10 Things You Should Expect From Your IT Copywriter
September 11, 2006 • Glenn Murray
Anyone who’s ever tried marketing IT products or services knows that it’s a specialist field. Your customers in the IT industry have very unique and specific requirements, and that means you do too. In order to write compelling copy around your offering, you need a copywriter with a solid understanding of the IT world – someone who’s not afraid to call themselves an “IT Copywriter”.
So how do you know when you’ve found an IT copywriter? And – more importantly – how do you know what to expect from them? The following 10 tips will give you a good understanding of the qualities to look for – the things that make a copywriter an IT copywriter.
1) IT background
Perhaps the most beneficial quality in an IT copywriter is a solid background of some sort in the IT industry. If your copywriter shares an understanding of your domain, you’ll spend far less time explaining the benefits of your product or service. Remember the last time you watched someone glaze over as you waxed lyrical about the wonders of your latest technology? You don’t want that to happen when you’re briefing your copywriter. More importantly, you don’t want that happening when your potential customers read your copy!
2) Technical writing experience
Good technical writers are experienced in bridging knowledge gaps. This means they have to understand the technology, but they also have to be able to talk about it in the layperson’s language. A copywriter with technical writing experience in the IT industry is likely to have domain knowledge and an ability to hit the ground running. They’ll be quick on the uptake, so they’ll understand your product or service more rapidly than most.
Of course, not every technical writer is a IT copywriter. You need to be sure they can write compelling copy – not just dry instruction manuals. Take a look at their samples and testimonials before making a decision.
The other important consideration – especially if you’re after a website copywriter – is, do they have online writing experience? Writing for an online medium is entirely different to writing for print. Readers have different requirements and objectives, and reading conditions are very different. Many technical writers have written online help, so they should know how to cater to these differences. To be sure, ask them to recommend a maximum page length or word count per page. The correct answer should include some comment on the trade-off between the problems of scrolling and the need for a high keyword count for SEO. Ask them whether they prefer long sentences or short (and hope to hear “short”).
3) Further Education
IT products and services are generally very complex in themselves. What’s more, the needs of the end-customer are also very complex and unique. This means there’s normally quite a steep learning curve for anyone new. Ask your IT copywriter if they have tertiary qualifications. It’s not essential, and – by itself – it’s no guarantee of quality copy, but it’s generally a good indicator of someone who’s been trained in the art of learning (i.e. researching, information filtering and modelling, knowledge retention, etc.).
The flip-side of that coin is to be wary of people who are technically qualified. Don’t discount them on sight (many technical people have made great IT copywriters); just remember that technically trained people have a tendency to take a lot of things for granted when speaking to lay-people. Your IT copywriter needs to be able to understand the technology and its complexities, but still relate to the issues of the non-technical customer.
4) Management Experience
Anyone with management experience – at any level – has dealt with decision makers. They may even have been a decision maker themself. In any form of promotion, you need to appeal to the decision maker. Your IT copywriter needs to develop an understanding of the needs, influences, pressures, problems, work environment, and constraints of your typical decision maker(s). The more understanding your IT copywriter brings to the relationship, the less time you’ll spend schooling them.
5) Marketing Experience
Actual marketing experience is a big plus. It brings with it a broader understanding of strategic marketing and the realities of working with a range of challenging people and evolving products and services. Look for an IT copywriter with corporate experience as a marketing manager or marketing coordinator, or someone who runs a copywriting business with a heavy marketing focus.
Anyone can call themselves an IT copywriter; few have the client testimonials to prove it. Testimonials are a great way to validate your IT copywriter’s claims. Ask to see some and read them carefully. Don’t just look at the company name and logo. You need to determine if the clients’ words back up the copywriter’s claims. And make sure the testimonial relates to the type of work you’re commissioning (or something with similar requirements).
7) IT Samples
The proof is in the pudding. ALWAYS ask potential IT copywriters to send you samples of their work. And – as with testimonials – don’t be fooled by flashy packaging, big names, and recognisable logos. Read the words. Are they relevant to your project? Do they convey a clear understanding of the subject matter? Do they convey benefits or just features? Are they written in a style that you find easy to read, yet compelling? And after you’ve read the words, double-check exactly how much input the copywriter had in their writing. Not all copy is written from scratch. Some copywriters work in teams, and others do more editing than writing. Make sure you get a clear understanding of your IT copywriter’s abilities and experience before commissioning them.
8) Understand Benefits
Your customers aren’t interested in what you do; they’re interested in what you can do FOR THEM. In other words, they’re interested in what benefits your product or service will deliver. How will it make their day easier, more enjoyable, less stressful, safer, or more profitable? Identifying benefits is one of the hardest tasks in any advertising project. In fact, many people rely on their copywriter to help them uncover the most compelling benefits. Does your IT copywriter truly understand the benefits you’re promoting?
9) Contributes value
A good IT copywriter should have solid professional experience. They should bring value to your marketing push which goes far beyond the written word. Strategy, tactics, imagery, contacts, anecdotes, corporate identity… Your IT copywriter must bring more to the table than grammar and punctuation. Expect them to make suggestions, not simply take notes and say “Yes”.
10) Plus all the normal copywriter requirements.
Of course, your IT copywriter must be able to satisfy all the normal copywriter requirements. Ask for a contract of works to be completed, a time estimate, a plan of attack, a CV, and SEO copy and article PR skills (if search engine presence is important to you).
Traditionally, copywriters have been seen as a small cog in the big advertising machine. As a result, most copywriters have risen through the ranks of generic advertising agencies. These days, however, more and more people are sidestepping the agency and going direct to the copywriter. This approach gives them consistency across all of their written collateral, more compelling and engaging copy, and more responsive service. Within the industry, this change means that copywriters aren’t confined to ad agencies, and are able to specialise. The end result to you? While finding a good IT copywriter with an IT background is still a big challenge, it’s certainly becoming easier. You simply need to take the time to ask the right questions.