Craft Venture: writing to engage the senses (the content)

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Letter N, by Simple Sweet Design

Hi everyone!  I’m Brenda from Phydeaux, back again to continue our series about how to improve your chances for acceptance to juried exhibitions and marketplaces.  Last time, we talked about the mechanics of writing: spelling, grammar and punctuation.  This week, we’re continuing to talk  about engaging the senses using words, this time via your product descriptions.

I think the one challenge that all sellers face, regardless of experience, is describing their wares in writing.  Making and photographing your creation, design, supply or vintage wonder is often so much easier than finding the right words!  In an online marketplace, however, you not only need to be able to describe it, but to do so well and accurately.

Writing content, fortunately, is more daunting than it is difficult.  I hope this week’s post will give you invaluable tools that you will continue to use every day in your online business.

Writing is nothing more than telling your potential shoppers (or exhibition jurors) what they need to know about your item.  Start off with a lead sentence that snags your visitors’ attention.  Then, use the famous “five W’s and an H” from journalism:  who, what, when, where, why, how.  Make it personal – connect to your visitors!  Don’t forget to include anything that you’re legally required to state.  Finally, wrap it all up with a pretty bow – what makes you stand apart and how are you inviting folks to visit again?

For those of you who didn’t go to journalism school (probably the vast majority!), here is what the five W’s and an H means for you as a seller:

WHO is your item perfect for?  Is this something for infants, teenagers, dads, working women, everyone?  During the holidays or other major retail shopping seasons, make sure you tell your visitors for whom your item is the perfect holiday or seasonal gift.  Also, you may want to include who you’re item isn’t for (e.g., children under a particular age, if there are unsafe parts to your item).

WHAT is your item?  I think a surprising number of sellers think this is self-evident from the photographs.  Trust me, it’s not!  A popular, tried-and-true rule of thumb that every student of speech and debate learns:  tell them what you’re going to say, say it, then tell them what you said.  I think about the same thing with product descriptions.  Your photos can be the “tell them what you’re going to say,” your description combined with tags and materials (depending on how much content your venue allows for)  is the “say it” and “tell them what you said.”  How big is your item?  Is it very heavy?  What are the dimensions (in both inches and centimeters, please!)?  What is your item made of?  What size is it?  If you sell vintage clothing, be sure to include conversion to modern sizing!

WHEN will your item be ready to ship?  If it’s not ready to ship immediately, please say so, along with a timeline!  If your item is vintage or antique, when was it originally made?

WHERE is your item suitable for use?  As a knitter, I try to keep toasty warm scarves in my shop year round, with some tailoring depending on the season.  When the sun is blistering hot where I live, the southern Hemisphere is in the midst of Winter weather.  Likewise, I keep lighter weight knit items on hand year round, as well.  Christmas in Australia is hot – not ideal for thick wool scarves!

D is for ... neaware

WHY would someone want to buy your item?  In addition to your item’s beauty, uniqueness, and other wonderful qualities, you need to make someone want to own your item right this very second!  This is the whole package (photos, descriptions, 5 W’s and an H) plus your unique sales spin – make your visitors long to order your item with the words you use!  Evoke an emotional response by tapping in to a childhood memory (the sweet flavor of juicy peaches stolen from your grandpa’s garden), an intimate relationship (the color of your uncontrollable blushes during your first date with your now husband), or a favorite odor or texture (soft as a kitten’s paw and as sweetly fragranced as that kitten’s fat little baby belly).  Don’t just make stuff up – these descriptions should tie into things that are important and personal to you, which also gives you and your visitors that emotional connection mentioned above.

HOW is your item used?  HOW did you make it (without giving away secrets that you want to keep to yourself)?  HOW does one care for your item?  If your item is a vintage fondue set, don’t assume that all your visitors know what that is; instead, tell them what fondue is and how one uses that set to enjoy delicious hot melting cheese!  I don’t recommend going into a lot of technical detail about the “how,” but why not point out a few of the special details that you put into making your item?  Is your exquisitely handknit sweater made of mohair or cashmere?  How long did you bake your light-as-air macaroons at low temperature?  Is your glazed ceramic plate dishwasher safe or handwash only?

Beyond the five W’s and an H, what do you legally need to include?  Does your vintage item include any lead content in the paint?  Are there states or countries that you’re not able to ship your live plants or food to?  If you don’t know what you’re legally required to include, talk with your local or the national Small Business Administration.

All good writing has a strong opening and a strong closing.  Your first sentence and/or paragraph is your hook.  Your middle section is your content.  Then you just need a strong close.  This might be a good spot to include something about your customer service policy.  Mention gift wrapping options or available customization. Make your close personal and genuine, both of which are invaluable in converting casual browsers to repeat visitors.

In fact, keeping all of your content personal and genuine is important!  Learn from other successful seller’s content, but don’t just copy it.  Instead, develop and continually refine your own content.  When I first opened my online shop, writing a description took me hours!  I think my first few took me days!  I still struggle from time to time, but writing those descriptions is so much easier with practice and experience.

What’s most important to you in a product description when you’re shopping?  What tips or advice do you have as a seller for product descriptions?

Image credits:  1.  Letter N Custom Moss Door Hanging Initial, by Simple Sweet Design; 2.  D is for …, by neaware

6 comments | Click here to reply

Great article Brenda! =) Super helpful. This always seems to be a difficult thing to do…

Shanon | May 19th, 2009 at 5:44 pm

thanks for this great post – saving it in my Google Notebook for later reference!

Beth H | May 20th, 2009 at 10:10 am

Looks like I”m heading back to my etsy shop for a re-vamp session. Thanks for the tips. They will come in handy.

heather jane | May 20th, 2009 at 3:40 pm

I’m so glad you found this helpful!

Brenda | May 22nd, 2009 at 12:16 am

[…] crucial, particularly if you’re not a top seller with a global presence.  Remember the five W’s and an H?  Try to say that about your shop, in one sentence, particularly focusing on who are you, what do […]

paper n stitch - Craft Venture: writing to engage the senses (your shop details) | May 25th, 2009 at 2:42 pm

This is a great article! You know how to sell, sister! Love your writing as much as your lovely wares. Thanks for sharing your talents!

Karen @ TheJuneBride | May 27th, 2009 at 9:48 pm
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