When Charlene Li and I sat down to plan our book, we needed to start somewhere. She had a lot of great ideas about social media, but we didn’t know which of those ideas belonged in the book or how we would organize them. We had an idea for a title, but it wasn’t very good.
So we wrote the flap copy — you know, the copy you read on the inside flap of the book jacket. While we were selling a book that didn’t exist, we wanted to make a promise about what the book would do. So I sat down at a laptop plugged into a projector and we tossed around some words, which we then rearranged until we were happy with them.
One of the words I typed was “groundswell.” We both looked at each other and said “That’s a very interesting word.” And it became the title of the book.
Our flap copy became the promise of what we would do for the reader. It also became our beacon; we strove to make sure the table of contents and eventually, the content of each chapter lived up that promise.
I’ve done this before. The chief engineer and president of one of my former software companies asked me to write draft pages for the manual that explained how to use yet-to-be-developed features. It was a way of working out how things should work. He would then build the features to match, not a spec, but a description of use.
Next time you build something, try this. Don’t write a marketing plan. Don’t write a spec. Write the ad copy. Imagine that the product is done and you’re building a site for it. In 10 words, 50 words, or 200 words, write down the copy that will sell people on the product. Make promises.
Once you’ve done that, write the specs and plans and then build the product to match the promises.
Products change as you build them. You’re going to have to rewrite that copy at the end of the project to match what you actually come up with. But if you at least try to write it at the beginning, you’ll be focusing on the customer and the benefit. That’s a great way to start building something. And if you can’t do that, why are you bothering to build it anyway?
Photo: Josh Bernoff