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How to write better box copy.

"Very few companies can afford the luxury of software packaging that just makes a design statement," says copywriter Ivan Levison. An ad can pull the prospect into the store, but it's the box that usually closes the circuit on the sale."

Levison argues that too many companies still treat box copy as an afterthought, rather than as a key part of the sales cycle. "It's not enough to throw in a few words about features and benefits," he says. "Good box copy has to convey a lot of information about the product--and it should also help the customer feel comfortable about making a purchase."

Levison offers the following checklist of copy elements that should be part of an effective software package:

A descriptive subhead: In addition to the product name, the box should prominently feature a "punchy, direct product description." The subhead should be more than a positioning statement or a corporate slogan, says Levison; it should "instantly express the essence of what's in the box." Usually, the subhead should stress practical benefits, but in crowded categories many products do essentially the same job. In that case, you may want to focus on market leadership. For example, the cc:Mail box describes the product as 'the world's fastest selling electronic mail system,' which helps distinguish it from the competition."

Body copy: Although it's a good idea to highlight key selling points with bullets and other graphical devices, Levison says blocks of straight body copy aren't necessarily a turnoff. If you have a story to tell, tell it. People want to be sold.11 Regardless of length, he adds, copy should be written in a "human, warm way that makes the product seem more approachable." For example, Levison recently described a security program with the following text: Can you keep a secret? DataSafe can. It uses a high-level security code that you control with a secret password!"

Screen shots with callouts: I always wonder what people have in mind when they use a postage-stamp size screen shot," he says. Even big screen shots should be embellished with five or six text callouts that explain key features and benefits, he adds. "If the reader doesn't stick around for the body copy, you'll still communicate some important information.'

Comparisons: often, the most dramatic way to explain a product is with a before-and-after comparison, says Levison. You may also create some impact by including a table comparing your product to the competition, but be careful about using this technique in overseas markets, especially Japan, where negative comparisons are absolute anathema.1

Awards: "Customers really look for awards, so don't bury them in the body copy. And reproduce magazine logos whenever possible, to leverage off their reputation.1

Testimonials: Like awards, Levison says, testimonials can help reassure the buyer--but only if the endorsements are from "people who carry weight." Anonymous testimonials are a total waste, he says. People have gotten very cynical about just seeing initials or company names."

The guarantee: If you've got a guarantee, you may be hesitant to remind users that they can send your product back. But don't give in to this impulse.". In fact, the box copy should describe the guarantee as strongly as possible, with terms like "lifetime" or "iconclad."

System requirements: "Describe what the product needs in a friendly way--for example, by saying 'All you need to get started is ...'" Levison says it's also important to be honest about hardware requirements. There's a world of difference between saying 'a hard disk is optional' and la hard disk is strongly recommended.1 You may win a few more sales by downplaying hardware requirements, but you'll make a lot of enemies."

Ivan Levison, Ivan Levison & Associates, 14 Los Cerros Dr., Greenbrae, Calif. 94904; 415/461-0672.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:software packaging
Date:May 16, 1991
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