How to Write Great Product Descriptions

"It's all about benefits..."

By Steve Nye

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.

Highlight the Benefits

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.

Let's say that you are selling a computer on eBay. You look at the box or the owner's manual and jot down a whole list of "features" this computer contains.

For example, if I were selling a computer and explained in my product description that the computer had "dual SCSI drives in striped RAID configuration" you'd likely have no idea what I was talking about. You can't assume that everyone will know what a specific feature does for them.

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.

Knowing Your Audience

OK, back to our example. Earlier, I stated that you have to know a little bit about your audience in addition to the product. 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 computer guru, it wouldn't be enough. They would want to know what kind of RAID, how many drives, and so on. These types of buyers are looking for very specific, very technical descriptions.

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. If you don't have a list of the exact features for the product you are selling, you can often go the the manufacturer's Web site and obtain this information.

Put Yourself in the Customer's Shoes

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.

It's important to remember that you are not just trying to reach out to the customer, but you are also competing against other sellers. Many sellers create their eBay listing descriptions solely on 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? This is when your explanation of the benefits set your listing apart from the competition. A description with both features and benefits is much more appealing.

The point I'm trying to make is that your description is your opportunity to 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. You are competing with all of these voices as well, so you need to stand out.

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. How has it helped you? Why would you recommend it? Do you stand by your recommendation? Remember, all of this 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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