In 2016, the chemicals industry saw 1,200 mergers and acquisitions, which means that many companies have seen their portfolios dramatically increase. In industrial manufacturing, fewer than 10% of companies increased their profit by more than 10% in 2016, and about one in four stagnated or decreased.
If you’re heading up a marketing department in chemical or industrial manufacturing, you’re facing a tremendous challenge. You’re being asked to do more, sell more, manage more. But your budget probably isn’t going up by a lot.
This presents a unique challenge for marketing departments that manage technical documents like product data sheets and sales sheets. How can you manage a larger portfolio of products with a smaller team and lower budget?
If you’ve been outsourcing your technical documents and your budget ran out, or if you need to know how to build a more effective technical document, this article is for you.
Sections of a Technical Document
The most valuable aspect of your technical documentation is in the description. This is a short section where you clearly express the biggest benefits of your product.
Ideally, your description will be less than one paragraph. Depending on how much information you need to share, you may even get your product description in one or two sentences.
The product description is the first thing on the page. It’s the part that convinces the reader to read more, so it’s important that it addresses the primary benefits of your product.
The first sentence of your description needs to be a plain, easy-to-read sentence that tells what your product is. Your next piece tells the reader what your product DOES. Finally, close by telling your reader why this product is a good purchase for them.
After your product description, you’ll want to highlight the product’s features. This is a good section to keep in a bulleted list or a simple table (useful if you’re using a single technical document to cover more than one product).
The biggest mistake companies make on the features is that they don’t always speak directly to their customer. For example, the furniture manufacturer might say, “If your stain requires four coats, it’s not appropriate for my factory. We don’t have time to do four coats on every piece.” You might think to mention this feature by saying, “Requires fewer coats than our competitor.” But that feature statement doesn’t really speak to the customer’s concerns.
The customer in this example wants to save time. So your features statement would be, “Reduces finishing time by up to 50%,” because your product requires only half as many coats as your competitor.
Technical Requirements & Limitations
This section is where you list your specifications and technical requirements. Charts and tables are a great way to graphically display this information
If you manufacture electronics or telecommunications equipment, you’ll want to include voltage requirements, power supply information, and information about how it integrates with other commonly used equipment. If you manufacture chemicals, you may want to include information about surface preparation, application instructions, and suggested materials to use it with. For industrial or construction equipment, you’ll also want to include information about installation.
But your technical requirements & limitations section can be used as an additional sales section. For example, you may want to include a chart like this one:
By including a chart that has specific features and requirements, you’re telling your customer that your product is compatible with those technologies and that you’ve conducted testing to determine the best way to use the product with their existing infrastructure.
Environmental, Health, & Safety
Your technical document isn’t a Safety Data Sheet, so it doesn’t need to include the same information you’d include in an official SDS. But this is a section that allows you to highlight any environmental, health, or safety advantages to your product. You may want to include some basic information about the overall hazards, but you don’t have the same requirements that you would in an SDS.
Graphical information, such as icons, are a good way to include some information. For example, you could use the recycling arrows to indicate that your product is made from recycled material. You might want to use an easy-clean icon to indicate that your product is easy to clean up if it spills. You could use a garbage icon to demonstrate that disposal doesn’t require any special precautions.
The best design of a data sheet will vary depending on your industry, but there are some general guidelines you should follow:
- If you can convey the information with a table, bulleted list, or image, use the visual data over solid text blocks
- Make sure that your technical document has all the information a prospective client needs to make an informed buying decision
- Choose a font that’s easy to read
- Use margins and spacing to make it easy to scan the document for information
The audience determines what type of data sheet you’ll want to produce. A document designed for your internal sales staff, for example, would have different information and a different design than a data sheet that goes directly to your customer. Data sheets for B2B applications will usually be more technical and more detailed than data sheets for B2C products.
Every technical document you produce needs to have clear branding. This branding must include a logo, information about your company and where or how to purchase your product, and the date that the document was last updated. You may also want to include a Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) or product number to make it easier for customers to order the product. If you regularly update your technical documents, you might want to add a version number to the data sheet to avoid confusion on both ends of the buyer-seller spectrum.
Branding applies to more than your logo. Using a consistent color scheme will help to carry your brand image throughout your data sheet design. Consistent font, spacing, and formatting carries your branding across the less noticeable areas of the document. Keeping to a consistent format not only looks professional, it helps your customers feel a sense of familiarity and appreciation for your company when they see your brand reflected in the subtle features of your document.
Whenever possible, use a graphic to represent necessary information rather than text. As mentioned above, graphic icons can be used to provide information in an easy-to-read format. In addition to using graphics to represent environmental, safety, and health information, you can use graphics to represent the features, awards, or benefits of your product. For example, a graphic like this one demonstrates the precise color on a variety of different woods.
Other graphics like badges can be used to convey approval from reputable organizations. These badges can serve as a form of social proof, this works to instill a sense of faith and trust in your brand from potential customers because you have the approval of industry experts and other relevant industry leaders.
This article has information about how to design a technical document or product data sheet, but the biggest time-saver for you is going to be storage, collaboration, and publication. Designing templates that can be re-used, using a cloud-based platform that allows for real-time collaboration with other departments, and publishing updates and changes easily will help you to maintain your ever-growing collection of technical documents without spending all your time to do it.
TDSmaker is a cloud-based platform that allows you to store, collaborate, and publish your entire library of technical documents quickly and easily. TDSmaker makes it easy to update many data sheets simultaneously by updating the master templates that then carry over to thousands of data sheets (depending of course on the size of your company, product and data sheet output). This will save your company a tremendous amount of time and money. At present most companies have to edit data sheets one at a time (a painstaking and time consuming activity) when they want to make a universal update. Universal updates are often something as simple as changing the logo, changing their corporate colors, changing their corporate font, changing their address. Updating new product information can be just as seamless as the small tweaks with TDSmaker.
Why don’t you try out a free trial of TDSmaker and see how simple it can be for yourself?