Today’s episode is about product descriptions – how to cut to the chase and give your customers clear information about what you are offering so that they don’t get confused and walk away.
I’m going to be talking about:
- The Five Second Statement – a simple formula for effective product descriptions.
- The importance of stating the cold hard facts about your product and not the selling points.
- Why calling your product/service a ‘solution’ is a bad idea.
- How focussing on the details and being clear, not clever, will lead to more sales.
I have included examples of successful marketing that taps into customer’s needs and I’ll show you how to use my formula so that you can do the same. To stress the importance of customer satisfaction and purely for your amusement, I have thrown in a short sketch featuring a very extreme and completely fictional weight loss treatment that will put you off quick fixes forever!
I hope you enjoy this episode and that it inspires you to go on to write more succinct descriptions of your product/service for your customers so that they can visualise what they’re getting without any confusion and buy from you with confidence.
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Hello, you’re listening to Write with Influence, a ten to fifteen minute podcast where I share copywriting and content ideas to help you sell your products and services. Now, this podcast used to be called ‘Hit Publish’ and if you’re a previous Hit Publish listener coming back for more than thank you, I’ve really missed you. Now, as the first episode of this new podcast, I did spend some time thinking about the opening and I was tempted to do something catchy, something exciting, a little bit different; something that would get your attention and perhaps just have you stop what you’re doing right there in the moment just to listen. But then I thought, well, you might be driving and I didn’t want to distract you that much. Keep your eyes on the road now, but in all seriousness, I spent a little bit of time thinking that I should open in a dramatic and clever way.
See, I really want you to listen. I do want to get your attention. I thought about the openings from my favourite films – should I start with a murder? An explosion? A shark attack? A fake phone call from kidnappers with a ransom for my return? And then I realised I was doing the exact thing I’m going to tell you not to do in today’s podcast!
When we sit down to write our content, our copy, an email, newsletter, sales page etc, we want to get our reader’s attention, but we can end up trying so hard to impress that it has the opposite effect because we’re trying to be too clever instead of clear. So, today’s episode is called ‘Don’t Call Your Product A Solution’. I’m going to explain how we often accidentally over-complicate our marketing to try and impress and the result is that we just confuse people and confused people don’t buy. Sometimes what we really need to do is just tell our customers exactly what we have for them. So why is this so hard and is there a simple, practical formula you can use to make sure you never confuse your customer again? Listen in to find out . . .
We’re probably all guilty of embellishing a little when we’re trying to impress someone, right? You’re at a job interview and suddenly that part-time job that you had washing dishes becomes a managerial role in hygiene because you were in charge of the sponge! The thing is though, if you have ever interviewed someone for a job role, you’ll know that it is often very difficult to discern what someone is actually like just from their resume or their CV because everyone describes themselves as enthusiastic, a team player that works well with others but also on their own initiative etc. What you really want to know about them is something real – are they going to use the last of the office milk and not replace it? Are they going to bring in fried food or boiled eggs for lunch? Will you be able to depend on them when there’s a deadline? Are they the type of person that’s actually going to help you out? You want to know something real about them and something that helps you visualise what it will be like to work with them. This also makes me think of dating adverts, now, I know we are in the ‘Tinder’ age, but back in the day you would get dating adverts in the back of the paper and I’m sure you could probably still find them today – you would pay per word for your dating advert and you needed to literally market yourself in a sea of competition, usually in about five lines or less. I used to be fascinated by dating adverts. Don’t ask me why! I never posted one, I never replied to one, I mean, my dad would have flipped out if I did dial the premium line from the landline (actually he wouldn’t – he would have just given me the itemised phone bill as he used to do, highlighted my numbers and I would have paid him promptly). What I used to be fascinated by was how, when each of these adverts are trying to stand out, they all used to sound pretty much the same. I mean, not everyone can surely be sensitive with a good sense of humour, who likes long walks, nights out at the cinema, but also a night in? It’s almost like you’re just dying for one of them to say, ‘Hey, if you like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain . . .’
So, what does this mean in our marketing? How come we trip ourselves up in this way? Well, it’s because of our desire to add a little excitement to the description of our products and of what we have to sell. This can mean that we actually end up blending in and sometimes even failing to give our customers that real information that they need to visualise what we have and how it fits into their life.
Here’s what I’m talking about specifically: over the years and still today, in a lot of marketing copy, I will see this sort of anomaly arise and it’s not just small businesses, I have seen this with businesses that I’ve worked in that include banks, manufacturing firms etc but at some point, there is a description of the product or service and as a copywriter, it’s the first thing that I want to know. I want to know what the thing is and too often I see it described as an ‘end-to-end’, ‘all-in-one solution’ or a ‘one stop shop’ or it is ‘a platform’, ‘a system’, ‘a framework’, and on their own these words are so generic, they don’t mean anything. It’s like giving your marketing a magical, invisible cloak, in any other situation I’d love an invisible cloak – oh, the mischief! But I don’t want it in my marketing. Think about it. These, words could mean anything – a book is a solution, a pen is a solution, a three-day course could be described as a framework or a process. We can get so caught up in trying to sound like we have something really meaningful and clever that we completely obscure what it is that we do and we leave people scratching their heads. If you forget to tell your customer at some point exactly what have for them, then it means you’re asking them to figure it out – you’re making them work hard to understand your message, which really isn’t fair on them and you know what? Most people just won’t work hard to decipher your marketing message, they’ve got much better things to do. Instead they’ll just walk away.
In the UK there’s a chain of pubs called ‘Wetherspoons’. They are cheap and they are cheerful and they really understand about making things easy for their customers. If you’ve ever been in one, you’ll know that they now have an app so you can actually order from your seat – you don’t have to go to the bar and order your drinks. They have this great mindset of how to make things easy for their customers and a few years ago, when sparkling wines and Prosecco were becoming very popular, they had a bottle of sparkling wine on the menu and it was a Cava from Barcelona and it was spelt ‘Freixenet’ and on paper looked like a little bit of a handful to pronounce. Knowing that many people wouldn’t know how to pronounce it and knowing that no one likes to look a fool at the bar, next to it, they actually spelled out phonetically how to pronounce it, how to order it, and it was clear so that people felt comfortable enough to go and buy it. Apparently, you pronounce it ‘fresh-en-et’. So rather than customers thinking ‘I don’t know what that is, I can’t figure it out . . . I’m not going to buy it’, they made it easy and clear for their customers to go to the bar and order a drink – well done Wetherspoons! But let’s say that they don’t walk away, let’s say that your customer does buy, if they don’t fully understand what it is they’re getting, there’s a good chance that they will feel upset. They may feel let down or misled, I mean, that happened to me once when I was trying to get in shape. . .
Weight loss expert: Hey, Ms. Harrison, you’re looking to lose a little weight?
Amy: Yeah, not much. I mean, I just, I’ve been overindulging recently – clothes are getting a little bit tight, so yeah, yeah, I could just do with dropping a few pounds really.
Weight loss expert: Well, we do have a revolutionary weight loss solution, it’s unique, no one does what we do.
Amy: Oh really?
Weight loss expert: Yes. So revolutionary, we can lose . . . hmm . . . I’d say, eight pounds in an hour.
Amy: Oh wow! How?
Weight loss expert: Well, we offer a unique removal process by using the very latest technology.
Amy: The very latest technology you say? Not just the latest technology? Well, sign me up!
Weight loss expert: And how do you feel now, Ms. Harrison?
Amy: A bit, a bit groggy. I don’t, I don’t remember much other than . . .
Weight loss expert: Just step on the scales for me.
Amy: OK, oh, whoa, wow! Look at that – I’ve lost eight pounds! That’s amazing! You were right.
Hang on, wait, wait a minute. . . where’s my arm?
Weight loss expert: Hmm?
Amy: MY ARM!! I, I had an arm before and now it’s gone!!
Weight loss expert: That’s right. We cut it off.
Amy: You cut my arm off?
Weight loss expert: It’s the most effective way to lose a big chunk of weight very, very quickly.
Amy: Well I was not expecting that!
OK, I know you’re not going to do anything that drastic, but let’s say your customer signs up for a course that they think is in person, but you deliver it online – that’s the kind of confusion that could upset people. So, what can you do to stop this happening? Well, I have an exercise that I call ‘The Five Second Statement’ and it’s a way of breaking down the facts of what you offer into a succinct sentence and it’s the antidote to simply calling your product ‘a solution’. So, don’t call your product a ‘solution’, instead, tell me:
A) What problem is it that you solve?
B) How do you do it?
I’m going to walk through some different prompts that I tend to use. Now, not all the prompts that I walk through will be relevant to you so if I were you, I’d just answer the ones that are. First of all, let’s start at a pretty high level:
- What generally best describes what it is that you have? Is it a service? Is it coaching?
Now here is where I’d say that you could possibly put down something like ‘a framework’ or ‘a method’ or ‘a system’. For example, if you have developed or design a particular process that is specific to you, for example, an exercise program or perhaps you have a particular method of helping people learn a language or something like that, that’s absolutely fine to have at this stage, but the key thing is that we’re not going to leave it at that one word.
Next you want to explain:
- How is what you have is delivered? Is it online? Is it software? Is it in person? Is it a one-to-one consultation over the phone or via Skype?
Be as specific as possible here.
The next prompt is to tell me:
- Is there a specific timeframe for what you have? Is it a one-day session? Is it an hour? Does it last for six months?
After that, think about:
- Is there a specific size that is important for your customers to know? For example, is it 10 DVDs? Is it 9 modules or 200 pages?
- What are the results that it provides to your customer? Is it a new fit and lean body? Is it the ability to track their finances?
Remember when you’re working through these to try and avoid words like ‘solution’ or ‘answer’. We want the cold hard facts of what you’re offering, not the selling points. Once you have this, you can start plotting out possibilities for your five second statement, for example:
A 90-day cardio workout plan using 10 DVDs to help you become lean and strong.
So, there we’ve got the time (90 days), the description of what it is (a cardio workout), the size (10 DVDs), and that also covers the ‘how it’s delivered’ (by DVD) and the results (to help you become lean and strong).
Or we might have:
Cloud-based budgeting software that syncs to your personal bank account so you can log in and manage your finances online more easily.
So, there we’ve got the description (cloud-based budgeting software), how it’s delivered (it syncs to your personal bank accounts and it’s online), the delivery (this is also described because we’re telling them that they will log in), and the results (managing finances more easily).
What this exercise does is it helps you focus on those nitty gritty details that we can easily forget. They’re so common and obvious to us that sometimes we just forget to put them in our marketing because we focus a little bit too much on trying to be clever and impressive. What this does is, it helps you focus on those details so that you can write a succinct description of your offer for your customer so that they can visualise what they’re getting without any confusion.
So, here are my questions to you:
Have you fallen victim to calling in your products or service a solution and hoping that people interpret it correctly?
Have you ever had confused customers who bought one thing thinking it was something else?
Let me know in the comments. I want to thank you for listening to this Write with Influence podcast. If you found today useful, I’d love it if you could go to iTunes, leave a rating and a review and if you have a copywriting question or would like to be featured on the podcast for a copy review, simply leave a comment or email me email@example.com
Until next time, keep believing and always write with influence.
Mike Cohn says
Nice episode, Amy! It’s good to hear you back in the podcast world again.
I love you advice to focus on the “nitty gritty details” of what our products do. I was on a website this past weekend and had no idea what the company did. After a page or two, I should have just left but it became a mission to figure out what they did. I must have visited and read a dozen pages and never figured out what the company did or offered.
I think your exercise will be very helpful.
amy harrison says
Thanks Mike – great to have you listening again. 🙂 Copywriting / marketing has a part to blame with the advice that you have to ‘sell the sizzle, not the steak’. At some stage, people will want to know that they’re getting steak… (and now I’m hungry for steak).