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Ketchup with french fries dipped

Creating Great Online Product Content: Your Product Manager May Not be Your Best Copywriter. July 1, 2018, in:

Ketchup with french fries dipped

(This is part two of our five-part guide, Creating Great Online Product Content: Five Secrets the Pros Know.)

The typical product manager’s job (among many other things) is to define a product’s unique selling proposition (USP), define features, and ascribe benefits to those features. Since product copy encapsulates the USP, features and benefits, one might think that it would make sense for the product manager to take the lead on customer-facing copy, right? After all, they know the product better than anybody in the world. By the time it’s time to start writing the copy for product content, they’ll have discussed, presented, and pitched the product countless times over weeks and months.

You probably want to rethink that.

Instead, consider asking your product manager to place the USP, specifications, features and benefits into an internal messaging brief. Then, hand off that brief to a copywriter.

Enter the copywriter

A copywriter has the enormous task of creating an amazing first impression. He or she can give you a subjective opinion of whether the product’s positioning and talking points truly have an effective impact. If your copywriter is simply writing copy, you should empower them to give that feedback.

The copywriter hasn’t been in the product development echo chamber for the past several weeks. You want to make your copywriter — just like your customer — want to buy your product. But unlike your customer, a good copywriter will happily tell you if a connection simply isn’t being made; that they just don’t “get” the value proposition. It’s in their vital interest to do this, so that they can write effective copy that makes them look great.

The copywriter essentially serves as beta testing and quality control for your product positioning. And if you allow the copywriter and the product experts to engage directly, they can work together to fine tune the messaging.

Sometimes, this is where the real magic happens

You’ve probably heard the Heinz ketchup story. It’s the prototypical example of how a rather ordinary feature, or even possibly a liability. In this case, the low viscosity of the brand of ketchup has been turned into a unique benefit.

Heinz came up with this value proposition in the 1960s, and it’s served them well ever since. If you don’t remember their commercials in the 1970s which licensed Carly Simon’s “Anticipation,” then you might remember the spot with Matt LeBlanc (who would, of course, go on to play Joey in Friends) placing the bottle on the top of his apartment building.

That commercial debuted in 1987, won an award at Cannes, and played for five years.

Half a century of a great USP, based on one idea. We don’t know who came up with that idea, but we’d bet that it wasn’t a Heinz engineer or product manager. It was probably somebody at Heinz’ ad agency at the time. More on this later.

Meanwhile, in the 21st century…

This sort of inspiration happens to this day.

A few years ago we were writing copy for a consumer electronics product.

The company had entered the category with a line of premium products at higher price points. They were launching a model that competed in the low to mid range of the market segment. To do this, they performed cost reductions including using a plastic internal frame, rather than a metal frame.

It was still a perfectly fine product and a good value for the money. But it weighed less than the brand’s previous products, and even less than the similarly-priced competition.

In this category, as with many others, heft was seen as an indicator of quality.

The product marketing team saw this as an unavoidable liability. Their approach could best be described as “hope the press and customers don’t notice it and get the impression that the quality of the brand is going down hill.”

Our Heinz moment

When we got a fresh set of eyes on the product’s features and specifications, we realized that we could sell the light weight as a benefit. We did some informal market research among some trusted influencers. We were happy to find that there was indeed a desire among some customers for a lighter weight product.

And so, we made the product weight a key differentiator. We lead with it in the product description and covering it in the copy first — after all, that was the feature that differentiated it from the rest of the company’s line.

A potential liability was turned into an example of forward thinking.

With Heinz ketchup, so the story goes, consumers didn’t think of thickness as a particularly desirable quality until Heinz told them that it was. And in our case, most consumers were not aware that light weight was a benefit for many people, until we told them that it was.

The point of this story is not that we were smart. It’s that some amazing things can happen when you allow a talented copy development team to get a hot take on a product, rather than assigning copywriting duties to a product expert who’s been absorbed in the product’s positioning for weeks or months.

More about that Heinz ad…

Heinz’ ad agency back in the day was Doyle Dane Bernbach, known now as DDB.

But in the fictional world of Mad Men, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was their agency of record. It was Peggy who suggested using thickness as a selling feature.

The client turned down Don Draper’s pitch, “pass the Heinz,” because the ads would not feature the product. He reacted predictably.

In 2017, Heinz agency David Miami launched the “Pass the Heinz” campaign from Mad Men, and it won at Cannes again.

Don Draper was vindicated 50 years later.