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How to Create Killer Blurbs That Sell Software

by Gordon Graham, Editor, SoftwareCEO

You know you're in trouble when your software firm's website reads like this:

"ACME Software develops, markets, and supports leading-edge business solutions that provide seamless integration with enterprise legacy infrastructures..." 

This vague statement does nothing to help fresh prospects form a "mental map" of your product. And it surely doesn't help your firm stand out from the crowd. 

In fact, many CEOs have told us that a clear and simple positioning statement helps them impress prospects and win more sales. 

Fortunately, if your product blurbs read like the one above, help is on the way. 

This issue, we bring you a proven formula, a powerful process, and helpful tips from marketing whiz Marcia Yudkin on how to create a more effective positioning statement for any software. 

Yudkin calls herself Head Stork of Named At Last, which creates company names, product names, and tag lines. We wrote about this unique service some time ago. 

She's also a marketing consultant who helps companies figure out how to communicate what's different about them. And she generates an ongoing stream of practical, common-sense advice that applies to any sector. 

Yudkin agrees that vague positioning is common in our industry. 

"I think this is a huge problem for software companies," she says. "But the effort necessary to get this right is going to pay off big." 

That's what this article is all about. 

What's a blurb anyway?

Blurb, tagline, positioning statement, elevator pitch, they all mean about the same thing: a one-sentence description of your product or service. 

Think of your blurb as a sound-bite on TV news. If you could only talk about your software for three seconds, what would you say? 

The problem is, many software blurbs are larded with techno-babble and meaningless buzzwords, like the one at the start of this article. 

Positioning, by definition, means "where you stand." If you want your software to stand for something in your prospects’ minds, your first step is to create a great product blurb, and then use it repeatedly. 

Fortunately, there's a time-tested process to create more effective blurbs, as summed up in the following 13 tips and four key questions. 

At the end, we have some further resources for those who want to go even deeper into positioning. 

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Software blurbs tip #1: Blurbs present your software consistently.
Without a standard blurb to draw on, everyone will naturally describe your software differently. 

Every sales person will work up their own positioning for your product(s). Everyone who answers the phone will offer a different story. Analysts and journalists will come up with their own explanation for what your software does. 

No one will likely nail it — and even if they do, no one else will benefit from their insight. 

Wouldn't it be better to have a blurb for each product that everyone learns on their first day on the job? That added consistency will help prospects understand you a lot better. 

Software blurbs tip #2: Blurbs deliver a fantastic ROI. 
The cost to develop a blurb is just a few minutes of focused thought and discussion on each product. 

The benefits include a better presentation of your software in press releases, datasheets, brochures, web pages, presentations, letters, proposals, sales pitches, at trade shows, on the phone, and everywhere else. 

As well, consistent blurbs save people at every level a few minutes of head-scratching every week, since they no longer have to struggle to come up with their own words to describe your software. 

Software blurbs tip #3: Pull in the best people for this exercise, no matter where you find them. 
Before you start brainstorming any new positioning, gather a few heads together, not too many, but not too few. And maybe not just the usual suspects. 

"There may be people inside the company who have a talent for doing this, and they may be someplace unexpected," says Yudkin. 

"They may be the people who answer the phones, because they're not technical people. They may be in accounting, they may be salespeople, or they may be the CEO." 

You want a good mix of people, including some who can puncture any hot-air balloons pumped up with clichés. 

You need at least one strong, plain-speaking person who can strip off the buzzwords that gum up too many positioning statements. 

Software blurbs tip #4: Answer these four questions to gather raw ideas. 
Here are four excellent questions from Yudkin to lead you through the brainstorming exercise. 

"People have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees. Every day they're working on the technical aspects of what they do, and they don't step back and look at the big picture the way a customer would," she says. 

These four questions help you get that perspective. 

Blurb question #1: What is the overriding business benefit of your software? 
What do people get out of using your software? How does it improve their business? 

"The first question is the hardest for most people to answer, and it's the most important," says Yudkin. "The answer should not be a technical answer; it should be a business answer." 

Your software may enable a business to save money, save time, avoid a problem, accomplish its mission, or some twist on any of those. 

"People have tunnel vision, and they think that customers are as interested in the technical details of their offering as they are. That may be true eventually, but to get them interested to begin with, you have to give them that overall big picture first." 

Write down all the answers you can think of for this question. Keep them all, because this is the brainstorming stage. Sorting through your answers will come later. 

Blurb question #2: Who is your software for? 
That would be your target customers. 

But it's amazing how many software firms hide this fact from their website visitors behind a wispy cloud of hot air. 

"Lots of people just forget to say this," agrees Yudkin. 

For example, to prepare for our interview, she went looking for a software website, and quickly found a product that seemed to have a random set of uses. 

"It enables company employees to vote or choose something. And yet, they never say this is good for the HR department. Another thing it can do is proxy voting, but they never use the word 'shareholders.' They're just not looking at that big picture," she says. 

A prospect has to see himself reflected on your website, or he'll click away. Don't make him wonder if you have something for him. 

Write down all your target markets, in as much detail as you can. Name the sector or vertical, the user's role in their organization, and any other demographics or psychographics that seem to matter. 

Blurb question #3: What can your users do with your software that they can't do without it?
"That's another way of getting them to articulate what it does," says Yudkin. 

But this time, we're talking the gains a buyer can make with your software versus carrying on without it. 

So write down all the things your users can accomplish with your software.

Blurb question #4: How is your product better than competing products? How is it different?
Don't fall into the trap of thinking you have no competition. 

Even doing nothing is an alternative to buying your software. And prospects always have that option. 

And don't offer up tired chestnuts like "leading-edge technology" or "superior customer support." 

That's because your answers have to pass the test suggested by author and VC Guy Kawasaki, among others: Could any of your competitors say the same thing? 

If so, that's not a point of differentiation that will help you stand out. It's just a motherhood claim. 

"You have to come up with something that your competitors can't say. That forces you to be far more specific," says Yudkin. 

"Maybe your software is faster. Maybe it's cheaper. Maybe it's more reliable. Maybe it has more features. Or maybe it's slimmed down, so it doesn't have any extras." 

Can it be implemented faster? Does it run on more platforms? Does it work with more applications? Does it support more industry standards? Does it import or export certain file types? Be as specific as you can. 

People in any sector like to know that your software was designed just for them. 

"I recently worked with a software client, and his main point of differentiation was that his software was specifically created for one industry, as opposed to kludged-together," says Yudkin. 

"So the competing products were very roundabout, and needlessly complicated, and they couldn't do some of the streamlined things that his product could." 

Write down all the factors like this that make your software stand out from the crowd. 

Software blurbs tip #5: Follow this formula for writing a blurb. 
Let's look at a formula for describing any software product: 

[product name] is a/an [carefully chosen, non-clichéd adjective] [recognized software genre] that [active verb] 
[most important key benefit] to/for 
[most important market segment, two at the most]. 

Just replace the variables between [square brackets] with your own terms, using clear words and active verbs. 

Remember, this formula isn't cast in stone; it's more what you'd call guidelines than actual rules. 

For example, below are three short blurbs I wrote, based loosely on this formula. 

In this case, a security software firm had a family of field-proven products, but they all sounded the same on its website. 

I took these three products, and helped the CEO break out each one separately in less than 20 words each: 

Product A is a powerful, easy-to-use tool for totally secure B2B file encryption. 
Product B is a proven single sign-on solution that puts an end to password chaos. 
Product C is an award-winning access management system that safeguards your priceless business resources. 
Suddenly, it was clear that A was a simple utility, B was an application, and C was a full-fledged system. 

The CEO used these blurbs to help spin off two of these products to a big distributor in Germany. Without such clear positioning for each product, that deal might never have happened. 

Software blurbs tip #6: Boil down your answers to the most important points.
Now it's time to switch gears, and sift through your mass of material with discipline. 

"Look at the answers you came up with, and figure out what are the most important points," says Yudkin. 

"Sometimes your tagline or positioning statement just uses one point. Sometimes it weaves together two or three points. If there's more than three, that won't be as feasible." 

Go back to the formula in tip #5 and fill in your best terms. 

It's fine to do three or four alternate statements, and then look at them for a day or two. 

And this may be the point where you get some help from a wordsmith in your marketing or documentation team. 

Software blurbs tip #7: Don't claim to be all things to all people.
What about the temptation of trying to make your software sound like it does everything? 

Won't you lose sales if you're too specific? 

"If you think that way, you're going to lose sales to your main market," says Yudkin firmly. "Everybody likes to think that they're special, and that you've created something especially for them." 

So don't claim to do everything. That will lead straight back to namby-pamby positioning like the one at the start of this article: a blurb that says nothing to anyone. 

If you can name two (at most, three) vertical markets that generate the vast bulk of your sales, stick to that. 

"Then each of those industries that you single out is going to feel really good," says Yudkin. 

And shouldn't you focus on where most of your sales come from anyway? 

Software blurbs tip #8: Keep it simple, so a child could understand it.
Yes, we're serious. 

"I once worked with somebody who had a very specialized product which was shrouded in jargon," says Yudkin. 

"And I asked him, 'If you had to explain this to a 12-year-old kid, what would you say?' I thought he wouldn't be able to do it. But he came back and gave me a really clear explanation in ordinary language. 

"You don't need to worry that you're dumbing down your copy when you do that. You just make it very clear," she says. 

When you use plain language that even a kid would understand, it means everyone can get it in a flash. That's all you have with a new prospect anyway.

Software blurbs tip #9: Don't try to explain too much in one sentence.
Remember, for your key statement you've got one sentence of 25 words max. Express everything simply, from a 10,000-foot overview. 

What's the first impression you want to make on a new prospect who knows nothing about your product? 

What's the one thing you want them to remember? 

Continue to sculpt down your statement, until it's under 25 words. Fifteen words is better. 

Software blurbs tip #10: Write a set of blurbs with different lengths. 
Not to contradict the previous tip, but it's useful to generate three lengths of blurbs, such as 15, 50, and 100 words long. 

The ultimate one, to be used far most often, should be the shortest version. 

But if your firm needs, say, 50 words for a trade show guide, you've got it. From the 15- and 50-word versions, it's fairly easy for your marketing team to stretch or compress to 25 or 40 words, or whatever. 

And your sales force can use the 100-word version in proposals and sales letters. 

You may want to start writing 50 or even 100 words, and then gradually pare it down. 

Don't throw anything out yet, you want to keep all your rough scratches until you arrive at your final descriptions. 

Software blurbs tip #11: Always watch out for jargon.
Some people may object that you need to use technical jargon, because that's what buyers are looking for. 

But remember to balance business buyers with technical buyers, says Yudkin. 

"And while the technical people may know exactly what they want from a technical point of view, in many cases they also need to sell other people in their company. 

"The more information you can give them about the business benefits of what you do — that big picture — the easier time they're going to have selling your solution to the people around them." 

She advocates blending technical terms with a business perspective, since neither technical or business people mind seeing a few words of interest to their counterparts. 

Don't let jargon sneak back into your positioning. Throw it out, and then see if you can turn what it's hinting at into a business benefit. 

Software blurbs tip #12: Test out your draft blurbs. Give yourself a week or two to finalize them.
Try out your draft blurbs on all your stakeholders. Most people are flattered to be asked for their opinion. 

For example, show them to your customer advisory board, at your user group meetings, to your employees and advisors. 

Explain that you're looking for plain English, or some people might push for a return to jargon. 

And don't rush. Give yourself a week or two to gather possible refinements, and let these settle in. 

Software blurbs tip #13: Make your positioning statements the first word on your software, for everyone.
Publish your positioning statements where everyone on your staff can easily find them. Your website or intranet is the most likely place to display your blurbs. 

Use them in datasheets, in brochures, in white papers, in PowerPoints, and everywhere a prospect sees your product name. 

A tagline is intended to "tag along" with a product name to drive home what it does. So make it a secondary part of your product logo. 

Assign your marketing people to be the keepers of these statements. Train all your people to use them without distortions. 

You likely have more-or-less formal guidelines for how to use your logo. For instance, no stretching it out of scale, and no changing the colors. 

You can create similar rules for your positioning statements: No changing them around to suit yourself. No substituting jargon for plain English terms. No using bigger words to sound self-important. 

Of course, your positioning statements can evolve over time. You should likely review them every year or so. But in the meantime, make sure everyone uses them in all written materials and PowerPoints. 

These aren't intended to be the final word on your software — but they must be the first words that any new prospect reads or hears. 

Bonus resources: an article and two classic books
For a more detailed explanation of how to develop and test out a tagline or company name, see Yudkin's web site. 

And for two book-length looks at positioning, see either of the classics "Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind" or one of our personal favorites, "Marketing Warfare." 

Both written by Al Reis and Jack Trout, they're quick reads that hammer home many of the same points as this article. 

For instance, success is not about having the best product, but about planting the right idea in the customer's head — and keeping it there. 

An effective positioning statement, used consistently throughout your customer interactions, goes a long way to gaining you the positioning you want. 

© Copyright 2007 The Computing Technology Industry Association, Inc.  Reprinted with permission.

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