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Effective Content for Catalogs & The Web
With the right tools and tactics, writing copy can be fun!
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by Marcia Yudkin
Marketing Author & Consultant

Marcia YudkinOnce you learn a few fundamental principles 
and techniques, writing persuasive catalog copy, 
web copy or product
descriptions for printed 
brochures or sales sheets becomes
an easy, enjoyable process.

Step 1.  List features and benefits, then connect them.

If you've read anything about copywriting, you've heard about the importance of including the benefits of products as well as their features. For instance, when you say your widget is a 2-inch pink plastic paperclip, you are describing its features. When you say it enables you to color-code stacks of papers or it attracts attention on someone else's desk or it makes a great gift for your
organized-like-mad teenager, you are describing its benefits.

For concise, interesting product descriptions in a printed or online catalog, it's essential to combine features and benefits, weaving them together tightly yet unobtrusively. Here's a sample excerpt from the print catalog The Territory Ahead, mixing features and benefits:

Over cobblestone or dirt, concrete or causeway, the
compression-molded midsole and metatomical footbed 
provide all-day, all-terrain cushioned support. (In other words,
supreme comfort like we've never seen in a huarache.)
Keen's patented bumpered toe prevents stubs and smashes.
The traditional, tire-styled outsole features linen fabric
inlay for additional strength and flex.

The widget's feature X gives you benefit Y. In one way or another (and there are at least 16 different ways to make this connection), this forms the foundation of catalog copy.

Step 2.  Brainstorm angles and choose one as your opener.

Almost always, you'll also need an attention-getter for the headline and first sentence of your product description. Use the checklist below, or the expanded one in 73 Ways to Describe a Widget, to come up with an interesting way to
think about the item. For instance, The Territory Ahead actually starts the product description quoted above with this answer to the question, "Who is it for?":

Ultralightweight, anatomically logical and muy guapa,
Keen's huarache overhaul was done with the global 
wanderer in mind.

You can weave other elements from this brainstorming into your descriptive copy as space allows.

Step 3.  Polish up your descriptions in a consistent voice.

Did you notice the way that the writing from The Territory Ahead has personality? Technically, this element is called voice, and it's what unifies the descriptions at a web site or in a catalog so that they have a corporate identity. When there's a tight match between the writing voice and the customers' interests and needs, the shopper feels the company is speaking directly to them, and that they're
looking at the kind of widgets they'd most like to buy.

While the samples above from The Territory Ahead have a kind of masculine romance about them, a catalog or web site's voice could be efficient, technical, playful, practical, compassionate, soulful ...  There are a zillion possibilities.

Whatever the voice chosen, it must be consistent throughout the catalog or web site, or prospective customers get confused.

Step 4.  Proofread, checking details.

As with any marketing or sales piece, the last step consists of proofreading, to make sure that you've included all the elements that people need to know before making a buying decision - size, color, composition, weight, price, etc. -- along with making sure that the details provided are accurate.

Four steps -- that's all there is to mastering the art of tantalizing product descriptions for catalogs or web sites.

Marcia Yudkin, author of Persuading on
and 10 other books, specializes in compelling, yet
hype-free copywriting. This article is adapted from her
report, 73 Ways to Describe a Widget: Never Be Brain Dead
Again When Having to Write Catalog Copy or Sales Material
available from

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