How to write an article about your own product or service
Sometimes, the very best experts are those who create the products.
We often get requests from companies that wish to write articles about their own products or services (from now on, when we say "product" we mean "product or service"). Such articles are, by definition, self-serving since the companies in question obviously wish to promote their own wares. Just because a company might wish to gain visibility through editorial doesn't mean we dismiss a genuine offer of editorial content out of hand.
As it happens, there's a fine line between enlightened self-interest and out-and-out shameless self-promotion. Obviously, we can't and won't publish articles that are of a solely promotional nature in the body of the magazine. If you, as a vendor, wish to run such an article, we do offer you the option of purchasing an advertorial (which, living in our "From our sponsor" section, is clearly presented to the reader as something other than objective editorial). Should you wish to purchase an advertorial, feel free to contact our ad sales folks at sales@ZATZ.com.
There are, however, a number of ways to write articles about your own products that can be of a substantial value and service to our readers. This, of course, will get you into the main body of the magazine and get you great PR. The key is to write about your product from a position free of hype and self-promotion. When our readers read our magazines, they're in an open frame of mind. They accept our articles as credible, independent editorial, without any affiliation or ulterior motive. And so, if you're going to write an article and get it published, you must not sacrifice that credibility. Remember, hype in an article is like an unwelcome and uninvited grope on the first date. It can spoil the whole experience.
"Remember, hype in an article is like an unwelcome and uninvited grope on the first date. It can spoil the whole experience."
There are a number of article types that you, as a vendor, might write and that we might accept and publish. The following sections describe these sorts of articles. Before we go into the types of articles, though, it's important that you understand another of our golden rules: we only publish exclusive articles. If the article's really a press release you sent out or if you're trying to place it in five magazines at once, we're not interested.
For more details on our article acceptance terms and conditions, please read "Getting started as a ZATZ author".
And now, onto the types of articles you might write.
The "getting the most out of..." article
This article is written about your product, but other than a short intro paragraph, it's completely filled with detailed instructions for mining the most value from using your product. For example, if you were Palm, writing about a Palm handheld, you might write briefly about what the handheld does and then talk about how to optimize HotSync speed, organize your To Do list, or connect to an Exchange server.
The key is that rather than enumerating a list of features, such as the ability to connect to an Exchange server, you're showing readers how to do it. In other words, don't tell, show. This sort of article is only accepted from vendors whose product is likely to be widely used, or when the article showcases how to solve a problem for which our readers are actively seeking a solution.
The "tips and techniques" article
This article is written about your product, but other than a short intro paragraph, it's completely filled with tips and techiques for getting the most out of using your product. It's similar to the "getting the most out of..." article, but in this case it consists of a barrel-full of short, handy tips.
The "problem solving" article
Much like the previous two article types, the problem solving article takes on one specific, common problem in using your product and delves deeply into the technical details of solving it. Think of it as a well-written version of a technical support call. And, of course, if you write such an article, you'll have a great place for your technical support people to point customers, getting them off the phone faster while giving them a great resource to solve their problem.
An even better approach is to write your article from the perspective of a problem your product is ideal for solving. For example, let's assume you're DataViz and you have a product that sends Microsoft Office documents to your Palm device. You might write an article on displaying PowerPoint presentations on your Palm handheld and that article would reference such tools as DataViz' Documents to Go and FlipChart. The key to credibility, of course, is to not blow your own horn too much. Also, if there are relevant competitors and complementary products you must mention them, as well, without using this as an opportunity to make them look bad. Done right, this will go a long way towards making the article credible to readers.
The "success story" article
Success stories are interesting, in small doses. Readers are going to be far more interested in general success stories about their platform of choice (i.e., Domino, the Palm computer, etc.) than ones that showcase just your product. But if you can successfully weave the two together, showing, for example, how Palm handhelds might be used in arctic exploration using your GPS module, or how Lotus Notes is helping end starvation in a third-world country using your volunteer management database, there's a better chance we'll run it. Again, focus on the problem and the details of the solution, not the hype. And realize that we're more likely to veto this sort of article than most others.
The "independent reviewer" article
While our editorial staff is nothing if not brilliant, we don't necessarily have experience with every aspect of technology. Sometimes, we need to turn to outside experts to write reviews. Going back to our previous example, if you've got a hardware product that's only useful on the side of a Himalayan mountain peak, we're probably not going to have an editor who's able to test it out (we do have pretty adventurous people here at ZATZ, but doing such a review would require us to unchain someone from his or her desk, which is a pretty serious violation of our "chained to your desk" corporate policy). Likewise, if your product requires a unique network topography or a very large number of users to field and test, it's probably not something we can do in-house.
There are two approaches you can take. First, you can let us know about your product, and we'll post a review opportunity here on AuthorPower. One of our independent authors might pick it up and run with it. Or you can find your own independent reviewer and have that person write a review. Of course, if you take the second approach, there's another fine line. The review we receive must be independent and objective. It must point out the good and the bad. It must not pull any punches. It's got to be honest and credible and most of all must not be something that's been "cooked" by your marketing department.
Frankly, this is a pretty smart and safe marketing opportunity. If you want a review sooner rather than later, give it to someone with the explicit instructions to be objective. Let them beat on you if you need it. Then, when you get the review back and before you submit it to us, read it. If it beats the crap out of you, don't submit it to us. Send it to your product team so they can address the problems pointed out in the article. You'll get a better product out of the deal. On the other hand, if the review's fair, send it on to us, and you'll get a quicker review, our readers will get an honest review, and you'll have gotten some good, quality feedback.
Once again, if there's even the faint odor of hype or a lack of objectivity, we'll bounce this pup right back to you.
The "category" article
Like a review article, this type of article can talk about your product, but only in the context of a given category, like "tax software" or "financial calculators." You should again have an independent reviewer write this sort of article, and again, you must make sure to mention competitors who are also in your category (and mention them nicely).
The "war stories interview" article
Everybody wants to be interviewed. ZATZ Editor-in-Chief David Gewirtz has interviewed luminaries from Palm inventor Jeff Hawkins to former Vice President Al Gore to senior executives at Microsoft, IBM, Lotus, SAP, and Sprint PCS, among others. But, like success stories, a few well-written interviews turn our readers on, while many, mediocre interviews will turn them off. In most cases, our readers will only tolerate us doing exclusive interviews with senior executives at Fortune 500 companies or people who are seriously famous.
But that doesn't mean you're out of luck. Most entrepreneurs have really cool and interesting "war stories." These are the stories about starting, funding, and operating a business that make for good cocktail party conversation. They're the exciting, fun, or funny ones that make people gravitate over to listen. They're stories that contain interesting lessons and ideas for other business owners and entreprenurial wannabes.
If you can create a short (1500 words or so) interview with a key person at your company (and please, oh, please don't make it with your head of marketing or PR), there's a chance we'll run it. But it's got to be interesting, charming, fun, and not at all self-serving. By now, you know the drill. Make it interesting. Can the hype.
The "lessons we learned building this" article
A variant on the interview idea is the "lessons learned" article. This article is mostly targetted at other developers and may become seriously technical. It's an article filled with "how I built it" meat that you might share at a professional conference. It might include things like how you got around a particular operating system limitation, or other challenges you had and how you got past them. This is the sort of article that might otherwise be a paper presented at a technical symposium. It needs to be long on details, meat, and how-to, and short on the fluff.
Tips for making sure your article isn't rejected
If you've read the rest of AuthorPower (and you have, haven't you?), you've noticed that we usually tell people how to make sure their article is accepted. But in this piece, we're talking to marketing folks, so a bigger stick is often needed. We've had some wonderful discussions with PR folks trying to place articles. We've told them about our non-hype rule. They've agreed that it makes sense and assured us they understand. Then we get an article submission that talks about a "revolutionary product that's poised to change the entire industry." Or "an exciting product that's destined to create an entirely new standard."
Bounce. Thwap. Return to sender. You get the idea.
Marketing folks (and we are marketing folks so we know this) love to use superlatives. Don't. Here are a few more tips:
- Run your article by some engineers. If they're still looking at you with that particular type of disdain that only an engineer can show for a marketer, there's too much hype.
- If your product manager or CEO loves it, don't send it to us. There will be, guaranteed, too much hype.
- Rather than having a PR person write it, let a technical writer have a go. At least a technical writer can write step-by-step instructions without waxing poetic about "the glorious People's install program" or some such self-aggrandizement.
- Look within your writing for key words like "exciting," "new," "revolutionary," "exceptional," "great," "wonderful," "amazing," "destined," "poised," "explode," and everyone's favorite, "profound." If you see any of these words, rewrite the article. In fact, rewrite the article at least twice because you're bound to leave some hype in after the first rewrite.
- When writing a "getting the most out of..." article, feel free to tell readers of your relationship with the product. Phrases like "obviously, I have a bias, but" go a long way towards increasing credibility.
- Also, when writing an article about your own company, don't write it like you're an independent source. You're in the company, you have unique insights, and you're far more credible if you own up to it. Just don't go over the top.
- Read our magazines. Make sure you understand our writing style.
- Read through our back issues. This will give you a good idea of the types of stories we cover. Then send us stories that are original but directed to the same audience.
- For the record, if you are an Internet ASP with a revolutionary new e-commerce site, we're not going to publish anything about you. Yep, we get about three of these a day. Still.
- Read all of AuthorPower. It's here to make you successful. In particular, read the writer guidelines.
- Oh, yeah, leave out the hype.
Finally, here are a few articles that have been written by vendors and have been very successful. Use them as examples.
- Bain McKay is Executive Vice President and Chief Scientist of CIRI Lab Inc. where he and his research team build advanced Knowledge Management technology using the latest methods in Cognitive Science and computing technology. Rather than writing about his own technology, his articles showcase him as the expert he is in his field. Bain's articles are somewhat more dry and read more like academic journal articles than we usually like to publish. Our DominoPower readership is highly technical and his thoughts are fascinating, in the context of that audience.
- Ben Brickman is an enthusiastic early adopter of ebooks and reads them on Palm handhelds, Rocket eBook Readers, and his desktop PC. He was recruited by Fictionwise to write a series of ebook reviews.
- Dan Simmons is a regular Contributing Editor to DominoPower and a Lotus Notes Recruiter for Continental Search, a recruiting firm specializing in Lotus Notes and Websphere. He writes about the Notes job market and in the process, puts himself in front of many of the world's leading Lotus job candidates and hiring managers.
- David Pogue is a best-selling book author. We often work with book authors to promote their books and at the same time promote our relationship with book authors. While in the process of promoting his book on Palm handhelds, David wrote a number of articles for us.
- Elia Freedman is President of Infinity Softworks and an avid financial calculator user. Back in the day, he wrote a great article on financial calculators that happens to showcase his own.
- Gail Shlansky was Domino Product Marketing Manager at Lotus, back when we started DominoPower. Now, we'll pretty much publish anything from Lotus. But here you can get a feel for how an insider at one of our "partner" companies can write for one of our magazines.
- Kimberly Bryant is a business and personal success coach who helps empower people to real fulfillment in their lives and work. She wrote a few articles on personal life management issues and related them to Palm handhelds and thereby also promoted herself to a whole lot of overworked people.
- Marty Kacin was Director of Professional Services at AvantGo. He wrote an absolutely excellent "getting the most out of" article. Now, this was a long time ago, but the article is still an excellent example of just how to do it right.
- Vince Lee founded TealPoint, where he's led the company's development of products such as TealDoc, TealInfo, TealMovie, and TealPaint. He developed an interesting product called TealMovie and wrote a great "getting the most out of" article .
- Shannon Pekary is the developer of a software product called Trip, which helps you track travel expenses. He wrote a great article entitled "Track mileage easily and save money on your taxes," which we published in PalmPower. If you visit his article at you'll notice he also touches on products from his competitors. The article went over great with readers.
Well, that should certainly get you started. If you're unsure about how to approach this sort of article, contact us at editor@ZATZ.com. You can submit your article by sending it to us at editor@ZATZ.com.
Did you remember what we said about no hype? Good!