Monday, December 09, 2019

Copywriting: Understanding the Product You're Writing About


Understanding the Product

Every piece of copy you produce is to sell a product.

Here are four things to look for when you're writing for a company:
  • Business-to-consumer product - e.g. bottle water, or trainers.
  • Business-to-consumer service - e.g. house insurance, or window cleaning.
  • Business-to-business product - e.g. pens, or a van.
  • Business-to-business service - e.g. social media marketing or accountancy.
Copywriting isn't just about writing for businesses and blogs, but also non-profit and charity organisations.

Many of the methods we'll be looking at will be about the reader helping somebody else, instead of helping themselves.

Rather than selling a product you might "sell" an idea, or opportunity, for example something simple like a job ad to motivate people to reply, because you want to encourage your reader to 'buy in' to what you're saying, or take steps other than making a purchase.

The copy you might be offering may be just information about an offer, or leaflet for the local job centre about how to claim working tax credit, or a piece of copy for a blog post about cleaning a car.

Figuring Out the Product

Before you can start writing you need to understand what it is you're trying to sell.

Here are twelve points to consider:
  • What is the item?
  • How does it work?
  • Who can use it?
  • Are there any unusual or unique features?
  • What reason would people purchase this item?
  • Where do people have to go to purchase the product?
  • Is there a purchasing journey?
  • Is it a basic, regular, or premium product?
  • What is the item's situation in the market?
  • Does the product supersede anything else?
  • What are the other alternatives on the market?
  • If the product is already selling, what do people think of it?
  • If it's a service, how is it dispatched?
  • How do the history and culture of the organisation feed into the item on sale?
  • All of these questions are useful for a meeting with your client. The client may not have taken half of these points into consideration. If there are any points that you're not sure about, get it all down, because you can't go back for the information you might have missed.
Learning More About the Product

Other useful information you can get from the client might include; Brochures, web pages, internal presentations etc. If they already have their own notes, take it, but tell them basic numbered or bulleted points will be sufficient. All you're looking for is raw material, not a well-written document.

If you get the opportunity, test the product out for yourself, this may be more difficult if it's some kind of service or specialised product. You could also try talking to people who've used the product. You could do this via social media, and sending out a simple questionnaire, to get a feel for the item in question.

Talk to the Client Face-to-Face

Oftentimes you may actually get the opportunity to see the business and product for yourself, if the client decides they want to talk to you face-to-face. This is an ideal opportunity to get to know your client, but also build a relationship with the company for future projects.

This kind of visit is really beneficial for professional services, or a product you would find difficult to get a hold of.

During these important visits or chats on Skype, you can record the conversation for future record, and concentrate on what is being said.

Often you can take the simplest of phrases or truths about the company and use them in your copy. There may be some simple questions that still need to be asked, don't be afraid to ask them. That's what the client is there for.

There's No Such Thing as Too Much Information

When you're gleaning information about a product, it's often your first encounter with the product, this can give you a new perspective on how you perceive the product, it's a lot like the customer experiencing the product for the first time.

Unfortunately over time your point of view can change and you can have too much knowledge about the product or service. That's why a lot of businesses change creative agencies, so they can get a fresh pair of eyes to look at their product.

Recognise the Benefits

Learn how the features of a product explain the benefits, and which advantages are the best.

Details vs Advantages

Something to think about.

You're thinking about going on holiday, but all you can think about is a glitzy hotel on the Las Vegas strip, but my thoughts are for something a little quieter, a cottage on the Cornish coast.

What Can I Say to Change Your Mind?

I could start by telling you some useful information about the cottage:
  • It sits on Porthleven
  • It has WiFi
  • Its within 2 minute walk of the Ship Inn, a 17th century smugglers' haunt
  • It's got one bedroom For me all of these things sound perfect, and I'm already convinced. In order to get you to start thinking more like me, I need to convey the same points in a distinctive way to get your attention:
You can enjoy your coffee in the morning while your enjoy the surf
You can continue with your fitness routine and still have the time to unwind
We can go out to dinner and be back home in 2 minutes

The first list is of the cottage's main facts and features, while the second list talks about its main advantages and benefits. That is to say, the first list is about the cottage, the second list tells you how it will help you.

Why Certain Advantages are Important

At the end of the day people like interesting things, even if it's an ad.

Everybody likes things that have a particular benefit in their lives. In order to get someone's attention you need to find their sweet spot, or something that will meet the reader's self-interest. Benefits are the core of powerful copywriting.

Your most valuable asset as a copywriter is your reader's attention, you begin with none, and take what you can get by not wasting it! Your reader will stand with you as long as you're offering them something real. If they can't understand the benefit they'll walk away.

The order you're going to sell your benefits in is a big part of planning your copy. You may be writing a print ad which is all about the benefits the product provides, on the other hand you could be writing a product description for a website which mentions a number of different benefits, but some of these will be asserted more than others.

Changing Features into Benefits

Benefits are a valuation of worth. When your customer uses the product they're the good things that happen.

Looking back at the features of the cottage, the words 'you' and 'your' were used all of the time because they define the relationship between the item bought and the consumer.

An important part of copywriting is to make all features of products beneficial, so the customer can see how products will relate to their life.

Here are some business to consumer examples of details and advantages they offer:

Winter Coat


Has a fleecy lining.


Keeps you warm and cosy in cold weather.

Breakfast Cereal


Full of fibre, high GI


Will keep you full all morning

A couple of examples for business to business:

New Website


Powerful design


Will respond to mobile technology no problem

Cleaning Service


All offices cleaned every night


Better hygiene, clean workspace

You could try putting yourself in the reader's shoes and asking yourself why different features are more beneficial for you. You could start by asking basic questions like:
  • How does the service or product help me?
  • Why do I need it?
  • The basic things mentioned above are the foundation for good copywriting, without them you can lose touch with the product you're writing about.
Real and Intangible Benefits

There are benefits that are real and functional, giving the reader something they see and touch when they use the product. These are real benefits, usually including what the product does and what it can do. These are all facts that are used when the reader compares the product with other similar products.

Other benefits are more personal and play on the consumers' emotions. They are called intangible benefits, and they use the users emotions by making them feel more fashionable, attractive, or secure.

Even though these benefits only exist in the mind of the consumer they're still very real and can be used when needed in copywriting.

Real Benefits

Appeal to a person's logic
Take place in people's lives
Resolve problems
Are benefits that can be seen touched or measured  
Intangible Benefits

Solicit emotion
Occur in people's heads
Create improvement in someone's life
Is something that can't be touched or seen 
Here are a few examples of real and intangible benefits:


Real Benefits

Access to the internet
Make phone calls
Includes lots of useful apps
Intangible Benefits

Makes you feel connected to the world
Keeps you up-to-date
Makes you feel trendy 

Intelligent Thermostat

Real Benefits

Saves money
Saves on fuel bills
Kinder to the environment 

Intangible Benefits

Impress your friends and family that you're helping to keep the environment green 

Which Advantages are More Beneficial?

You'll find that most products you use offer both real and intangible benefits, but how much of each you decide to use in your work depends on the product.

Things like insurance would most likely include real benefits, because people are looking for a product with real value.

People will choose unrealistic benefits, but will still use real benefits to defend their choice.

Think of the amount of times you've bought a product on impulse, but in reality you were trying to justify the reason you purchased the product.

Distinguishing Features (or Unique Selling Points)

There are unique products on the market that often offer a secret recipe, official endorsements, or brand named technology. These are called USP (or unique selling points) in the industry.

With these kinds of benefits you can make some eye-catching claims in your copywriting with keywords like 'cheapest', 'only', or 'best', as long as you can support your claim.

Many companies will use their product's unique selling points more than most. When writing copy try not to include a feature just because it's unique to the item. That's where the uniqueness comes into a product, you need to write clearly about what makes the product more unique than other items in the same category. Don't write something that you can't back up.

Each to Their Own

Often the product will offer particular benefits to different people, and the consumer and user aren't always the same people. There may be other people who may benefit from the product other than the buyer, and they may even have a contribution in the buying decision.

The success of a product often rests on the decision of both groups, the buyer and the user.

When Qualities of the Product Become Benefits

When the user has a natural interest in the qualities of the product you may not need to use them as benefits. For hobbyists such as photographers, you may talk about catching a special moment in graphic colour and needle point sharpness. Most people want to know why this camera is better than the one they own. This mostly comes to the camera's technical details. If you miss these points out you're missing the most important part.

Camera geeks love reading and analysing this kind of information, recognising they've made the best buying decision.

Let me know your thoughts about selling a product in the comments below.

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