Making the Sale With Great Product Descriptions

"It's all about benefits..."

By Steve Myers

How do you come up with your product description? When creating a listing on eBay, you describe what you're selling and its feature. But what makes one description sell a product where another fails?

It all begins with benefits... not features. OK, so what's the difference? A feature describes something about the product. The benefit tells you what the feature does for you. It says why you should care that the product has this feature.

Good eBay listings highlight the product's benefits. But how do you know what's a benefit for your audience? You've got to know a bit about not only the product itself, but about your audience. You need to understand both what they know and what they don't. Let me explain.

I know a quite a bit about computers. But most who buy a computer don't have this expertise. So if I'm listing a computer on eBay, I can't assume that everyone will know what a specific feature does for them.

For example, if I mentioned that the computer had "dual SCSI drives in striped RAID configuration" you'd likely have no idea what I was talking about. However, if I said, "redundant, fast hard drives, so you'll never lose your data if one crashes" you know what I'm talking about.

The first description described a feature. The second pointed out a benefit, which explained why you care that the computer has this feature. Congratulations, you've passed Marketing 101. You'd be surprised to find out how much sales copy out there (especially on the Web) fails to speak to benefits.

OK, back to our example. Earlier, I stated that you have to know your audience. In the case of computers, you'll have more than one kind of customer. Effective copy speaks to the needs of each.

Above we wrote a benefits-based description of the hard drives ("redundant, fast hard drives, so you'll never lose your data if one crashes"). For a non-technical audience, this is a great benefit statement. However, for a hard-core geek like myself, it wouldn't be enough. I would want to know what kind of RAID, how many drives, and so on. I would want very specific, very technical descriptions.

Because I know a lot about computers, understanding the feature implies the benefit. But because you speak to multiple audiences at once, you often need both a benefits-based description for those with less knowledge and feature-based descriptions for those comparing specific features of two or more similar eBay listings.

So how do you satisfy both audiences? The best eBay listings I have seen start off with a benefits-based statement at the top of the listing. Then they have a list of bullet-points highlighting the features the benefits stem from.

It's a useful exercise to try to view your listings as your potential customer. In marketing, we do audience analysis to understand the needs, wants, and fears of those who might want to purchase our product.

Before you create your listing, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who might want to buy my product?
  • Why do they want to buy it? (What need will it satisfy?)
  • What is their experience level with this product? (Do I need to educate them as to what benefit a feature provides?)
  • How can I frame my product's features as benefits that give them a compelling reason to buy my product instead of competing products?

When you understand your product and your audience, the product description will almost write itself.

Besides, consider who you're up against. Many eBay listings copy the product description straight from the manufacturer's Web site or sales literature. If there's two identical products for sale on eBay, how do you differentiate yourself?

Connect in a personal way. Most product descriptions written by the product manufacturer will sound dry as the Sahara. So add a bit of your personality. Write with a friendly tone, like one person talking with another. If your description sounds like it came out of a brochure, you've lost a chance to differentiate yourself.

An informal tone of voice disarms people. We are bombarded by literally thousands of advertisements, logos, and other attempts to interrupt what we are doing and get our attention. My kids ask me for something in completely different ways than advertisers ask for my dollars. My friends ask for help using different words as well.

Let your personality come out in your writing. If you're enthusiastic about a benefit of your product, let your reader know you're excited about it. But it has to be sincere.

When advertisers use lots of bold or all capitalized text with lots of exclamation points, you can almost feel yourself saying, "Oh brother! Do they really think that's going to work anymore?" Your readers will believe your sincere enthusiasm. Hype makes them roll their eyes at an amateurish attempt to get them excited. Your audience does know the difference and they see right through hype.

To sum it all up, put yourself in your customer's mindset. When you understand what drives them to buy, you'll have the edge over your competition.

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