Product descriptions shouldn't be dull
I don't care if it's got titanium casing. Image ©
How many product descriptions for fashion items or, indeed, technology items start with a list of features? Then continue listing features till the end, losing readers all the way. Most of them, I'm sure you'll agree.

Which goes a long way to explaining why you probably trust product reviews more than you trust company product descriptions. Whether you're in the business of writing them or just reading them. Reviews have character - they deal in bangs, not boring lists.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

Ownership vs viewing pane
Product descriptions can use the same pulling techniques as sales letters and web page copy. Because descriptions also talk to people - people who are ALREADY interested in the product. They just need to get a taste for HAVING the product.

That means avoiding too much technical detail (this can go in a separate summary). It means writing in active voice, and emphasising benefits and advantages alongside features. Readers can pick up essential details like size, weight, etc., from a text box more easily than if they are within the description itself.

Opening with action

This post from the Ben Locker Agency gives The Ideal description template. And the first sentence of each product description is key. BLA tells you to open with action, and they aren't alone.

In Words That Sell, Richard Bayan includes a section for opening lines. Yes, his focus is sales letters and advertisements, but the rules work for product descriptions too. I've listed some of my favourites (some from Bayan's list, some not). I like them because they are concise and each one will appeal to a different customer. By the way, 'X' (below) does not have to be the product.

Get ready to X       
Explore the X
Capture the X
Relive the X
Savour the X
Slip into X
Feel the rush of X
Get to grips with X
Breathe in the X
Breathe life into Y with the X
Get ahead
Go all out
Improve your X
Relax with X
Be brave in X
Be bold with X
Make a statement with X
Strengthen your X
Do something extraordinary
Let your imagination go wild
Challenge yourself
Experience the X

Please go ahead and leave me your best openers for descriptions in the Comments. Or ones which you see all the time and drive you mad...

It's Week 2 of my word collection session, and as promised, here's a post on handy words for perfume product descriptions.

Creating triggers without knowing the product
Scent is reputedly the most powerful sense for triggering memories and emotions. These are exactly what I want as a copywriter: triggers. But I also need to give readers an idea at least of what they get in the bottle.

The trouble is that the number and variety of exotic ingredients that go into perfumes is almost terrifying. And it's one thing to write a product description having inhaled a fragrance and another to imagine what it's like based on an organic ingredients list that doesn't mention the chemicals that go into most scents. Plus, I have no idea what 'cassia', or 'cashmere wood' smell like.

So I try to focus on emotions and images that evoke types of fragrance 'notes' and will appeal to certain people.

Popular triggers centre on selfishness
This word collection is grouped for different feelings that the brand might want to elicit in buyers. No surprise, they centre on sex, power, and freedom - and this runs across the sexes. Some of the words appear in multiple categories.

sparkling        delicate        zesty        sunny        vibrant        wholesome        green        fresh        alive        open        light        natural        healthy        sporty        water        zing        pick-me-up        bright        floral        forest        cool        sunlit        young      

alluring        beguiling        irresistible        intimate        sultry        creamy        musky        luscious        evocative        memorable        smooth        oriental        feminine     masculine         earthy        satisfying        precious        sensual        hot        fiery        heat        intense       warm

alluring        irresistible        musky        vibrant        strong        masculine        feminine        zesty        sporty        sensual        intense        rugged        lean        earthy        woody        deep        dark        mature        full-bodied        edge       

Let me know in the Comments what words you go to when you want to trigger certain feelings.  Do you know if some work better than others? Are there certain words you avoid like death?


I'm going through a product descriptions phase this month. Mostly for online retailers who need their wares written up asap or yesterday. A lot of the products are fascinating - I love cameras - but, as you'd expect, I also write about stuff that's just...well...stuff.

No such thing as inspired product descriptions
Things like vacuum cleaners, hair straighteners, and plain T-shirts. And let's face it, even the interesting products get less fun to write about after you've completed 115.

So what's the easy way to keep going without taking the shine out of the writing? And without tipping over into superlatives. Sure sign of madness. No one believes a hairdryer is the most  exciting, passion-arousing piece of technology ever.

It's all about word collections
I've taken to making word collections. These are mini-libraries of related words and phrases that I run to when I can't think of another way to say the same thing. And in this post I'm sharing the one I made for digital cameras and camcorders. It's divided by purpose, so certain words deal with durability, others are for size, and still others deal with performance.

Next week, I'll do the same with product description terms for perfumes.

If anyone has more to share that would be great. Let me know if you think these are rubbish. Or let me know your set-up for writing fresh product descriptions even when you think you've hit the wall and can't come up with more.

true-to-life    epic    vivid    proven    selection    practical    you're in control
convincing    heavyweight    panoramic scope    clarifies    flexible    delivers
vibrant    realistic    options    versatile    time-saving    fast, easy access    corrects
on demand    ready to go    compatible    adjustable    ready to use    creates

compact styling    lean    weighs a scant xxx    pocket-sized    mobile   
space-saving    go-anywhere    a little giant    neat    travels anywhere

rugged    robust    well-built    rock-solid    seamless    long-wearing
tough    resilient    strong    backed-tough   


Does anyone like reading brochures? Even if you're a car fanatic with the full specs of the latest Ferrari in your paws, wouldn't you rather just get behind the wheel?

Good brochure writing gets across all the information a customer needs or wants to know about a product. You know, those pesky features as well as the advantages. But 'information' isn't always interesting. Information is not a story. It's not as gripping as the feel or sight or smell of a thing. Most brochures just don't tell stories.

But they can.

Or rather, you can.

I worked with one designer on a 20-page organic foods brochure. Neither of us eats organic. But it's not hard to see what people who do eat organic like about the concept.

They like to know where their food comes from. They like the idea that organic food might be healthier and tastes better than regular food. Perhaps they like the idea that they can afford organic. Whereas other people can't. How should we play up on these feelings?

The brochure had to show that the extra cost of organic food proves just how good the products are (and how good the eaters are by extension). It had to show the scents, textures and flavours. As though the readers were tasting the products right then and there. To paraphrase Joe Sugarman, we wanted to make them feel like they already own the products.

It's harder to walk away from something you feel a connection with.

But when most people skip through brochures, how do you build a connection?

Brochure writing as fairytale
So we made a storybook. The simple story of one product that covered the bases (growing method, packing, taste, sustainability). From plant nursery to field to factory. And then, of course, to happy homes of organic-food eaters. The story was the brochure copy's spine, its organizing structure. What was the advantage?

It let us pack in loads of features and advantages without just listing them and losing people. The story thread carried readers through the brochure. While the features, benefits and advantages of the other products could be shown in pictures and text boxes along the way. Readers who might not have been interested in lemongrass tea would be led there by the story anyway. And maybe consider trying it.

Was the brochure ever published?

I've no idea. We never found out - which is odd. But makes for a poignant fairytale ending.

Social media identity theft is on the rise. It was bound to happen. What could be easier than tapping into an open book of where, why, how, and with who someone is doing stuff? And how they are paying for it, of course.

But can anyone else be the REAL you?

Id, ego, super-ego - they're all on Facebook
Pretty much everyone has a defined sense of who they are. Your ego - the conscious identity - is this defined self. The rational side that justifies your actions. While the id holds all those primordial impulses to satisfy basic wants and needs. You're born with it. Your super-ego, meanwhile, keeps the ego in check by laying down the learned moral law. (Otherwise you'd be bad, wouldn't you?) Together, they make up your personality.

But don't worry, I won't go too Freudian - there's too much going on in your mind. Right?

I'll just ask you this: knowing all those things going on in your mind, do you think anyone can imitate the way you express them? Either in person or online? Can anyone be Brand You?

Make sure the social media you is the real you
Of course not. Or at least, no one should be able to - IF you've been expressing yourself. Let me give you an example.

Diego Siles, of Siles Networker, is a social media manager par excellence. He lives what he does. Go to a networking event with Siles and he will identify people who are useful to each other, introduce them, and get the conversation going. That is what social media is about: exchange of information and favours that reinforces a positive perception.

And I don't mean just buy-from-me-I-buy-from-you. Social media is about sharing something you think someone else will find beautiful or helpful or plain hilarious because you feel that way about it too. It's about revealing a bit of your own personality in order to connect with those who have something in common with you. That's what offline relationships are built on. The same goes for online.

3 ideas for a consistent online personality
1. Make sure you know what clients/customers think of you and your offering so you can answer their needs directly. Social media is a part of the end goal (selling more, to more people, more often, at higher prices). Your use of it should serve that goal, which means serving customers.

2. Write on the ground. While someone else can make your social media strategy, someone active in your company must do the writing, pinning and tagging. People know the real thing from someone pretending to be the real thing. And they'll respond accordingly.

3. Be ready to change approach depending on how things are going. Maybe you don't have time to be on Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and Facebook. Maybe two of them work better for you than the rest. There is no reason to use media that don't appeal to your customers or prospects, or don't suit your style.

As the rise of social search progresses, businesses have to accept that social media presence is vital. The key is to have an online personality (hint: brand) that is easy to keep consistent. And the easiest way to do that is to be yourself.

Write a comfy selling environment
Selling environment - not just the cherry on top
What's your favourite part of going somewhere new? I love getting lost and finding stuff I would never have seen if I knew where I was. My brother likes the contrasts he finds in everyday places like food shops. And some people simply hate new places. But they're not reading this so I'll ask you another question.

If you don't like the people in the place you visit, how does that affect your sense of it?

I bet you want to leave quick. You don't feel comfortable.

Tea and a good selling environment
Well, think about what triggers those feelings when you put together an advertisement or any sales materials. Because no one stays around if they feel uncomfortable.

But people will spend a fair amount of time - and much more money - in an environment they like.

Which is something the Japanese have developed into an art form. And I'm not talking about the terrifyingly-expensive-gift tradition - I saw Valentine's Day bowls of cherries for £200.

No, the simplest way of putting people at ease is with a 'hello'. And every small shop does just that. Some of them go a step further and offer green tea. It's a very familiar gesture that resonates with customers - and it's cheap.

Writing the selling environment
Sadly, you can't offer cups of tea with every web page. But it doesn't have to cost a lot to create a good selling environment. Online or on paper. All it needs is attention to detail when thinking about the customer. And that requires patience.

What environment will make them feel at home (and therefore not pressured)? What images and words do they relate to right away, without thinking? The answers to these questions provide the base for the copy layout. And flag up which words to include that will make the customer absorb your message quickly and easily.

The idea is to make reading the copy (and buying the message) so easy that they don't have a reason to stop.

However, if your copy style doesn't fit with the publication it's in, or your brochure looks too flashy, no one will read past the headline. The layout, the tone of voice, and the words used have to make people feel they are listening to someone they would speak to by choice. In other words, the writing has to make them feel comfortable.

A reader of Private Eye will accept dry humour in copy and expect precise English. Someone browsing Daily Candy online will click with trend words like 'commitmentphobe'. If the environment you create contains familiar things, then the customer will sink into it.

And be more receptive to the brand message or sales pitch.

Japanese ads love English
Enjoy your life! Enjoy your socks style!
I spent the past two weeks in Japan, visiting family and learning shedloads. Not least about writing and listening.

In fact, it'll take me a couple of posts to cover the best bits. So stay tuned.

Take the ad on the left. It's one of literally hundreds of examples of a very Japanese phenomenon. A fascination with the English language combined with a total disregard for meaning.

It seems out of keeping with the Japanese attention to detail and concern for good form.

But it says a lot about how people all over the world value the way words sound.

Do words have to mean something to be useful?
Based on my experiences in the Land of the Rising Sun, I would say No. They just have to sound good. English, or Japlish, is used on hoardings, buses, magazine ads and TV ads. Most of it is plain wrong to a native speaker. So it seems that the word sound is more important than the meaning.

At least, it is when the words are meaningless in the first place (being foreign) and their main value is in sound. But I'd guess there's a lot of play on kanji characters and meaning in the Japanese copy.

The same way that English copy works based on our native word associations.

The pitter-patter of good copy
Words hold meaning on several levels. There's the dictionary definition of a word. Then there are the associations you hang on a word. 'Enjoy', for example, makes me think of flavours, shopping, and service. 'Farmer' triggers thoughts of honesty, hard work, and nature.

There's also the contextual meaning of a word. What does it mean in the specific sentence you are reading?

And last but not least, there is the way a word sounds. Does it fit well in the sentence? Does your ear like it or does it sound wrong?

Successful witty copy often plays on sound to bring out meaning. The packaging copy for No Added Sugar Alpen makes fun of the length of the product name using our love of word games and tongue twisters. 'We also know you know that No Added Sugar Alpen...' (Read it aloud, trust me.)

And some of the best straplines use made-up words or phrases that sound 'right' even though they don't mean much by themselves. It's the sound that makes them memorable. Snap! Crackle! Pop!

Do the voices
Kids love it when you 'do the voices' when reading a story. Because sound is vital to understanding and memory.

That is why copywriters use rhyme, alliteration and onomatopoeia. To get readers into the groove, so to speak, of their message. All these traditional literary techniques help understanding and aid memory. They do this by making text easier to read. Which makes people more likely to finish and absorb your message.

So when a copywriter finishes the first draft - and the last draft - she'll read the whole thing aloud. Maybe doing the voices. Just to hear how the words sound together, and if they flow well or get stuck at key points. Like the end of a paragraph.

Indeed, it may seem a bit luvvie, but listening to what you've written makes for better copy. Better because it sounds 'right' to your readers. If it slips off the tongue, it hits minds harder.

This sheep doesn't confuse English idioms.
A Bucolic Grammar Nazi. Today.

One of my best friends (not pictured) is a very tall, very bright Dutch woman. She's talented, capable, and single-minded. Like most people from the Netherlands, she speaks excellent English. She only has one problem.


As any translator will tell you, correct use of idiomatic expressions is the sign of a native speaker. And in English we have a hell of a lot of idioms, many of which don't seem to make any sense when you take them at face value. Let me give you an example.

Making sense of idioms
My Dutch friend says 'To all intensive purposes,' rather than the correct 'To all intents and purposes'. When I pointed out this mistake, she said 'Well, why would you repeat yourself? An intent and a purpose are the same.' She went on to tell me that her version was better.

And, in a way, she is right.

The meaning of that idiom is 'in all important respects'. Intensive purposes. Not perfect, but a decent alternative - with an edge. 'Intensive' brings out the element of importance, which I think is lost in the correct idiomatic expression.

Sometimes it takes an error to reveal or remind us of the meaning of the words we use. I'll give you another example.

This same friend used to say 'bucolic plague' instead of the traditional 'bubonic plague'. Laugh if you will. But the contrast in terms emphasises just how nasty the plague is. You can't have a pastoral, peaceful pestilence. It's a serious thing. When Shakespeare wrote 'A plague on both your houses,' it was a much weightier curse than today's banal 'F@$k off'.

Can English mistakes add value?
So for all the discussions about Grammar Nazism, Spelling Fascists, et al, I think there is a value in unlearning what we take for granted about English. What on earth do I mean by that?

Maybe it takes mistakes in the use of this tool we are so used to - our own language - to remind us how powerful words really are. Let's face it: word 'misuse' can bring up whole new levels of meaning. In fact, it is what many straplines and catch phrases are built on.

It can make readers stop, and think, and remember.

Image copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos
The main trouble with copywriting (and marketing in general) is that for a large part of the working day, you have to be someone else. What do I mean by that?

Well, imagine all the freelance copywriters, in-house designers, and marketing pros across the land. On their desks are empty cans of Red Bull, tea mugs, and iPhone chargers. On the walls in front of them are sketches of ideal customers and lists of What Keeps Customers Awake at Night. On their computers are folders of ideas about What Customers Do All Day. Why?

Because, as we've all been told, the key to successful copy, design, marketing and selling is getting inside the customer's mind.

Who is the customer anyway?
The problem is that when I start on my list of 100 Things That Keep Customers Awake at Night, I start thinking about the things that keep me awake at night. I don't know about you, but I find it hard to separate Me from That Person I'm Talking To.

So the question is: how to separate your worries from those of your target customer?

3 methods for understanding the customer
Here are three methods I use when I find I'm just writing to myself about myself. They are all cheap, easy, and they work.

  1. Draw or download and print a picture of the one customer you're talking to in your direct mail piece, your packaging copy, or your landing page. Add a realistic name, plus any notes about their home, family, school and/or job. If they have a pet, add that too. I also write a note about who their friends are and what they do on weekends.
  2. Similar to No. 1 - put together some pictures of items that characterize the customer. I use Pinterest for this, giving each board a job name, and then going wild on images for each. What's in their bedroom? What do they wish was in their bedroom? What's their neighbourhood like? What do they read and listen to on Sundays?
  3. Go to a train station (if you live or work near one) or failing that a cafe or pub. Make notes of people's conversations. Quote directly, and add what they are wearing. This is a longer term, broader project. But it gives an excellent insight into what people from all walks of life value, get irritated by, and gossip about.
I hope you find these tips for getting inside a customer's mind useful. And if you have any of your own, please add in the comments!

Good copywriting doesn't force readers to say Yes.
Good copy leads to Yes. Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

You're no doubt familiar with the power of persuasion in getting people to buy a product or service. But how do you get a prospect's attention in the first place?

Savvy companies, large and small, make full use of the power of suggestion in their marketing emails and other promotional materials. Suggestion leads the reader's mind to make connections itself, rather than forcing an idea. When a person's mind is actively engaged (answering a question, imagining) rather than passively receiving, the mind makes stronger connections. And guess what?

Suggestion works because it feels less invasive than sell, sell, sell.

Use questions to engage the reader's mind
A good salesperson tries to establish a natural link between the prospect and the product by engaging with the prospect. An email header should do the same. Suggestion encourages the reader to make this link themselves, often by asking a question or reminding the reader of a problem that (surprise) the product or service can solve. makes smart use of the power of suggestion in its email headers. 'Not worn it in a while?' is a prime example. That particular email promotes ASOS Marketplace, where customers can buy and sell fashions. The question is phrased in the language that real customers use, and addresses a 'problem' that they have. Too many sidelined clothes, not enough cash. But... doesn't come right out and say 'Sell and buy your clothes on ASOS Marketplace now.' The power of suggestion lies in the fact that the reader makes the link herself. 'Yes, I have that cardigan I haven't worn in 8 months and I should get rid of it to make room for something else. Hmm, what else can I get rid of? And while I'm at it, I wonder if anyone is selling neon belts...'

Benefits stimulate imagination
A second important point about suggestion is that people link words with ideas automatically. If someone reads 'No added sugar' she will think about sugar. If she reads 'Good for your body' she will think about feeling healthy (and probably virtuous).

In other words, when copy sells the features of a product, most readers don't engage with the message - or the product. But when copy sells the benefits of a product, the reader will imagine herself enjoying those benefits. And that is what will convince her to buy. Not the specs or the photograph, but the mental picture of herself in a better state.