If you want to learn how to write product descriptions that sell, Episode 98 of the Bright Planning Marketing Podcast can help! Naturally, you can always observe the strategies of Dollar Shave Club or Trader Joe’s to help provide inspiration. In this episode we explore some of the effective tactics that those companies use and more!
For example, we discuss how disruptive headlines and product names are not merely employed for the sake of shock value, but they are used to spark innovation within the industry. Depending on the product, for some creators the product inspires the name, and for others the name inspires the product.
As always, storytelling plays a crucial role in writing product descriptions that sell. A careful copywriter can tell a story through a production description that’s only one paragraph. Remember that stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. And the end should land right in the customer’s lap, so they can relate to the “punchline” or point.
Slick marketers often use quirkiness to their advantage. It’s OK to be different. In fact, try to do the exact opposite of what everyone else in your industry is doing. Just avoid being crass because that does not inspire the confidence of your consumers.
Remember not to write about the product; write about the experience. And for some additional reference, you can also peruse this blog post: www.brightplanning.com/how-to-write-…descriptions/
Thanks for listening!
Continue on to read transcript:
Catherine: I am your host, Catherine Campbell. I’m joined by my co-host, Natalie Pyles. Hey Natalie, how was that intro to the episode this time?
Natalie: You nailed it, Catherine, as always.
C: Nailed it! [laughing] We were just thinking about how difficult it is to do fresh intros every time, and I always thought about getting one of those fancy pre-recorded intros, you know, with a British woman talking, like, “You’re listening to the Bright Planning podcast,” and that’s my really awful British accent. Let’s just not do that ever again. But yeah, sometimes I hear those and they just sound really terrible. I think I’d want to get someone from NPR to do our intro, if we were going to do one.
N: No. No way. Your voice is too good.
N: I think I like your voice doing it. It’s authentic every time.
C: Maybe I should audition for NPR.
N: Ooh, yes, yes.
C: Watch out Terry Gross.
N: Voice talent.
C: Yeah. Voice talent. That’s me. [laughing] But in the meantime, we have a marketing podcast for all of you wonderful listeners. I noticed this week that we have some new starred reviews that were on our little iTunes.
N: Oh really? Oh my gosh, our listeners are so awesome. That’s great!
C: I know. We love you so much, everyone. Thank you very much for giving us feedback, for sending in questions, for just getting in touch with us and letting us know what kind of episodes and what kind of topics you’re looking for. If you ever do have a question for the podcast, you can email me directly; it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s B-R-I-G-H-T, brightplanning.com, and just put in the subject line, “Question for Podcast.” That way I’ll make sure to get it. But we love answering your questions. We are approaching the end of season 2 right now, and we have a very exciting season 3 ahead of us.
N: Yeah, that’s right. So for sure get your questions in soon, and then you can continue to work them in over the next few episodes.
C: I think it might be time to tell folks what is going to be coming ahead in season 3. Should we tell them?
N: Ooh, yeah. Let’s do it.
C: All right. So we are on Episode 98, and we are approaching Episode 100, and we’re so excited, so we’re going to be celebrating with Episode 100, we’re going to have a special guest on. Then we’re going to be taking a holiday break, and returning in January with season 3. Season 3 is going to be all expert interviews. So I’m going to be having guests on the show for the first time in the show’s history. We’re going to be having experts in branding, and marketing, and podcasting, and video marketing, and email, and all of those nitty gritty details that you have wanted to drill down and talk about. I’m bringing on the pros, and I will be conducting interviews with them. So you don’t want to miss season 3. Now’s a great time to subscribe so that when we do return, you will automatically get that first episode downloaded to your smartphone. It’s going to be amazing.
N: Yeah. You’re going to give our listeners everything they need to get them through 2018 though first before we sign off for a little bit. Then like you said, when we come back, you can just expect the most amazing lineup of really, really fascinating interviews.
C: Yeah, 2018’s going to be an awesome closeout, and then we’re going to kick off 2019 with advice from the pros. I’m really excited about the guests that I’m having on. I think you will be, too. A lot of really great people who have grown brands from itty bitty, tiny, little companies into billion dollar corporations. So it’s really exciting. Then I also will have interviews too with small businesses that are also keeping it real, and who really invest in the power of staying small. I think it’s really important to hear from both, so that you’re not just hearing from the CMO of Coca-Cola all the time, who’s giving you advice on stuff that you don’t have the budget for. Let’s be realistic. So yeah, I think it’s good to hear from real marketing pros who are on the ground every day doing the work.
N: Oh, I love it. I can’t wait.
C: So yeah, we’re excited, and talking about nitty gritty, we’re going to dive into some nitty gritty today, because we’re talking about how to write product descriptions that sell. Natalie, when you go into the store, and you’re trying to figure out which vitamins to buy or something, do you ever read the bottle?
N: Yeah. I do.
C: Is there anything in particular that you look for? I mean, what do you think about product descriptions?
N: Well, I feel like I’m probably more of a skimmer than a reader, so I probably am looking for keywords that grab my attention, and then I’ll just make a real quick snap decision based on which product had the most keywords that I like.
C: Oh, so keywords, like specific features, or more like benefits that—?
N: Yeah, I’d be like, “Oh yeah, B12, and I need folate, and I need D, definitely D. Okay this one.”
C: Excellent. Okay, that’s great to know. That’s a great answer, because that brings us to our point of product descriptions, which are that it’s not just about features—although sometimes it can be—but once upon a time, Natalie, I actually wrote the product descriptions for vitamins, and for natural supplements back in the day when I was a little copywriter. Since then, I actually haven’t really changed. I’ve just become a bigger copywriter. [laughing]
C: But yeah, actually working in those kinds of space constraints where you have this tiny bottle, and you have to fit a lot of information on there as well as a lot of required information, it doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for storytelling and for creativi—so you have to get really, really creative with what you’re working with in the parameters.
N: True. Yeah.
C: That’s what I love so much about product descriptions, they’re sort of like flash fiction, or flash nonfiction. You’ve got to get in, compel people, and get out. That’s what a great product description does: it captures people’s attention really quickly. They put out the features people need to know about the most, they don’t list a ton of features on them because they physically don’t have that much room to list all of their features, and then they also are able to create an emotional impact as well. So they make the person feel something when looking at the product.
What’s important is that you have to go about writing your product descriptions in a specific order, and I think your answer, Natalie, is a great way to remind business owners that no matter what, the feature points of their product are really important, but it’s not just the end-all-be-all. Because you can have 4 different bottles that have the same supplements in them, or the same multivitamin mix that you’re looking for, but each one of them’s going to stick out for a different reason. That is where the art meets the science when it comes to product descriptions. So you, as a consumer, you’re taking into account a couple different things. One, you’re looking for which supplement bottle is going to contain the exact supplements that you’re looking for, because obviously you’re just looking to solve your problem, which is that you need to re-up on your supplements, right?
C: The second pain point that you’re probably going to be looking at is, okay, now that I have 4 choices here in front of me and they all contain the same supplements? Which one is going to be the best for my price range, for my budget? So then you’re probably going to automatically start comparing them on price. But then there’s a third element there, and the third element is going to be, “How much do I trust this brand?” If it wasn’t recommended to you by another person you know, how well do you know each one of these supplement brands? Who’s behind them? Who’s making them? How are they formulated? Are they ethically sourced? Is it designed by a mom for other moms? So there’s going to be that third decision making process there, and that’s where a good product description, or a good headline, or a product headline can come in.
N: Now, and you’re not even talking about the aesthetic of it yet, are you?
C: No, no, no. Because yeah, a product’s aesthetic is a totally different ballgame. But you want to make sure the copy you have reflects the aesthetic of the brand. So for example, I worked with a client who had an all-natural, organic formula muscle rub, and their target audience was lifelong athletes and aging athletes, so even though they’re a family run business, and their formula is really organic and natural, they weren’t going to take a feminine approach to the copywriting on the product. The product itself was designed to look very masculine, and so therefore all the copy had to sound pretty masculine, too.
C: So you want to make sure your product descriptions reflect your brand as well, so if your brand is really fun, it’s brightly colorful, you can have a lot of fun with the product description as well. I’m trying to think of an example—
N: Like Flintstone vitamins.
C: Like Flintstones, yeah. There’s a significant difference between the way Flintstones is going to describe their vitamins versus….
N: A prenatal.
C: Yeah, exactly. So the way we see it, there are 4 essential components for product descriptions. For those of you who have online websites, and e-commerce websites, the following discussion is totally for you, so get ready to take some notes and pay attention. But there are 4 essential components for great product descriptions that create conversions, which means they sell your stuff on your e-commerce sites. So the first on is disruptive headlines and product names. By disruptive headlines and product names, we don’t mean just shock value, but that you’re thinking about your product, and naming your product in a way that’s a little bit different. So we hear the word “disruption” thrown around a lot, and it’s really annoying, and I’m personally not a fan of it. But you want to be somebody who does change the dynamic in your marketplace. iTunes disrupted the music industry by changing listening formats. Uber disrupted the taxi industry. Disruption creates visibility.
Let me say that again: disruption creates and promotes visibility.
You want to create visibility on your headlines and your product names. Customers would rather buy a candle that’s called Cayenne Orange rather than one that’s just labeled Sweet and Spicy because everything’s sweet and spicy, right?
C: But if something’s labeled as Cayenne Orange, well that brings to mind some visuals, it brings to mind some smells, some tastes, that immediate comparison. So the first thing you have to think about is are your products named in a way that’s going to grab attention and promote that visibility? But at the same time, they also do make sense, they’re clear, but they’re compelling. I think that this is one of the hardest things for people to come up with. If you’re struggling to come up with headlines and product names, then skip those for a second. Just put a place holder there, put a pin in it, and work from the inside of the product description outward. What I mean by that is start talking about, and describing, and writing the product description first, and then that might inspire your headline, and then your product name. So work from the inside out if you’re really struggling to come up with a headline or product name instead. Some people work really well with coming up with titles and product names naturally, and other people really struggle with it, and it becomes the bottleneck in their process. I know for example, I have to come up with titles for my podcast episodes and for my blog posts, and I’ll be inspired by those titles for the rest of the content. Other people have the exact opposite approach. They have to write the content out first before they can think of a good headline or a title.
Same thing goes for your product descriptions, so if you’re struggling, just try to flip it and work a different way.
N: Okay. That’s awesome.
C: Yeah. So let’s talk about Trader Joe’s for a second, because first off Trader Joe’s is awesome. But second, they are a master of disruption in product names. For example, they don’t call their tofurkeys, or their vegetarian turkeys, “vegetarian turkey.” They don’t put that on the label. What they do call it is, “breaded turkey-less stuffed roast with gravy.” First off, “breaded turkey-less stuffed roast” sounds really good, but without putting too fine a point on what it’s actually made of.
C: And then with the gravy, it has a little bit of a value add to it as well, and it actually sounds really delicious. I’m not even a vegetarian. I’m an omnivore, but I would probably eat the heck out of that.
N: Yeah. Sounds way fancy.
C: Yeah. They also, I mean they’re naturally quirky, but they just really find a good way to take a lot of products, products that are sold in grocery stores all over the place, you know, packaged foods, and they find a way to name their particular products in a way that grabs attention, but also totally reflects their brand. Their brand is a little quirky and fun, and they try to bring that in to some of their product names.
So moving on, the second essential component for a product description that will sell is product storytelling. This is the part, like I said, it’s sort of the third influencer in whether or not someone’s going to buy your thing over the next thing on the shelf. So product storytelling is a must. It doesn’t mean you have to write a novel. It doesn’t mean you have to create videos and a ton of content around your product storytelling, although it’s helpful. But just think about, “Hey, I’m working with one paragraph here on my e-commerce site and my product description, and I’ve got to tell a story. What story am I going to tell?”
This technique is often overlooked in e-commerce, but when you show the impact that the product creates, even if it’s not transformational or life changing, it can still sell really, really well.
N: Okay, but like, I’m feeling challenged by making a story in such a small space. How do you do that?
C: Okay, so for example, let’s say you’re selling crackers, like the snacks that you eat.
N: Mm, you’ve got my attention now.
C: [laughing] Okay. Here’s actually a product description designed to sell crackers. Ready? Here we go. “In the 16th century, John Pearson decided he wanted to create a biscuit with a longer shelf life. So he mixed only flour and water, and baked it. He didn’t get a biscuit, though. He got a cracker, the tastiest food that never spoils. The thing is, crackers aren’t just for sailors and soldiers anymore. They’re the perfect foundation for your party’s unforgettable hors d’oeuvres, or for simply crunching on when you’re on a Netflix binge.”
N: Ooh, that is good.
C: It’s, literally, any product can hold a story inside of it. You should use that to your advantage. So whether you’re selling flowers. Whether you’re selling consumer packaged goods like crackers. Whether you’re selling beauty products. I think it’s a little bit harder sometimes with services and we can have a whole different episode about that, but when it comes to product descriptions, everything you sell has a story behind it, whether it’s a story of the ingredient, it’s a history, it’s a customer story or a testimonial, it’s like a vignette of something. You’re painting a scene for someone. All of them have storytelling. Storytelling has a beginning, a middle, and an end, right? But the end should always end with landing right in front of the customer.
C: So you always want to land that product right in front of the customer and tell them, “Here’s why it’s important for you right now.”
N: Oh, cool. Yes, that’s why they ended on Netflix binge.
C: Mm-hmm. Exactly. I was like, “Oh, wow. That story’s perfectly for me.” [laughing]
N: [laughing] You know, this all makes me think of how Elaine on Seinfeld used to write product descriptions for the J. Peterman catalog.
C: Yes. [laughing] Oh, so good.
N: Yep. The listeners should comment with some of the best of those, those leather jacket descriptions or something like that. That would really be funny.
C: I love it. Yes, please do. That would be amazing. Okay, so going back to our 4 components for product descriptions that sell. The first one, like we said, is disruptive headlines and product names. The second one is good product storytelling. The third one is quirkiness. Don’t be afraid to be quirky or authentic. So like Natalie said at the beginning of the episode, I have a very authentic intro, and an authentic voice, so I’ve learned to embrace that over the last 2 years.
So don’t fear quirkiness when it comes to your product descriptions. Successful product descriptions are not easily forgettable. They’re memorable. When you play it safe, you end up with a mediocre product that sounds exactly like the one sitting next to it on the shelf. Or, and I say on the shelf, but I also mean on the digital shelf. Like when someone’s visiting your e-commerce site, you want it to not only stick out on your site, but you want it to stick out with your competitors. To illustrate our point, we have to go back to Trader Joe’s for a second, because I think they’re really good.
C: So I love their copywriter team because their copywriters put out—Natalie, have you ever seen their fearless flyer?
N: I can’t say that I have.
C: Okay. So their fearless flyer is a black and white newspaper style print book that’s sent to homes around the country. Their fearless flyer is basically a regular direct mailing from Trader Joe’s that highlights some of their grocery store specials. They don’t put it on a timed special. They just highlight the products themselves seasonally to inspire people in their cooking. So their copywriters, because they’re not dealing with a limited time only, or this is a buy-one-get-one-free sale, what they do instead to compel people to read on is they turn to history and facts and wacky legends to get the point across. Their storytelling and their quirkiness is very reflective of how their brand has been from the very beginning.
For example, here’s one paragraph that they wrote in a fearless flyer to highlight one of their products. Here we go:
One bright spring afternoon, a Trader Joe’s crew member decided to whip up her grandmother’s legendary sweet potato pie as a treat for the rest of us. That one selfless, sugary act raised an important question amongst the pie eaters in the test kitchen that day: why hadn’t we ever offered a sweet potato pie in our stores? That day’s impromptu tasting set things in motion. The happy result? Trader Joe’s Sweet Potato Pie with a touch of maple-bourbon flavor, and boy is it good.
That’s it. That’s how they highlight their seasonal product that’s new.
N: That is so much better than like a flyer that’s just consumed with numbers, and cents, and signs, and prices.
C: Yeah. And that’s the opening paragraph of that product description. And then the product description goes on to illustrate the ingredients, and the ingredient sourcing, and the experience of what it’s like to have that sweet potato pie. But this opening angle showcases humanity, and Trader Joe’s lifelong focus on its people. That brand is all about the people that they employ, so it just kind of shows how we do this for our friends, so why can’t we do it for our customers? I think that’s such an amazing way to describe a product.
Then last but not least is don’t just write about the product itself, but write about the experience. So Natalie, like I said, specifications will only go so far. You’re looking for your B12, check. You’re looking for your folic acid, check. While your audience wants the product details, they also want to know how it’s going to make them feel, and how the product will improve their lives. This is something that often, you’re going to hear this from marketers all the time, is that don’t talk about the features, talk about the benefits. But I think in the case of products, you have to talk about the features to get people’s attention so they can check those boxes. They can say, “Yes, okay, I’m looking for this basic thing, but now I need to make an emotional decision around buying this product.” That’s where the experience comes into the product description.
Even if the offering is really small, or seems really dumb, or just kind of a daily part of life, chances are it’s still going to create an impact in some way or another. For example, if you’re selling tires, tires are your products, you can write about the increased safety and how that will give drivers peace of mind. Or if you run a coffee shop, and your product is coffee, write about the experience of spending an afternoon with a spellbinding book and a strong, fragrant cup of coffee. And even something as simple as candles can bring about the experience that a buyer wouldn’t have without the product.
N: Yeah, that makes me think of that movement right now, that I’m totally going to mispronounce, but it’s like this Danish thing that everybody’s talking about.
C: Oh, yeah, um…
C: Hygge, I think? Yeah.
N: Is that what it is?
C: It’s, yeah, it’s H-Y-G-G-E, and it is not pronounced HY-g, and it’s not pronounced hi-gah. It’s pronounced something else. And neither Natalie and I can do it. [laughing]
C: We just can’t pronounce it.
N: We can do British pretty well, but just not Danish.
C: Oh, yeah. [laughing] We can do British pretty well. So essentially what this word translates to is coziness, and the act of living cozy, or embracing cozy, like bringing coziness into your life, right?
C: So a lot of people are selling products based on the fact that their products contribute to that lifestyle and to that value of wanting to build that coziness into their homes and into their lives.
N: Cool. Okay, that’s a good trick our listeners can use.
C: Yeah. So for example, if you sell a candle, and you want to write a paragraph description, then maybe you could write the following, and notice that it talks a little bit about the features, but then it blends in the experience, or the potential experience for the customer. Okay, so here we go. This is one paragraph:
The unmistakable aroma of apples will fill your home or office with a comforting scent that brings warmth and relaxation. With just a dash of cinnamon, this apple soy candle emits a full-bodied fragrance that cultivates a comforting environment in your home. Light the wick any time you want to unwind with a good book, soak in a bubble bath, or turn your living room into a fragrant orchard before family and friends arrive for a gathering.
N: That’s beautiful. Yeah, seriously. I’m not even being sarcastic. That is beautiful. That’s what people want for their life. They want that.
C: Yeah, exactly. So just to revisit, think about how you can blend the experience in with the features. Don’t be afraid to be quirky if your brand is quirky, and don’t be afraid to do the exact opposite of what your competitors are doing. So I’ve given this advice multiple times over multiple podcast episodes, and I’m telling you to don’t be afraid to just run in the opposite direction of your competitors and do something totally different. Pull a 180, and let that quirkiness come out. Or just try something different and see if it works for you.
Then we have product storytelling. So find a story that goes with your product, something that’s got a beginning, middle, and end. And then last but not least, think about disruptive headlines and products names, those things that will grab attention but not just shock for shock value. What I mean by that is, you know, we’re seeing a lot more expletives used in headlines and book titles and product names, and it’s like, you know, obviously I can’t say them now, but it’s like, “Crafty B****” or “Don’t Give A F***” or “The A**hole Shaving Cream” or [laughing] you know. It’s like, sure, yes, that product name certainly disrupts someone’s day and attention span and grabs attention, but I think there’s just a fine line between the ability to compel someone to look somewhere, and then using crudeness to get there. Just think about that. It doesn’t have to be way over the top. If you’re a circus, sure, go for it. But if you’re not an actual circus, just think about how you can elegantly disrupt headlines and product names.
N: Okay. Yeah, because what you gain in disruption, you lose in credibility probably.
C: Ooh, yes. I love that. What you gain in disruption, you can lose in credibility. Holy cow, Natalie. That’s a tweetable right there.
C: Everybody just tweet that out. I’m going to tweet that right now on the podcast. Excuse me for a moment.
N: Oh my gosh. You’re flattering me.
C: But it’s true. It’s true. Listen to Natalie. Just write down those 4 essential components for product descriptions that sell. Practice, practice, practice. Write out a couple different variations. Test them on a few of your customers or clients. See if they’ve got any valuable feedback for you. Don’t test them with your mom or your spouse, because they’re going to love anything that you write. So I would say, you know, make sure your staff weighs in. Makes sure, too, that also in any product descriptions and any copy that you write, make sure you get a diverse range of feedback. Because we live in a society where we’ve got to be thinking about looking at things from all angles and making sure that we’re aware and sensitive to our culture and our society and the needs of our audience at this time. Make sure you test all these things too,
N: Okay, great.
C: All right. So I hope you all go forth and you write amazing product descriptions that sell millions of dollars worth of your product and make your customers super happy, and they love you until the end of time. In the meantime, we will be back next week for Episode 99, in which, oh man, we’re going to be winding down season 2, and we’re going to be giving you some of our best marketing storytelling tips of the entire podcast actually.
N: Ooh, fun!
C: Yeah. In 20 minutes. [laughing] It’s going to be like a mashup.
N: Oh, perfect. And by the way, when Catherine says 20 minutes, she means 30.
C: Yeah, I know.
N: That’s because she always over delivers.
C: [laughing] I care too much! All right everyone, if you enjoyed this episode, please go to iTunes and leave us a review and a star so that other businesses can find us. We can’t wait to see you next week on Episode 99 with our best marketing storytelling tips in 20-ish minutes. [laughing] And until then, market better, be better, and have a great week.