Omnichannel commerce | Creative
The Dynamic Duo of Product Descriptions
October 20, 2015
When you're writing product copy—the actual descriptions of the items you sell—for your website, catalogue, or even in-store display, it's easy to get hung up on the niceties: Am I capturing the voice of the brand? Are my sentences too long? Do I have enough keywords? Did I jam in too many keywords?
Of course those things are important. But they're the sort of thing you should focus on after you've written the first draft of your description, making sure to include the dynamic duo of product copy: features and benefits.
Features are the elements of a product worthy of being called out. A loaf of bread's features could include that it's gluten-free, halal, kosher, and baked in small batches. For a blouse, the features might include that it is machine washable, is made of organic cotton, and has double-stitched seams.
Features are usually the easiest to identify and to include in copy. You can simply list them with bullet points rather than weave them into sentences of flowing prose. In fact, for appliances, machinery, technical gear, and other products where the buying decision hinges more on function than fashion, listing the features makes it easier for shoppers to compare and contrast similar items.
Benefits are what the product can do for the shopper. Sometimes it seems like a no-brainer: A dishwasher will provide clean dishes. But when that's the case, you need to clarify the benefits particular to that dishwasher: Because it has a sanitise option, you can even use it to safely clean baby bottles, say, or it uses less energy, saving you money.
As you can see, often the benefits are tied closely to the features. In those cases, you need to spell out for shoppers why and how those features benefit them. Let's take the double-stitched seams of the blouse we mentioned earlier: The benefit is that the item is less likely to rip, which means it will last longer. Or perhaps you've mentioned that the saucepan is aluminium. That feature may not mean anything to the shopper until you detail the benefits of aluminum cookware, such as how it conducts heat evenly, making cooking almost foolproof.
Here's a product description from New Pig, a supplier of industrial absorbents, spill control, and safety products. Its bulleted description explains the features and benefits of its SpillBlocker Dike flawlessly:
• Exclusive New Pig formulation features a tear-resistant top layer and a flexible, tacky bottom layer that seals tight to smooth surfaces and blocks liquids
• Fast protection for when a spill is heading right for your drain; just place dike in front of spill to contain liquid
• Built-in dovetail connectors create a liquid-proof seal and allow you to join as many sections as you need without extra parts
• Confines and diverts fluids without absorbing them, making cleanup or reclamation simpler
• 3" height is great for containing deeper pools of liquid and larger flows
• Polyurethane material resists water, oil and many chemicals
• Smaller sections are easy to handle and deploy
• Reusable dikes clean easily with soap and water
image: Newpig product screengrab
Simply stating "polyurethane" as a feature doesn't explain the benefit of that feature. But adding that the material "resists water, oil and many chemicals" certainly does.
Detailing the benefits can get tricky for items that are more decorative than functional. It's one reason copy for luxuries such as jewelry tends to be either sparse or merely descriptive, often with heaps of empty adjectives tossed in. Nonetheless, you can highlight certain benefits of even nonfunctional products to help shoppers make a purchasing decision. A gold bracelet will set off a tan perfectly; dangling gemstone earrings flatter the complexion. A statement necklace is all you need to transform a work outfit into one ready for a night on the town.
When calling out benefits, you need to really empathise with your target customer. If you're selling clothes primarily to trend-conscious teens and young adults, you might want to home in on how fashionable and cute a dress will make the wearer feel; if your audience is women with young families, you might call out how low-maintenance and durable it is; for more mature women or those who skew toward larger sizes, you might cite its figure-flattering benefits.
One thing you don't want to do is pad out your product copy with those empty adjectives I mentioned earlier. "Beautiful," "gorgeous," "pretty": They add absolutely nothing to the conversation. Beauty (and gorgeousness and prettiness) is in the eye of the beholder; the shopper will decide if an item is indeed beautiful—and if she has already clicked onto the product page, she no doubt already has.
Instead, use adjectives that actually provide useful information. "Iridescent," "weathered," and "teal," for instance, can help compensate for inaccurate rendering of the product photo on the viewer's device. "Silken," "nubby," and "velvety" help make up for an inability to feel the product in person. "Rustic," "sleek," or "baroque" may reiterate what is apparent in the product photography, but at least they're specific enough to aid in search engine optimisation.
The features of a product and how the product will benefit the consumer: Highlighting those features and benefits likely to be of most importance to your target audience is the key to writing product descriptions that sell. Pretty simple, when you think about—honest!