04. June 2024 - Team OSP

The Ultimate Guide to Product Data Sheets

 


What is a product data sheet?

Product Data Sheets or Datasheets (PDSs) are documents that provide detailed information about a product or service. They don’t attract attention with their unglamorous title, and some have even tried to declare the genre too boring to live, but the truth is they are an essential part of commerce and e-commerce. More specifically, they are an essential part of understanding technical products like software—and therefore, crucial in selling these products. Product data sheets allow customers and colleagues to quickly understand the facts, benefits, and branding of a product or service.

PDSs can take a variety of forms. As a rule, the more specialized the audience, the more technical and list-like the data sheet will be—though this is no excuse for them to be confusing or dull. Done right, product data sheets are essential tools in marketing and sales strategies. As PDS expert F. Raymond Dewey observed in a surprisingly entertaining guide, the PDS is located at the ideal midpoint between advertising and the sales call. These brief, informal brochures are crafted to present critical product information concisely and effectively, providing technical specifications and helping customers make informed decisions. Whether the intended audience is everyday Janes and Joes or highly competent software engineers, other businesses or highly competent software engineers, PDSs play a pivotal role in the marketing and buying process by presenting an overview of product features and how they meet customer needs. 

While some industries like cosmetics and fashion include only the bare minimum of product specifications with a strong emphasis on product visuals, the vast majority of the PDS genre are highly technical spreadsheets or lists without images. In some sectors, like the chemical industry, these detailed specifications are essential in meeting legal safety requirements. Besides explaining the features and benefits of product data sheets, this post offers a style guide, examples and a template drawn from Open Strategy Partners’ extensive expertise with Product Data Sheets and our own special PDS methodology, the OSP Value Map

Product data sheets are more than just informational content. They are strategic assets that direct how customers make decisions. If they are chock-full of information and confusing, eyes will glaze over, and readers will scroll on to other pages; if a PDS is crafted to be clear and easily digestible, it allows customers to quickly understand the value and functionality of a product, leading them to make an informed decision—ideally, inspiring them to adopt your product. Having great documents to offer prospective clients is one of several essential working parts of a top-notch product communications strategy.

tl;dr

Product Data Sheets (PDSs) are essential documents providing detailed information about products or services, and critical for sales and marketing. We explain the what, why and how of Product Data Sheets and run through the OSP Value Map methodology for crafting a compelling and comprehensive PDS.

The audience and purpose of product data sheets

What and who are they for?

Perhaps the first use of PDSs that most people will think of are those for customers and clients, though these outward-facing data sheets are not necessarily the main or even most important ones. While PDSs are great tools for marketing and sales, PDSs also come in handy for many people beyond customers and marketers. They can also be used within a company for a variety of important tasks.

  • External Stakeholders: Potential customers and partners utilize PDSs to evaluate product suitability for their needs, making them crucial for sales conversions.  
  • Internal Stakeholders: From product managers to marketing teams, internal stakeholders can rely on PDSs for a cohesive understanding and consistent communication of product details and messaging.

Whether directed at external or internal stakeholders, Product Data Sheets are most successful when they anticipate the reader’s problems and needs, clearly delineate the product’s solution, and credibly establish your company’s ability to deliver: core principles for successful communication and content strategy which we define as empathy, clarity and trust.

Why product data sheets are crucial for your business

Product data sheets are vital for effectively communicating product benefits to potential buyers. As we’ve mentioned, however, they are also extremely valuable in ensuring that all team members and messaging align with the product’s capabilities and marketing strategies. They help reduce the apparent complexity of technical products, whether in communications with potential clients or in de-siloing knowledge between engineering, marketing and management in your company. A PDS is a great place for the unvarnished truth of your product to shine, using facts and data to build adoption based on technical truth, a strategy we have long promoted at Open Strategy Partners (OSP).

Crafting compelling product data sheets

Anatomy of a product data sheet

There are a few key components a well-structured PDS should include:

  1. Product overview: A brief description that captures the essence of the product;
  2. Key features and benefits: Details that highlight the product’s advantages and benefits;
  3. Technical specifications: Precise product information that technical buyers value and need;
  4. (Optional) Product images: High-quality images that visually represent the product are a compelling asset where appropriate.

At OSP, we have developed our own methodology for creating Product Data Sheets, a living library, and canonical inventory of accurate, up-to-date product information.

Applying the OSP Value Map to Product Data Sheet Creation

What is the OSP Value Map?

The OSP Value Map is a sophisticated methodology that organizes and integrates product information and communications into a common, strategic framework, a single source of truth encapsulating the full potential of your product. Not only does it support the creation of high-caliber PDSs but it also ensures that they are deeply aligned with the company’s vision and technical truths.

  1. Unified communication strategy: To create a Value Map, OSP works with all stakeholders in your company, from developers and marketers to sales and administration, to de-silo information and integrate agreed-upon terms, language, and concepts. This unified approach helps maintain consistency and alignment with the strategic vision and technical truth of the product that emerges from the Value-Mapping process.
  2. Centralized information repository: The Value Map acts as a living library where all product information is stored as interconnected entities—features, benefits, challenges, and personas. This makes it easier to access and update information with every product release, ensuring that all communication is accurate and up to date. 

Enhanced collaboration and efficiency: By making detailed product information readily available, the Value Map facilitates better collaboration among teams. Not only does the Value Mapping process allow for better communication in your own teams thanks its connecting of technical truth with business value in every feature of your products and services. In external facing communications that use Value Map findings, it also makes it easier for potential clients to understand your product, depending on where their expertise lies: technical clients can more easily understand how your product works but can use the language of its business value to speak compellingly about it to managers. Managers, likewise, are better able to speak to the technical substance of your product when sharing it with developers.

Our Value Map template allows you to build from each product to articulate the benefits, pain points and messaging for each of its feature categories, areas, and unique features.

This process turns every aspect of your product into structured data that can be searched, sorted and studied, and converts your product expertise into the raw material for effective marketing and sales communications.

Using the Value Map, OSP helps firms transform complex details into compelling narratives. This conversion is crucial for creating product data sheets that resonate with both technical and non-technical stakeholders. The Value Map ensures that every piece of information in your PDS is purposefully placed to support strategic business objectives, enhancing the document’s effectiveness in engaging potential clients and growing your business.

Product data sheet template for immediate use

To help get you started, OSP offers a downloadable template for the Value Map that incorporates all the elements of an effective PDS. This tool is designed to streamline the creation process and ensure that your final document is both professional and comprehensive. 

Download our Value Map PDS template!

Best Practices for Product Communications in Data Sheets

Effective product communications ensure strategic cohesion of all messaging components, like taglines, CTAs, micro-copy and other bigger textual elements, which you can then mix and match to build a Value Map, a Product Data Sheet, or webpages. 

We’ve used our decades of experience in editing and writing to put together several guides to writing, embodied in our OSP Writing and Editing Guide as well as our Editing Codes—for a quick introduction to the latter, check out our Quick Start Guide. We find six principles make for the best, most effective product communications:

  1.  Tight: Every word takes up precious real estate. Make them count. 
  2. Specific: Use the most precise word or phrase you can. Don’t be vague, don’t generalize.
  3. Accurate: Support your claims with facts and evidence.
  4. Clean and Consistent: Professional writing means excellent grammar & spelling, a friendly and respectful style & tone.
  5. Compelling: Don’t drone—tell stories. Use active, engaging language that will resonate with your audience.
  6. Functional: Every text has a job to do. Make sure it’s working. 

Every piece of content within the PDS is purposeful and aligned with broader business goals, enhancing the document's impact on the target audience. At OSP, our experience tells us that product communications for technology work best with a modular approach to writing—we like to compare it to building with LEGO sets. Using a foundational group of basic LEGOs and a few specialized ones, you can construct very different objects, from cars and planes to houses and skyscrapers. Similarly, the modular approach to writing allows you to compose an array of small components, like taglines, CTAs, micro-copy and other bigger textual elements, which you can then can mix and match to build a Value Map, a Product Data Sheet, or webpages.

To learn more about the OSP approach, check out our Product Communications Framework and Guide.

Using the OSP Value Map methodology and principles like these, it is easy to write copy and create Product Data Sheets that logically explicate the technical and business value of your products, resonate with your target audience, and be consistent across channels, aligning with all your other strategic messaging while backing up marketing claims with the technical truth of your products. Let’s see how it works.

A step-by-step guide to writing product data sheets

Step one: Identify the key features, challenges, and benefits

Start by deeply analyzing the technical features of your offering and listing the most critical features of your product. What differentiates it from competitors? What are the benefits that would lead someone to choose your product over others? Organize features into logical-functional groups. Map the relationships between functionalities and the business value they offer. To collect all of your data points, you can interview company stakeholders, scan existing marketing and sales materials, and review competitor websites to look for relevant features of your own product you may have overlooked. Let’s look at how we break this down using the Value Map:

Feature: The “atomic unit” of functionality of a product or service, i.e. what it does.

  • Use strong, active verbs in creating taglines for features.
  • Examples:
    • Edit in the frontend or backend with drag and drop, copy and paste, spell check, and other standard text editing functions.
    • Bulk edit pages and preview content before publishing.
    • Automatically generate responsive images to deliver an optimized experience on every screen.

Feature Area: A logical grouping of functionality—collections of features. They:

  • Summarize and distill the essence of the features they contain.
  • Describe what the features achieve collectively.
  • Are technical answers to business challenges:
    • Q: How does your solution solve Challenge X?
    • A: Feature Area Y addresses Challenge X.

Taglines for feature areas should be:

  • Specific enough that they don’t intrude on product-level ideas or end up too general or vague;
  • Broad enough to include the essence of all the features below. 
  • Examples:
    • Authoring Experience
    • Content Planning
    • Digital Asset Management (DAM)

Feature Category: A larger logical grouping of functionality, collections of feature areas. They:

  • Summarize and distill the essence of the Feature Areas they contain.
  • Describe what the Feature Areas achieve collectively.
  • Are also technical answers to business challenges.

Taglines for Feature Categories should likewise be specific to the grouping, broad enough to capture the essence of the Feature Areas below, narrow enough to rise above product-level ideas.

Step two: Create value cases with benefit, challenge, solution

Once you have a comprehensive list of features, work on articulating the value they deliver to the user. For the product or service, each Feature Category, Area and specific Feature, develop an argument for how and why your product meets given business needs. Three elements will allow you to fully flesh out a compelling argument: challenges, solutions and benefits. 

Challenge

A benefit that doesn’t solve a challenge is irrelevant to your audience. The reader identifies themself as your target audience when they recognize the challenges they know from their work and day-to-day situation. Here, you show empathy for your reader (you understand their problems and needs) and confirm the hopes you sparked in them with the Benefit.  
Example challenges:

  • Complexity within an organization or workflow
  • Difficult tasks
  • Limitations
  • Lack of a needed result, process, or criterion

Challenge keywords:

  • Chaos
  • Inefficiency
  • Technical bottlenecks
  • Wasting money, time, or resources
  • Customers/users are upset when…

Solution

Tell your reader how you and your offering will solve the Challenge(s) they are facing and deliver them to the transformation you promised in the Benefit. A solution statement directly addresses the challenge statement.

  • HOW does it solve the challenge and provide the benefit?
  • WHAT does the product or service do?

Examples of solutions:

  • At the Feature Category level:
    • Smart Content Management: TYPO3 provides a comprehensive content-creation and -management platform with outstanding content workflow support.
    • Multisite, Multilingual: TYPO3’s powerful and intuitive multisite features support large international web projects with translation workflows and multilingual content structures. Integrate with translation management systems and manage separate translation workflows for each language.
  • At the Feature Area level:
    • Authoring Experience: TYPO3 is a centralized, easy-to-use platform for content publication. With role-based access and streamlined production and translation workflows, you can maintain quality and production velocity while publishing in multiple languages and on multiple sites and channels.
    • Multisite: TYPO3 offers efficient tools for managing multiple websites and domains in one place and versatile options for sharing content and configuration between them.

Solution keywords:

  • …is, has, uses
  • …does, provides, offers
  • …helps, enables, unlocks

Benefit

This is all about WiiFM (What’s in it for me). In many formats, we lead with the Benefit, painting a picture for our readers of what life would be like if they adopted our wonderful product or service. It demonstrates the value of the solution offered by the product or service in measurable terms: “X saved me seven clicks or 30 min of developer time.”

  • Who benefits? Developers? Marketers? Customers? The whole company?
  • How does this make someone’s day better?
    • Does it make my job easier?
    • Does it make things faster or more efficient?
    • Cheaper? More profitable?
    • Does it increase conversions?
    • Is it more energy efficient?
  • Examples of benefits:
    • Multisite: Manage any number of websites within a single installation.
    • Marketing Campaign Management: Connect your digital marketing funnel directly through TYPO3’s backend without repeatedly switching between systems.
    • Content Models, Metadata Management, Tagging and Search, SEO: Make your website easier to find for potential customers. TYPO3 provides you with the tools to implement your SEO strategy.
  • Benefit keywords:
    • Achieve
    • Gain
    • [Do something] simpler, easier, faster, with less effort
    • Value, quality, expert-level
    • Flexibility, extensibility, openness

Step three: Make technical specifications accessible

Translate complex technical data into understandable, user-friendly language that addresses the customer’s pain points and needs. Use visually digestible formatting, like bullet points, numbers or tables, to make the information easy to scan and understand. What solution does the offering provide?

Step four: Incorporate visuals (optional)

Use clear, professional images to enhance appeal and support the textual side. Well-selected visuals can break down complex information and make the PDS more engaging to the reader.

Next steps to refine and polish your PDS skills

By leveraging tools like the OSP Value Map, you can elevate your PDSs from mere informational documents to strategic assets that effectively communicate the value and capabilities of your products. This not only improves internal alignment but also significantly boosts customer engagement and conversion rates.

Book a free 30-minute consultation for your product data sheet

Image credits

Colorful datasheet image by Midjourney in collaboration with the author.

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