How to Think Like a Novelist and Write Stunning Product Descriptions
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
If your product descriptions are a total snooze-fest, then you’re losing sales. You can’t just put up a list of bland features next to a photo and expect people to fall over themselves to buy from you.
Because — newsflash — facts alone don’t sway people to put your product in their shopping cart.
Because emotion drives buying decisions. Not logic.
(Yes, even in B2B…)
Mark Morgan Ford, businessman extraordinaire, puts it like this: “If people acted rationally, you couldn’t sell chocolate cake.”
Yet, despite having little nutritional value and an outrageous calorie count, cake is a multi-billion-dollar industry in the U.S.
And, no, it’s not just because it tastes good. People associate cake with weddings, parties, celebrations — good times with good friends. (Plus, when you eat a slice all by yourself… It feels a bit wicked, in a very good way.)
The best marketers know this and tap into these happy — or delightfully indulgent — feelings by using words like decadent, sinful and delicious to describe cake. Just like a skilled novelist would.
Write Product Descriptions Like a Novelist, Not a Scientist
A skilled novelist knows how to stir feelings with words. A scientist sticks to dry facts.
Imagine if a scientist wrote a product description for a chocolate cake. It might read something like this:
Chocolate Raspberry Cake
Light brown cake
Dark brown topping
Although that information is important, it’s dull. There’s no emotional appeal. It doesn’t sell you on the product.
Compare that to what bestselling novelist, Jolina Petersheim, came up with when I asked her to describe a chocolate cake:
"Three decadent layers of devil’s cake held together by whipped clouds of raspberry cream. Dark chocolate coins warmed in a double broiler, swirled with cream, and poured over the cooled cakes. The ganache drips."
Which one makes you crave some chocolatey goodness — like RIGHT NOW?
Jolina’s description wins, hands down.
Now, watch what happens when you put the two descriptions together and church-up the bullets:
Three decadent layers of devil’s cake held together by whipped clouds of raspberry cream. Dark chocolate coins warmed in a double broiler, swirled with cream, and poured over the cooled cakes. The ganache drips. Your guests drool.
8” Round x 8” High to serve up to 20 people
Handmade for superior texture and flavor
Available year-round to serve at any (or every) occasion
Now you have a classic copywriting formula for writing product descriptions:
Prose + Benefit-Oriented Features = Product Descriptions That Sell!
Now, let’s dive a bit deeper into the tricks a novelist uses to create such vivid, compelling prose. Then you can create descriptions, plug them into the above formula, and make even your most “boring” wares alluring.
Know Your Hero Inside and Out
A novelist painstakingly develops a character’s personality. They think about their likes, dislikes, pains, problems, shortcomings, and strengths. Especially for the hero of the story. And you should do the same for your hero.
Only your hero isn’t a make-believe character. (Your hero also isn’t your brand — or the products you sell.) Your hero is your ideal customer.
Imagine the kind of person your product is designed for. Take time to think about their likes, dislikes, pains, and strengths. Then, when writing product descriptions, detail your products from their view — not yours.
Are they a rugged outdoorsy type who sleeps outside in -40 degrees? Or are they a weekend family camper?
Here’s a product description example for a sleeping bag (from Anorak in the UK) that’s suited for the latter:
Whoever wrote this imagined the sleeping bag through their target customer’s eyes. And they did an outstanding job of positioning it as the answer to their hero’s #campingprobs. (Side note: hashtags are great for researching pain points!)
Here’s another great example. In it, Red Dress Boutique imagines the life of a girl who needs a flirty dress. They talk about the problems she might be facing, and even suggest that she’s a princess:
The product description examples above work well because the writers took the time to know their customer. And they went beyond simply creating a buyer’s persona. They dug deeper and connected with the buyer’s psyche.
Another way to connect with your buyers is to use sensory language.
Appeal to as Many of the Five Senses as You Can
Your customers won’t get to see, smell, hear, taste, or touch your products before they buy them. So the more senses you can engage when writing product descriptions, the better.
When Jolina wrote about the chocolate cake, she appealed to three of your five senses — sight, touch, and taste. She helped you see that the cake had three layers, filling, and ganache on top.
But she also described the taste with the words dark chocolate… raspberry…cream. And she showed the texture with the words whipped clouds… swirled… poured… drips. You should do the same when you describe your products.
Cheeky Maiden Soap does a great job of this. Check out their product description example for shave soap:
Notice how you can almost smell and feel the soap as you read about it. It’s like a virtual “try before you buy.”
Another way to help your customers “experience” your product before they own it, is to show them several ways they could use it.
Use Action When Writing Product Descriptions
Novelists keep readers engaged by putting descriptions within the action of a scene. Take this excerpt from Thunder Dog by Michael Hingson for example:
"Roselle’s nails tap rhythmically as she crosses the oak floor in the entryway, passes the elevator door, and heads down the steps to the basement."
By reading about the dog’s actions, you’ve just found out how the house is laid out. You essentially walked through the house with the dog.
Businesses can use this same tactic to help buyers see themselves using a product. And once they can imagine using it, they can get excited about buying it.Here’s a great example of a product description that uses action from Lily Pulitzer:
And here’s another great product description that uses action, from Pick Your Plumb:
These two descriptions help buyers to see themselves using the products. And that helps them decide, “Yes, I do want this! Look at all the ways I can use it!”
Bonus tip: You can use a picture — or even a collage — of the product in action to go along with the description. This builds even more desire in your buyer’s mind. And building desire is what sells your products.
By the way, I’m sorry if you want to eat chocolate cake, buy flirty dresses, or try some awesome shave soap now that you’ve read this article. That’s the power of awesome product descriptions!