Writing to Sell: Product Descriptions

Selling is a big part of every copywriter’s job. We are virtual salespeople, barking vendors marketing products to an unseen audience. Product descriptions aren’t new, but they’re more prevalent than ever. Catalogs from Sears Roebuck and a host of boutique mail order brands have been flooding into mailboxes forever, or at least as long as most can remember. Now, product descriptions are even more important. Great swaths of the Internet are dedicated to selling stuff–we’re talking EVERYTHING! Land’s End doesn’t just have a mail order catalog packed with clever, concise descriptions. They have an entire website and then some.

Drawing people in and getting people to click is something that we never had to deal with in paper catalogs where readers turn the page or chuck the whole thing in the trash. The web has changed product descriptions and made effective writing just as important as it is in a tightly packed catalog. Teasers are one invention of the internet age. Almost 10 years ago, we were writing tantalizing descriptions for lawsuits. Today, we’re doing the same thing for plastic surgeons, entertainment concierges, antiquities, promotional apparel, wine cabinets and whatever. The demand for product descriptions is so strong that, at times, we have written them continuously for a whole month. Whether a description is 50 words, 150 words or longer, it takes a formula to successfully sell items, to outline the special features and to make each one fun to read without seeming repetitive and redundant.

Product-description-mantra

If product descriptions make your head ache, you’re not alone. Fortunately, we’ve made it our business to put the hammer down and conquer the format. Sadly, the only way to do that is by writing so many a year that you totally lose count. So if products that need describing are bringing you down, leave it to a pro. You can have your text delivered in an Excel-friendly format that is ready to be uploaded. Product numbers, teasers and full descriptions can all be uploaded together. How easy is that?

Developing a Style and Voice For your Web Content

Got Tone? Tips for Developing a Writing Style

Developing a writing style that appeals to your readers is an art. The tone of your copy is the key to the success of your marketing strategies. Your returns rest largely on the quality and style of your text. For companies in the healthcare, legal and financial industries, this means their text needs to be clean, clear, concise and competent. In fact, the four Cs are favored by most if not all Fortune 1000 companies. For a company that sells sports tickets or toys, a much lighter, conversational tone is the better option. We’ve had clients express concern about matching their tone when their website is completely toneless. This goes to show that tone is a sensitive and important topic. Here are a few tips for developing a voice for your web content.

Who is your target audience? This is the most important factor. A personal injury attorney who is targeting people who have been injured or lost a loved one needs to use a voice that is strong, compassionate and effectively illustrates their strengths. For example, “Contact us today to speak with a compassionate personal injury attorney who can protect your rights and act as a legal advocate.”

Now, let’s consider a restaurant that makes the best barbeque in the city. Restaurants are part of a leisure market. People dine in their free time using disposable income. To appeal to consumers, we must create a tone that actively promotes their delicious food and the lively ambiance.

“At Judge Bean’s Bar-B-Q, we make the meanest barbeque sauce east of the Mississippi and the best pulled pork ya’ll will ever taste. Stop by for a plate-clearing, finger-licking good time.”

On the other side of the spectrum, a gourmet catering company that uses local produce might need a more conservative tone. For a high-end caterer, we might use a more sophisticated, erudite tone.

“From fresh, tender arugula to locally produced cheese, we partner with local farmers to procure the finest and freshest ingredients. We use the highest-quality products and artisan cooking techniques to produce slow-food for large events.”

There is an entire spectrum of literary tones. I like to think of it like a rainbow. On one end, we have a straight-ahead, no-nonsense corporate tone. On the other, we have zany, edgy, off-the-wall. This means that there are subtle differences in tone that are comparable to the visual differences between teal and blue-green. Once you have the right tone, you’ll know it.

You wouldn’t believe how many content mills suggest the most banal and generic tones. Informative and interesting, sales driven and promotional, light and conversational or educational and informative. These are the options that a mass-market content mill will give you. They might as well as say meaningless and bland, boring and stale or light and fluffy. We’re not talking about comfort food or ice cream. Let’s get real. Don’t be tone deaf. The success of your website depends on the quality and style of your content, so you’ve got to make it good. As up-market copywriters, we collaborate, we work with clients, and we infuse our writing with creativity to match our customers’ goals. That’s why our copy is effective.

To develop the right style and tone, consider who your target market is, what you’re selling and what your goals are. Words represent your company, its personality and its products. That’s why it’s important to have a tone that accurately portrays your company’s strengths. On our own website, we like to have a little bit on fun on your text. For clients, we develop a tone based on their individual needs and goals, which are rarely the same from company to company.

You’re welcome to share your perspective on the challenges of developing the right style and tone for your web content.

The Pronoun Breakdown: Which One’s Right For Me?

Pronouns are back, and it’s time to understand what they can do for your writing once and for all. In digital writing, choosing the right pronoun is a challenge. When we’re crafting web pages and home pages, the clients requesting the content don’t always know what voice they should use. This isn’t something to be ashamed of. It’s something that needs to be explained better.

First of all, there are three choices, but they aren’t mutually exclusive. We’ll talk more about that later. The choices we have for choosing personal pronouns are:

First person

I

We

Second person

You

You

Third person

He/She/It

They

Back in foreign language class, teaching materials broke down plural and singular pronouns in a nice, simple way. All singular pronouns, I, you, he, she and it are in the left-hand column. The plural pronouns we and they are always in the right-hand column, and they progress in the same order: first person, second person and third person.

For more info about grammatical persons, visit Grammar Girl for an in-depth explanation.

First Person

Let’s start with the first person. Although the name is odd, everyone is familiar with the first person. We use the first person when we’re talking about our day at the office. In books, the first person is traditionally used as a narrative. First person has several cases (nominative, objective and possessive), but it always uses some form of I, me or my.

If we’re writing for a company, the first person “we” is a great option. If Bob owns a one-man show landscaping company, the singular first person “I” would be the best choice. As a general rule, first person is ideal when speaking directly as a company.

Second Person

Here’s where the second person comes in. If the company is “we,” who are the customers? For most content that is appearing on a company website and addressing the reader directly, the answer is you. In English, you is a singular pronoun, but we also treat it like an informal plural pronoun, so there is some mixing and matching going on.

Third Person

Now, it’s time to talk about the third person. This one is tricky. Third person writing is best when content is designed to be general, impartial and non-promotional. This adds credibility, and it doesn’t single out the reader. Third person is also valuable when we’re talking about sensitive topics, but we don’t want to judge the reader. Things like payday loans and insurance are easier to discuss when we use personal examples and direct the user to take action. If we’re talking about an infertility clinic or an attorney who specializes in foreclosures, addressing the reader directly can be uncomfortable.

Third person requires the pronouns he, she, it or they. We can also use generalizations like customers, homeowners and clients. Although these aren’t pronouns, addressing clients or homeowners directly is a much nicer alternative than using he/she, it or they.

Which One’s Right For Me?

Professionally, the “we/you” setup is ideal for company web pages. Third person should be used in informational content, encyclopedia-style articles and journalistic pieces. Press releases, for example, must always be written in the third person. The only exception is when quoting a company representative. For most marketing materials, it’s a great idea to address your target audience directly by using a combination of first and second person pronouns.

If you’d ask me “which grammatical person is right?” I would have to say that there’s no definitive answer. But, I can say that if you choose the wrong one, writing will be more difficult, and if you choose the right one, the words will flow more smoothly. The right grammatical person will emphasize your key points and address the reader in a comfortable and clear manner.

If you have any questions about choosing the correct grammatical person, just ask!

Sales Letter Tips and Examples

Sales Letters Two Ways

write-on-sales-lettersIf the thought of sales letters makes you cringe, it’s time to give these selling techniques another look.

Sales letters, like salesmen, come in several varieties. Traditional sales letters can be just as smarmy as a traveling salesman, and these letters are headed straight for the circular file.

To analyze the different approaches of sales letters, I have created two diametrically opposed samples. The first is my soft-sell letter and the second is an aggressive,  over-the-top, head-spinning diatribe that many companies shockingly use. In most cases, somewhere in the middle is the best approach for reaching consumers or B2B customers.

When writing a sales letter for a traditional direct mail campaign or an informal letter for an email blast, the first rule is to explain what’s in it for the reader. Everything else fits in around this cardinal commandment. Instead of acting like a crazed salesmen when drafting a sales letter, I believe it’s important to put yourself in the customer’s or the reader’s shoes. Read on to see how different sales letters can be.

 Save On HVAC Services or Your Tune-Up Is Free!

June [xx], 2012

Dear Property Managers and Building Owners,

At [company name,] we are the state’s most-trusted low-price leader in commercial HVAC services. If your current HVAC provider doesn’t arrive for four to five days or charges rates that are less than competitive, we can help. We never overcharge or bid against current HVAC maintenance contractors, and we offer same-day service guaranteed.

In fact, our competitors charge twice as much as we do. We save customers money in three ways. We offer competitively priced pre-season tune-ups that reduce maintenance expenses, lower energy bills and keep your heating system running at peak levels for years to come.

Our extensive pre-season tune-ups include services that go above and beyond to ensure that your building’s system is operating efficiently. Our seasonal tune-ups for heating systems in shopping malls, high-rises and industrial buildings include these services:

1. Checking all fuel connections and components to ensure complete combustion, proper pressure and the integrity of all burners.

2. Testing and tightening all electrical connections to maintain the correct current and voltage.

3. Lubricating all moving parts and motor components to reduce the friction that increases power consumption.

4. Inspecting system controls to ensure all heating equipment and components are operating safely.

5. Cleaning heating coils and heat exchangers to remove particles that inhibit full efficiency.

Seasonal tune-ups are essential for protecting the heating equipment in your building and ensuring that your building’s tenants are warm and comfortable this winter. As a bonus, we will refund the cost of your pre-season tune-up if your building’s energy bills aren’t reduced. The cost of heating commercial buildings is constantly rising, so there’s no better time to schedule your pre-season tune-up. You’ll get a better rate on your preventative maintenance contract. We guarantee it.

Call us today to see why more commercial building owners, leasing agents and property managers trust us to maintain complex heating and cooling systems and chillers used in shopping malls, high-rises and industrial buildings.

Sincerely,

[Company Owner]

Get the Best-Ever Air Conditioning Tune-Up. Guaranteed or It’s FREE

Take Advantage of This Amazing Offer and You Could Get a Check for Triple the Cost of Your Tune-Up!

You probably know that utility providers, equipment manufacturers and efficiency auditors recommend regular seasonal tune-ups for all heating and cooling equipment. Research from a major university study confirms that the savings produced by an annual air conditioning tune-up can more than pay for the cost of the service itself. Even though the benefits of seasonal tune-ups are commonly known, thousands of homeowners are not taking advantage of the savings because they neglect or simply forget to schedule a tune-up. I am confident that the offer included in this letter is so amazing that you’ll feel like you’re throwing away money if you don’t schedule your money-saving service call. Here’s why.

1. Our tune-ups are far better than the competition, and our prices are unbeatable. We are a family-owned company, and we take tremendous pride in our reputation and commitment to customer service. Each tune-up we complete includes bonus services and additional procedures that those other guys don’t offer.

2. We clean your coils and fans with a specially formulated detergent to remove dirt, dust and greasy buildup. Most companies just rinse these parts with water. We use detergent and aircraft-quality Teflon spray to strip grease and grime and leave a slick coating that improves thermo-conductive efficiency and aerodynamic power.

3. Once these parts are clean, the non-stick Teflon coating reduces the amount of dirt that accumulates on the surface so your system stays cleaner longer and operates more efficiently.

4. We spend time cleaning internal components, air handlers and furnace blowers. This maintains maximum air flow and superior efficiency.

It takes more time and it costs more to do a tune-up right, but even so we only charge $149. For a limited time, we are offering a complete tune-up for only $85. This is a discount of more than $60!

Plus, because of the outstanding quality of our tune-ups, we are confident that you’ll see profits on your investment. Here’s how it works:

If your tune-up doesn’t reduce your electric bill, we will refund the entire cost of your tune-up. All you need to do is compare your current electric bill with last year’s usage.

If your electric bills aren’t lower, we will refund you $85. Plus, if your HVAC system breaks down, you’ll receive another $85 credit. That’s a refund of $170, which will be credited toward any repairs. If the cost of repairs is less than $170, you’ll get a check for the difference.

On top of that, if you decide that you want to replace your HVAC system within the next year, we’ll triple the amount of your tune-up and put it toward the cost of a replacement unit. That’s a discount of $255 off your new system.

As you can see, there’s no way to go wrong! That’s why we confidently say that this is the BEST tune-up offer ever.

The only remaining question is how can we make an offer that is this great? Here’s the answer. Because of all the additional time and services that come with each tune up, we’re sure that once you experience our commitment to quality and customer service we’ll be the only company you’ll ever use.

If you aren’t satisfied, we wouldn’t expect you to use our services again. This can certainly happen when companies advertise ridiculously low prices, use bait-and-switch techniques or recommend unnecessary repairs. Companies like that are unethical and immoral. That’s not the way we do business. We offer excellent service at low prices.

We promise to go above and beyond the norm. We stand behind our work, and we offer a variety of bonus services without any extra charges. That’s why you have our 1-2-3 guarantee.

1. We guarantee you’ll enjoy lower electric bills or we’ll refund your $85.

2. If repairs are necessary, we’ll give you a $170 discount.

3. If your system needs to be replaced, we’ll give you a $255 credit plus any coupons, discounts or tax rebates that are available from the manufacturer, local utility companies or the government.

This is an exclusive, limited-time offer, so please understand that we may discontinue it at any time. To avoid losing out, we urge you to schedule a pre-season tune-up at your earliest convenience.

Thank You,

[X]

Owner

P.S.

If your heating bills aren’t reduced, your tune-up is absolutely free! Give us a call at 555-4444. You’ll be glad you did.

* This Offer Ends on August [xx,] 2012, so Don’t Delay!

Good or bad, feel free to share your sales latter experiences here.