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?

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