers and scanners will read these even if they don’t read anything else. For example:
- Gain deep visibility about where critical information is located
- Eliminate passwords once and for all
- Protect information in use and in motion
- Consider writing headers and sub-heads as questions.
FAQs, or frequently-asked-question documents, are popular with technology buyers. It’s easy to see why—they’re organized in a Q&A format which makes them quick to scan. You can utilize this same principle by writing your headings and sub-heads in the form of questions and answering them in the paragraph immediately following the header. Examples of good headers formatted as questions include:
- How Does Product X Compare to Other Big Data Solutions?
- How Does Product X Work?
- Why is Product X the Best Choice for Managing My Cloud Data?
- How Do I Learn More About Product X?
- Include a strong quote in a call-out box.
Validation of your solution by an analyst, customer, or third-party is always a good thing. Include a positive, but brief, quote from one of these sources—preferably on the first page. Rather than inserting the quote in the datasheet’s main body of text, where it can get lost, include it in a call-out box in the margin. As your audience skims and scans the datasheet, it will be one of the elements they’ll read first.
- Write in second person.
Many technology companies write their datasheets in third person (“he”, “she”), which sounds formal and rather stilted. Your datasheet will be more engaging and conversational if it’s written in second person (“you”). This might seem like a grammatical nitpick – after all, what’s the big deal if you use “IT managers can cut cloud data costs” versus “you can reduce your cloud data costs”? The reason for doing this goes far beyond grammar. I’ve always approached marketing with the idea that we want to eliminate as many mental steps for our audience as possible. Make it easy for your readers to self-identify with the problems and solutions you’re presenting by using “you” from the get-go.
- Include use cases (especially if your solution is unfamiliar).
I often work with technology companies that are great at explaining how their solution does something, but they forget to also add when a prospect would use it. Giving your solution context, or examples/use cases of how it can be used, is critical. For instance, let's say your solution finds nuggets of information from big data storage that would otherwise never be identified. If you don't give examples of how your solution can help the prospect, such as identifying data breaches before they happen or pinpointing slow web services that could negatively affect customer orders, they'll be left scratching their heads at how you can help them. You don't need to go into great detail in describing the use cases (I'd leave that for case studies or, even possibly, an eBook), but you do need to give examples of where your product adds value.
- Don’t waste your call-to-action by saying “call us” or “visit our website.”
The call-to-action (CTA) is one of the most important parts of your datasheet, because you’re directing readers to the next step you want them to take. Most calls-to-action are usually something like “For more information, visit our website.” Don’t waste your call-to-action in this way. Put basic company contact information elsewhere in the data sheet, such as in the footer, rather than using your valuable CTA for it. Use the CTA to direct readers to another source of helpful information. Consider where they are in the sales cycle—if they would logically next want information about your product’s architecture, include a link to a technical white paper on that subject. Or include a link to a customer testimonial video. The point is don’t waste the all-important CTA—keep the conversation going by highlighting other helpful resources. As an example, here’s a product datasheet that uses most of these principles. Kim Gusta has lots of experience taming content—first as a product marketing manager and now as a copywriter and content expert for tech companies. She specializes in creating content that persuades technology buyers to say yes and take the next step with your company. Learn more at www.kimgusta.com
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