The sell sheet should be created very early in the development of your invention or product. (To you, it’s an invention—your baby—and you may call yourself an inventor. To everyone outside of your circle it’s a product, and you are a new-product developer, not an inventor.)
Whether you aim to license or produce, the sell sheet is the universal document for explaining your product’s benefits. Design it using the AIDA formula. At least at first use color copying, not printing, because your sell sheet will evolve. And remember, the sell sheet is not a brag sheet about you; it’s a benefits sheet about your product aimed at your prospective end customer.
The sell sheet, also known as a sales brochure, is a basic tool for communicating your invention’s benefits to any of several persons. It is beneficial in first-draft form early on—before you’ve applied for your patent or built your prototype. And it is essential in final form when your invention is ready to submit to market channels or potential licensees. The sell sheet is the vital link between the physical definition of your invention, and the unknown customer who pays money to own it as a product.
Uses for the sell sheet: Whether you plan to license or produce and market your invention, you need to understand why someone ultimately will buy it. Writing down these reasons at the start of your venture helps you maintain the critical focus that improves your design, and therefore improves your patent and your invention’s value. Others who will gain insight from your sell sheet are:
- Patent searchers, and your patent agent or patent attorney
- Product designers, drafters, and prototypers
- Potential money investors and strategic partners
- Mall survey prospects
- Focus groups
- Friends and family, and their expanded network
- Web site designers
- Packaging designers
- Publicity and advertising-copy writers
- Catalog and chain-store buyers
- Distributors, wholesalers, and manufacturing representatives (reps).
- Potential licensees.
Common to all of these is the need to fully communicate why your invention is useful—that is, how it is of benefit to the ultimate customer. For example, a professional product designer should understand your invention’s benefits in order to even begin the design. A patent searcher is aided by the benefit-wording for his/her key-word search. A patent attorney or patent agent must demonstrate usefulness in your patent application. Potential investors and strategic partners, whether friends, family, or strangers, must be able to visualize the ultimate consumer paying money for the product. However, of these several uses for your sell sheet there is one that trumps the others in form and function: the catalog sell sheet.
Designing the catalog sell sheet: The catalog sell sheet should be used as the model of format for all of the sell sheet’s other uses. The reason is simple: Most transactions with catalogs are accomplished by snail mail or e-mail. Face-to-face meetings and phones calls are usually unnecessary. Thus, you must present the essential information—the benefits and features—clearly in an attractive and brief printed form. If you accomplish this with your catalog sell sheet, you have pretty much accomplished it for all of the other sell sheet uses.
Start designing your sell sheet by listing all of the reasons the ultimate user will buy your product. (Don’t think of it as an invention; imagine it as a fully developed product.) If your hope is to license, you have to convince your prospective licensees that the product your invention evolves into will sell. The best way to do this is to urge your reader to see the product through the eyes of the eventual user. If you plan to produce and market, even on a small scale, you’ll need a sell sheet for many uses. It’s your product’s counterpart to your employment resume’.
Now, convert your list of reasons why the ultimate user will want your product into brief benefit statements. For example, the reason a woman will buy the BraBall® (www.braballs.com) is to prevent damage to her padded, under-wire bra if washed in a machine using a net bag. To avoid this damage, she has always hand-washed her expensive bras. Converting these sentences to brief benefit statements we have:
- Eliminates hand washing. Saves hours per week.
- Preserves your padded bra’s flattering contour.
- Prevents the under-wire from puncturing the fabric.
- Pays for itself in just a few washings.
As inventors, we naturally concern ourselves with features. That’s how we think. But features don’t sell anything. Benefits sell. For example, the inner form of the BraBall® prevents the bra from shifting around and bunching up. The inner form is specially formed to fit the most heavily padded bras. The inventor might want to share how the shape of the inner form was developed by trial and error, etc. But the user couldn’t care less; she wants to know what its benefits are for her—why she should buy it. Not only are the features of little interest to the user, but if placed first in the sell sheet they are a distraction from the powerful benefits statements that convince her to read on, and to buy.
Remember AIDA: Not the opera, AIDA is an acronym for the time-honored advertising and direct-selling formula:
- Attract attention
- arouse Interest
- create Desire
- show how to Acquire
The point is this: you don’t simply ring a doorbell and ask, “Do you want to buy some cookies?” Convincing people to buy something, especially when done on paper, must be approached much more subtly. You start by attracting attention with a photo—preferably showing the product in action—and a powerful headline, a.k.a, a tagline. Then attempt to summarize several of the benefits in one topic sentence or sentence fragment. Create several such headlines, and think about them for a few days before deciding which is best. For example, “Machine wash your bras, and preserve their flattering contour.” Or, “Save hours each week by safely machine-washing your bras in BraBall®.” Or, “Never hand-wash your bras again.” I’d pick the second headline because it includes two major benefits: saving time, and safety—that is, avoidance of ruining the bra.
Now, you have a photo and a headline with which to attract attention. Next, you must arouse interest. The photo and headline grab the reader for a few seconds, and you must immediately draw the reader into the subordinate benefits by positioning these brief, punchy statements directly after the headline.
Assuming that you have gained your reader’s interest, but that your reader is only partly convinced—maybe has a few questions—you now create desire by presenting details that support the benefits. Here, you can mention features, and use longer sentences. For example, say that you are now expanding on, “Prevents the under-wire from puncturing the fabric.” You might write: The patented shape of the inner form locks your expensive bra securely in place, preventing stress on the under-wire. No more bent wires or punctured fabric.”
The object is not merely to fill “white space” with words, but to reply convincingly to your customer’s concerns about being attractive, saving time, avoiding waste, and saving money. Again, I emphasize that this is about your customer’s needs and wants, not about your personal pride; reserve that for family and friends.
Assuming you’ve followed the formula, now you must tell your reader how to acquire your product. This can be as simple as the statement, “for more information contact . . .” Or, you can leave a blank rectangular block into which various labels can be adhered. This enables you to direct your family, friends, and network to your web site for direct purchases, but omits the existence of your web site for sell sheets that you submit to catalogs or chain-store buyers; after all, you’re a competitor.
Price and discounts should never be printed on your sell sheet. These belong in either a separate price sheet, or on your label. Early on, you probably won’t be sure of your price, and you’ll need the flexibility of the supplement. In any event, you don’t want to reveal your suggested retail price to the catalog unless you are asked. The catalog will set the price. All you tell them is their cost from you, and you do this after you receive a response to your first letter and sell sheet. (The catalog will send you a detailed questionnaire.)
Format: Your layout forms itself from the AIDA formula. (contact Jack for an example)
Jack Lander helps inventors to commercialize their products, including preparing sell-sheets. He has been contributing articles to Inventors Digest for many, many years. You can reach him at Jack@Inventor-mentor.com.
Ron Reardon, Patents & More, Inc.