Online Exclusive: What Technology Buyers Really Want to Know

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"Just tell me what to buy!" is the exasperated lament of technology customers who are overwhelmed by jargon-dense, information-poor marketing materials. Whether in a direct mail piece, brochure, Web content or e-mail, your copy will have a greater impact if it answers the buyer's real questions.


For a product purchase. Answer the following questions to give prospects the information and reassurances they'll need to make a purchase decision.


What is it? Customers don't really believe that you have "solutions," the favorite marketing buzzword of technology companies today. Instead, buyers know your company actually sells hardware, software and/or services -- but these words never appear in many materials. Prospects need to know the product's type because this factor may influence the purchase decision. In all copy elements, identify the product by name and type so the reader clearly understands what you are selling.


What will it do for me? State the product benefits clearly and concretely; relate them specifically to the prospect's problems, needs, or environment. Describe potential applications, configurations or implementation alternatives that will help the prospect understand the product's value. Quotes from current customers can be a powerful way to describe product applications and benefits.


How hard is it to learn? A prospect's reluctance to try something new can be exacerbated for technology products given their far-reaching impact on the user's activity, work procedures or systems. Describe product features that support user learning, such as help features, training videos or the product's design itself. You don't want prospects to reject your product from further consideration because they don't think it will be worth the effort of learning something new.


Is it compatible with what I've got? Most technology buyers already have a substantial base of hardware or software with which your product must work. List compatible products or platforms and describe their level of compatibility or integration with your product. This factor is especially important if your promotional material is targeted to users of competitive products, who want reassurance that they can preserve existing investments in applications, systems, training, and work procedures.


What if it doesn't work? Describe any guarantee or warranty for the product, such as a 30-day money-back guarantee. Also give information on customer service and support programs, including the availability of online tools for self-service.


Do I need to buy anything else? Very few technology products operate on a standalone basis. Instead, they require a certain computer or hardware configuration, compatible software, accessories, or environmental conditions. Describe all prerequisites for product operation, including minimum and optimum configurations if applicable. For materials intended to promote a direct sale, this information can increase the prospect's confidence that he or she is making the correct purchase decision.


How much does it cost? If appropriate, clearly and completely state the price for the product and any options, as well as other offer terms (such as an expiration date). Verify that all copy, which describes prices and purchase terms, complies with applicable commerce laws and Direct Marketing Association guidelines.


Where can I buy it or get more information? Indicate if the product is available only from the manufacturer, or from distributors, dealers, or retail outlets as well. Include a list of outlets or provide a phone number and Web URL where prospects can place an order or access dealer and retailer information.


Product upgrade. Upgrade buyers -- whether your own customers or users of competitive products you're trying to switch -- have many of the same concerns as new purchasers. However, your materials also must answer the following questions that are unique to upgrades.


Why should I switch? Users of competitive products certainly ask this question -- but so too may your customers. Surprising? Realize that customers may have "upgrade fatigue" because they haven't yet learned, or perhaps even installed, the last version of your product. To motivate an upgrade purchase, the feature/benefit statements must be compelling and the key benefit stated prominently and often.


Will it change what I've already got? The concern that prospects are expressing with this question is whether the upgrade will preserve existing files, configurations, applications, or other work. Describe the compatibility of the upgrade with the user's current product and environment, as well as how training and work procedures will carry-over to the new version.


Are you changing anything else? Indicate whether the upgrade means new customer support programs or changes to any other aspect of your company's relationship with the user. If the upgrade is accompanied by a free support period or other services, use this offering as a selling point in the copy.


What do I need to order? List all items or information (e.g., a product registration number) the user must gather before ordering the upgrade.


Many other questions may apply to your product or markets. Identify them, answer them in your copy and you will write better materials for marketing technology products.


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