The ThinkerLook at the photo to the left. Yeah, it’s Rodin’s The Thinker and you’ve already seen it before – take another good, hard look anyway. In fact, study the thing for a minute. I’ll wait.

OK, having just “experienced” the picture for yourself, read Rodin’s description of his statue:

“What makes my thinker think is that he thinks not only with the brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils, and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back, and legs; with his clenched fist and gripping toes.”*

Now go back and take another look at the pic. Did you notice new things? Did you find yourself noticing new details on the statue’s nostrils, lips, back, and toes, while giving silent affirmation to Rodin’s words?

That is the mark of great product description: using words to guide the senses and shape the experience.

And the more you sell premium products and experiences – the more you sell the distillation of passion – the more you had better tap into the power of copy to direct the imagination of the reader.

The Science and Art of Great Product Description

Lest you think the Rodin example was nothing but a parlor trick, I thought I’d cite some hard science and proven psychology behind this technique, while also giving some helpful how-to hints:

1) Vividly imagining the future reduces impulsive choices

And the reader’s imagination will trend towards the future – unless YOU direct the imagination of the buyer! I may be tempted to buy your product, but the more I imagine the future rewards and pleasures of sticking to my diet, sticking to my budget, and so on, the less likely I am to buy.

But if the copy directs my senses to vividly imagine the pleasures and benefits of ownership/consumption, I’ll be moved to buy rather than abstain.  Great copy recreates the enthusiast’s experience in the mind of the prospect.  Mediocre copy just describes the product.

2) Translating a product into an experience de-comodifies your product

“If it wasn’t hard, everybody would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”  Tom Hank’s character said that about baseball, but it applies just as well to premium products and services.  Making a significantly better product requires extra effort and passion.  Often in the service of squeezing out an extra 10% refinement in 10-20 different areas.  And that’s the problem… at least from a copywriter’s standpoint

See, small refinements in a lot of areas don’t translate well in a spec-sheet head-to-head comparison, where the cheaper alternative ends up looking like a 90% as good for half the price alternative.  And that’s why good copywriters lean so heavily on “creation” stories, which project the manufacturers passion onto the reader, and make those relatively fine distinctions seem like all-important differences. Gary Weeks gives a first class example of this in the copy he created for his Weeks Rocker.  There’s a reason the man’s able to sell $1600 rocking chairs over the internet.

3) Curiosity and Education are every bit as powerful as a great deal

When you describe an experience that’s foreign to the reader, you create curiosity – a desire in the reader to “see” for herself. To taste the nuances of flavor in a well crafted wine, or to feel the texture and feedback that only the combination of first-class drawing paper and high-quality charcoal can provide.  Or even to “see” their PPC campaign with new eyes – eyes capable of sifting out the hidden motivations of prospects/searchers and the flawed messaging in the ads.

For many, learning, discovering new experiences, and expanding one’s scope of competency are as seductive a prospect as any straightforward value proposition. Gary Vaynerchuk rode this wave to fame and fortune. And two Maine Lobsterman have taken this kind of value-added offering to a new level, and made themselves into millionaires in the process!  You can too.

4) The Joshua Bell Effect

Asking people to recognize true merit and quality on its own, deprived of any cues or prompts, is simply asking too much from your customers and prospects.  Kind of like asking you to have recognized all those details about Rodin’s The Thinker without his quote as a prompt.

Perhaps the most striking modern-day example of this was an experiment done by the Washington Post wherein Musical Prodigy Joshua Bell played his stradivarius in the subway to see how many would recognize his musical excellence, absent the concert hall cues and media fanfare normally surrounding his performances.  The result: he was ignored by everyone but children. Even music snobs need cues to recognize talented, virtuoso performance.

As a copywriter you’re job is to set the stage for your virtuoso product/service and to provide prospects with the cues they so desperately need to recognize real quality when they see it.  When you tell prospects where to look, how to look, and what to expect, you’re not only enticing their imaginations, but helping those soon-to-be customers to fully recognize the differentiators your client has already baked into the product. Which both sells more product on the front end AND improves customer satisfaction on the back end, too.

Does your product copy merely describe the product?

Or does your copy predict the prospect’s experience of the product, helping them to see with their ears and anticipate all the pleasure and benefits that are sure to come with ownership?


  1. Justin Palmer on 05.19.2010

    Eye opening post, thanks Jeff. I’m going to guess 1% of etailers do what you describe above with their descriptions. What a huge opportunity.
    .-= Justin Palmer´s last blog ..3 Ways to Sabotage your Website =-.

  2. Lorraine on 05.20.2010

    This is just brilliant, Jeff. I love the insight that “Translating a product into an experience de-comodifies your product.”

    To write copy that stimulates the imagination, copywriters rely on sensorial language, anecdotes, sequenced events, etc. These classic storytelling building blocks keep us riveted to the page–or screen, as with the Maine lobstermen videos.

    It makes sense to use this kind copy for premium products that allow you to use longer copy formats. Also works powerfully in permission marketing efforts where you build relationship with community/customers over time.
    .-= Lorraine´s last blog ..Predict Their Experience, Don’t Just Describe the Product =-.

  3. Geno Prussakov on 05.26.2010

    Love it! Excellent post, Jeff.

    Lots of room for improvement for thousands of online merchants, for sure.

    Will tweet this right away.
    .-= Geno Prussakov´s last blog Loses $1.6 Million in 6 Hours, Handling it Gorgeously =-.

  4. Suchmaschine on 10.26.2010

    Wow! Thank you! I always wanted to write in my site something like that. Can I take part of your
    post to my blog?