Writing Better Product Descriptions

Let’s be honest, your product descriptions probably suck.

When speaking in front of an audience of web designers, I would usually touch on how the CEO is the worst person in the organization to make web design decisions, and I say this because they know their business too well – the more you know about something the greater the disconnect between you and the people you’re trying to sell your product to who don’t have your insight.  Great CEO’s who know everything there is to know about their business and product often have difficulty conveying the points of their products that are important to their customers, not just the “cool features” that were important to them in the product development cycle.  Even Steve Jobs struggled with this, but the difference between him and the rest of us is that he was surrounded by communications experts and writers who could sort through the lingo and craft a marketable message out of it.

I used to make this mistake myself quite often.  I remember giving a demo of my eCommerce platform to a consumer products company, and I spent way too much time talking about some of the high-end ultra-advanced customer retention features that I was the most impressed with. At the end, they didn’t really understand what a lot of that stuff meant – their web team would have, but the higher-ups just needed to know if it could do some specific things and would work within the context of what they were already doing.  My focus on the more advanced aspects of the platform was a distraction from what they were trying to figure out.  And that’s exactly what happens with most product descriptions – they’re written by people who “know too much”.

For an example of how to do this right, take a look at Nokia’s new Lumia 1020 – these guys just came out with a phone that sports a 41 megapixel camera. For those who aren’t up to par on the latest in camera technology, your phone is probably somewhere between 4 and 12 megapixels.  Forty one is higher than pretty much every camera on the market – not just phone cameras, but point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras as well. Kind of a big deal so let’s take a look at how they describe the product on their own website:

 

Your moments captured like never before.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 takes photos and video that no other smartphone can match with a 41 megapixel camera sensor, PureView technology, Optical Image Stabilization and amazing high-resolution zoom.

Take photos like a pro.

Capturing stunning images is easier than ever with Nokia Pro Camera. Take your photos to a new level by adjusting focus, shutter speed, white balance and more with easy and intuitive controls.

Video that brings back the moment.

Capture full HD video, and zoom in up to four times without losing quality. And with Nokia Rich Recording, you can capture distortion -free, stereo sound – so you can relive the moment as if you were there again.

 

Note the use of the wording… what they’ve done a great job with here was crafting a product description that mixed emotion with features.  It answered all of the questions of both the technical and non-technical users will have, making emotional points like “relive the moment as if you were there again” that everyone wants, mixed in with features like shutter speed, white-balance, and manual focus that only shuttergeeks will care about.

But what would happen if we were to split this up and only focus on one audience?  Here’s an example:

The Nokia Lumia 1020 includes a 41 megapixel camera sensor, optical image stabilization, high-resolution zoom, manual focus, shutter speed, white balance, and HD video with 4x zoom.

Had they gone with this description – which how most of the websites selling cell phones look – they would have alienated all but the shuttergeeks and camera enthusiasts.  It doesn’t speak to the mom who wants to be able to take a shot of her kid’s track team as they break the ribbon at the finish line, or record a school play without the annoying background noise or hard-to-see digital zoom that prevails in most video cameras. They would love this phone, but it doesn’t tell them why they would love it.

Lets look at the opposite side – what if their description had gone only for the emotional connection and ignored the features:

The Nokia Lumia 1020 takes photos and video that no other smartphone can match, and lets you capture stunning images easily. Capture full HD video and stereo sound and relive the moment as if you were there again.

In this version, it sounds like every other phone on the market. Everyone says their product is the best, that means nothing in a sales pitch, but what’s worse is they would have ignored the market segment that was most likely to drop what they’re doing and run to the store to buy it.

In the end, they came up with the perfect balance. Hopefully this example gets you thinking about how your own product descriptions come across, and how you could adapt them to come up with a great description like Nokia has.  But how do you take it to that level?  There’s a little trick I use that I’ll share with you:

  1. Pretend you’ve been asked by an elementary school to speak about your product and describe it to a classroom of fourth-graders.  How would you describe it?  Write down exactly what speech you would give.
  2. Now repeat the same exercise as if you were speaking in front of a group of high school students.
  3. Then, if applicable, create a bullet-point list of the technical specs.

This accomplishes a couple of goals: first, it breaks down your product into the most simple, emotional, basic form. Then, it expands on it to an audience that’s intelligent enough to know what they want but probably not intelligent enough to know what makes it tick.  Your final product description is somewhere within what you would have said to the high school students, with bold emphasis on the phrases you used with the elementary school students.  And the nerds who “get it” and don’t need it dumbed down will skip straight to the bullet points.

 

 

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