There is never one way of doing anything.
No one way to make an impression. No one way to make people laugh. No one way to be successful.
Product descriptions are the same. There is no right way to write them (although there are plenty of wrong ways). Two highly effective descriptions for similar products may look nothing like each other. What works on one website (humorous, irreverent) will not work for another (serious, professional).
And yet … we can’t help but have formulas.
Especially copywriters. Great chunks of books have been taken up with copywriting formulas. Novel-length blog posts too.
Formulas work by giving us a backbone to our words. I use them all the time. The secret to utilising formulas effectively, however, is in adapting them. They are never rigid and inflexible. They are the framework, and the creativity comes in adapting them to your specific project.
And So It Is with Product Descriptions
My formula is as basic as it can get. Which is a good thing, because it allows for greater creativity and adaptability.
It goes like this: Story – Features / Benefits – Details.
Let’s look at what that means.
You might have heard something about storytelling in copywriting.
Storytelling, that fundamental human behaviour, is intrinsically linked with our writing. Copywriting is, at its heart, a way of connecting with the reader; we connect with the reader so they read on.
But stories are a concept often misunderstood. There is no need for a ‘Once upon a time’ story. Telling a story with copy is more about encouraging the reader to picture himself or herself in a situation.
With product descriptions, that means helping them to imagine themselves using (and enjoying) your products. Creating a scene that they can see, feel, hear. Making your product come to life so it goes beyond being just words on a page.
An interesting product might have its own story to tell. The coffee beans grown in the organic plantation in Brazil; the antique chair passed down through generations.
Or you could place the product in the story. Picture the scene. Imagine how it feels. Create a situation around your product that the customer can identify with. Identify a problem that your product solves.
Focusing on the product’s story brings it to life. Focusing on how the buyer feels when they have the product in their hands makes it real. When the buyer starts to imagine holding your product and using it, you know you’re closing in on the sale.
How might we do this? Let’s take, for example, a wooden yo-yo. That’s about as basic as it comes. Distinguishing one yo-yo from the next might be challenging, but a unique story is one way to do this:
“Walk the Dog. Around the World. Familiar childhood phrases that hark back to a time long ago that you can’t quite put your finger on. That’s it! Those old yo-yo tricks you enjoyed so much as a child, back when smartphones seemed as futuristic as flying cars. You remember how much fun you had then. Now show your children how much fun they can have too.”
Simple. But it works on many levels. It gets the buyer to imagine when they played with such toys. It tugs at their nostalgic emotional strings. They can imagine themselves enjoying playing with the yo-yo and getting their kids involved too. They are doing something good by getting their kids off their screens. We’ve put them right in the middle of that story. They become the character, the schoolboy with his yo-yo, the dad whose kids have never used one before.
Stories work in many ways. There is no right way to create a story around your product. You can get as creative with this as your branding allows. You could write a short paragraph like the yo-yo example above or a whole page delving into every little detail. Take the idea of the story and run with it.
2. Features / Benefits
Benefits and features are other copywriting mainstays. Good copy needs features and benefits. If you’ve ever written anything for your e-commerce store before, you’ll have come across this concept.
- The features are the qualities of your product
- The benefits are how your customer’s life is improved by those features
There’s going to be some crossover here because the features and benefits don’t need to go in their own separate sections. While you can list them out quite happily in their own section, they can also merge with the story and become a part of it.
Going back to the yo-yo example, the benefits of relearning old tricks from your childhood and having fun, or of getting your kids off their tablets and playing with real toys, are strongly implied.
But there are usually details that need highlighting that don’t fit into the story comfortably, or which you want to separate. For the yo-yo, they might go something like this:
- Polished pine for a traditional look, feels soft in the hand.
- Comes with a book of tricks, start showing off in hours.
- Handmade with care to the highest standards to put up with plenty of knocks.
Try and put features and benefits together. Simply list the feature and then ask yourself ‘Why does this matter?’ Or switch it around: put the benefit first. Using this, the second bullet above would be:
Start showing off in hours with the book of tricks included.
Mix it up and make it interesting.
We won’t spend too long on the details. These consist of the essential information that people will want to know about your product but which will rarely be the selling point.
They include features like size, weight, length, material, etc. They often need to be mentioned, especially for products where they have a big impact on the buying decision.
For our yo-yo they could be:
“Made from solid pine. 200 grams. String measures 1 metre.”
For other products, the details will be far more extensive. Tech products will often have a long list of specifications that matter and must be included.
A Formula for Success?
As I mentioned, product descriptions vary wildly in format and style. Luxury items will never be described in the same way as computers. Fun gadgets will not be described in the same way as floor tiles.
But what I hope with this is that you now have a loose framework you can use for almost any product.
If the product lends itself to a good story, tell it. If you can fit the buyer into the experience and make them feel like they are part of the story, do it. Always fit in as many benefits as you can. Always include the details.
But, of course, how you put it all together is only limited by your creativity.