How to Write Product Descriptions that Excite and Close Prospects
Updated: Oct 14, 2019
Here's a 9-step primer on writing Product Descriptions that really SELL. Whatever you're offering, a great Product Description can draw attention, excite prospects, and build immense desire, but only by following these rules...
1.) Why start from scratch? Steal from your audience
Here’s what I mean: if you’ve done your market research correctly, you won’t need to write from scratch. You’ll be familiar enough with your audience - the problem they want to solve, what they’ve tried, what’s worked, what hasn’t - to construct your sales message around their actual words rather than writing in a silo and praying it resonates. This is why "know your audience" is one of copywriting's golden rules.
Remember, your goal is to tap into your customer’s existing desires, not drum up desire from thin air. Advertising legend Eugene Schwartz put it best:
“This is the copy writer’s task: not to create this mass desire – but to channel and direct it.”
The act of actually speaking to your customers is invaluable for a copywriter, or for that matter, anyone marketing or running a business. If that’s not feasible (i.e. you're scared to talk to people), then go to where they talk to each other and observe. Jump into forums, meetups, social media, networking groups, etc. and make note of common questions, problems they have with existing solutions, how they talk about the problem, and so on.
2.) Focus on benefits - not just features
Of all the copy you’ll write, product descriptions demand an understanding of how to convey the benefits of your product, not just its features.
As a reminder, think of features as the cold hard facts - if you’re selling a car, it’s how powerful the engine, the fuel efficiency/MPG, the material used for the seats, the paint color, etc.
The benefits are what those features do for your customer - they don’t necessarily care about the engineering, they care about taking off from a red light like a supersonic missile, the growl and rumble of the engine as they cut through a winding backcountry road.
Here’s another example from Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon cosmetics:
“In our factory, we make lipstick. In our advertising, we sell hope.”
Again, he’s differentiating between what your product IS and what it DOES for people. Between its features (lipstick, it makes your lips red) and its benefits (it gives customers HOPE - hope for more confidence, for positive attention, for a better life).
Another quick tip - If you’re selling a product where the features are extremely important – technology, complex B2B solutions – then many brands will feature a main product description, and then a separate “technical specs” or “features” section that lists pure, jargon-y details.
3.) Take the spotlight off your company or product and shine it on the prospect
This seems counterintuitive for many rookies, but ignore it at your own peril. Brands fall into the trap of trying desperately to convince customers how amazing and credible they are, how much better their product is than everything else. They forget that the customer only cares about what it can do for them (benefits, not just features - c'mon we just talked about this!)
The brand needs to politely step out of the limelight - your customer is the main character in this movie. The brand is the guide and the customer is the hero. It is the Obi Wan to his Luke, the Gandalf to his Frodo. The brand steps in right when the customer needs it most and presents a special solution to his problem (the product) that will help him finally reach the next rung of life’s ladder. A copywriter's job is to convey how the product or brand fits into their life, how it can help them slay their dragon, what steps they should take to make it all a reality, and so on.
4.) Spin a good yarn
Product descriptions benefit from a good story, although not the long, sweeping narratives you might find elsewhere in the sales funnel or customer experience. You can weave in shorter stories of how and where the product was made, examples of what life could look like once customers finally obtain your product (i.e. heaven), what life could be like if they ignore the opportunity (i.e. hell), and how certain product benefits align with the company’s mission (although be mindful of taking the spotlight too far off your customer!). Storytelling elements, like leveraging archetypes (customer as hero, brand as guide) and weaving emotion into copy (more on this below), make copy more compelling, and add power to the punch.
Storytelling has been with us for most, if not all, of human history. We are hard-wired to process information using a narrative structure. We comprehend the world through stories, so the ability to spin a good yard is an absolute necessity in salesmanship and persuasion.
5.) Pull on their heart strings
Remember this: people buy for emotional reasons, and then justify the purchase with rational details. By engaging with their emotions, you make customers feel like there’s just something about the product, something that pulls on their heartstrings or makes them want to take a step closer to their ideal self. They simply have to have it.
This is especially key in luxury advertising, for example, where customers pay gigantic markups for products that have only incrementally more utility than less expensive versions. Customers are paying for feelings: what the brand name means to them, for the experience, for what it means to be the owner of this special item, for the idea of passing it down to future generations, for the feeling of people looking on with envy when they brandish their new treasure.
Again, emotion is linked to storytelling, and the more you make the customer the hero of your story, the more emotionally compelling your copy. Purchasing decisions are emotional (i.e. based on benefits), and then justified with logic (i.e. based on features). See how it all ties together?
6.) Don’t sacrifice clarity for cleverness
Get the absolute basics down in your product descriptions before you even consider getting fancy. That means answering at least these questions in your copy:
What the product is
What problem it solves
How that changes the customer's life for the better, and
What they need to do to make it a reality
Customers are looking for a reason to doubt your claims and go back to ol' reliable - confuse them and you'll guarantee they throw your product into their mental garbage bin.
7.) Use keywords (that your prospect will actually use)
Any modern copywriter knows the importance of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Ensure you're driving qualified traffic to your product by including key phrases and words that the prospect might search for.
Imagine someone furiously scratching after a night in the woods, keying into Google "mosquito repellent that actually works." The product that wins is the one using that exact phrase, not one that saturates their copy with chemistry jargon and scientific names for mosquito species. Unless your prospect is Carl Linnaeus, stick to layman's terms.
Again, this is where knowing your customer - and the language they use - comes into play. Never use extreme jargon unless the customer would describe the product that way, and worse, never guess at what the customer thinks when knowing is a few minutes of research away.
8.) The basics are not basic if you get them wrong
Here are 5 copywriting "basics" that people still manage to screw up, much to the dismay of their bosses or wallet:
Don't be boring - This ties back to storytelling, using emotional hooks, and working in phrases the prospect might actually use. Another way to think about this is always provide value.
Test - Never guess about what works. Split test versions of your copy and see what converts best. This is only getting easier with the ease of use and affordability of digital marketing tools.
Have a clear Call to Action (CTA) - Your product description copy should be written with a goal in mind, and should flow seamlessly into a clear, exciting CTA that facilitates that goal. There should be no question about what a customer needs to do to purchase, donate, schedule a call, etc.
Never neglect the editing process - Great copy doesn't magically appear, it's honed through revision and editing. Even Don Draper spent hours at his desk and he's a TV character.
Ensure a consistent "voice" - Copy should maintain a consistent voice across mediums. A product description shouldn't be hard-nosed and facetious if the landing page was whimsical and relatable.
9.) Be unapologetically you
Last but not least… here's the MOST important thing about writing product descriptions: if any of your competitors can make the same claim, it isn't exciting. The most valuable messages are those that differentiate your product from competition, i.e. your Unique Selling Proposition (USP).
Don't misunderstand and think you can focus on only the USP and forego the basic features and benefits of your product. These "bare minimum" claims are a necessary prerequisite for credibility, and without them you'll never close. But only the truly unique claims inspire customers to take action, and part with their hard-earned money.
And avoid another uber-common rookie pitfall - never throw competitors under the bus in your copy. It only arouses skepticism around the product itself, regardless of who offers it. In the inimitable words of direct marketing hero Drayton Bird:
"Much copy denigrates rival products - often a waste of time, because the reader ends up believing nobody."
An experienced copywriter might notice that these lessons extend beyond just product descriptions - this is true, although how heavily certain points are weighted vary between types of copy. Again, in product descriptions the most important elements are clear, compelling benefits and a great USP.
A landing page, for example, might focus more so on SEO, narrative elements, and setting a scene where prospects feels like the hero who's just stumbled onto their new secret weapon. Social media copy will be focused on maintaining brand voice, providing value and entertainment, and building meaningful engagement and interaction.
Volumes could be written on Product Description copywriting (we didn't even have time to dive into bulletpoints, or closing the sale!) but I hope you enjoyed this 9-step primer.
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