Make Product Content a Billboard-Free Zone

Your enhanced product descriptions are your ultimate promises to potential customers. If you keep those promises, you’ll earn both sales and new loyal customers. But if your product content lies or misrepresents your products, the new sales you make will be at the expense of building a loyal brand following.

We’ll talk extensively in the next few posts about the need for accuracy and thoroughness at the product description level, but one absolute rule bears a shout-out now:

[Tweet ” Billboards are for highways, not product-page content.”]

Our rules explaining how to keep descriptions billboard free are below.

Bad Brand Experiences Before the Internet

My first poor brand experience started with a billboard. A few hundred of them, in fact. And although it happened on a family road trip in the 1970s, long before PCs even existed, the rules haven’t changed and the story warrants telling.

Every spring break growing up in Massachusetts, my family would jump into our station wagon to head south on I-95 to Disney World. Starting somewhere in New Jersey, the first of what would turn out to be more than 250 South of the Border “Pedro” billboards would appear along the interstate.

Classic Push Marketing Sets High Expectations

The original billboards that entertained me depicted dozens of variations of a happy-faced “Pedro” extolling the virtues of South of the Border, a 300+ room Mexican-themed motel complex and roadside attraction in Dillon, South Carolina.

Looking back, they were the 1970s version of a Charlie Sheen #winning-fest–40-foot-high hashtags designed to bludgeon you into submission. Thankfully the changing mores of American culture have compelled South of the Border to change their billboard campaigns.

Unlike the millions of passersby that succumbed each year to Pedro’s relentlessly corny “Mexican speak,” my father always held his own and drove through. But one year he submitted to Pedro and we pulled over for the night.

I admit, we were excited. Those billboards captured our imagination. They promised the world’s largest miniature golf course and a restaurant in the shape of a sombrero. What more could a kid want?

A Broken Promise Creates an Unhappy Customer

As it turned out, the expectations that the billboards gave me (a fun-filled, irreverent, humorous place to visit) and the reality of the actual product (dark, dank, dingy, depressing, dour, diminutive, debauched rooms and cheap tourist-trap souvenir stands) were galaxies apart.

Ipso facto, my first-ever bad brand experience. That broken promise had such a force on me that today, even if SOB has since updated its rooms with 50-inch HDTVs, free Wi-Fi, and the world’s most expensive toilet, and even if Pedro comps me with a lifetime of free margaritas, I’ll sleep with Ellen Degeneres on a bed of nails before I set foot in SOB again.

If you don’t follow any other piece of content26’s advice, follow this one.

Your product-page content should never become a cheap billboard for your content strategy.

[Tweet “If your product can’t walk the talk, keep your product description mute. “]

How To Keep Your Product Content Billboard Free

1. Stay Honest

The first commandment for any product description, whether you’re selling acne medication or push reel mowers, is to be honest. Describe what the product does and the benefits it’s designed to bring the consumer. Creating false expectations will lead to poor consumer experiences and negative reviews. Including product reviews on your pages is one way to do this; Marketing Sherpa even suggests sharing reviews on social networks. Maybe. But at all costs, stay honest.

2. Stay Informative

Remember the ROPO effect (research online, purchase offline). According to Forrester Research, the Internet will influence 1.4 trillion dollars in offline sales in 2014. So consider your product content to be your 24/7 sales reps and supply information shoppers can use.

3. Avoid Exaggeration and Superlatives

There is literally nothing worse than a product page full of superlatives. (Get it?) Don’t use the “greatest,” “strongest,” “biggest,” or “anything-est.” If your product can’t walk the talk, keep your product description mute. Period.

4. Avoid ALL CAPS and Exclamation Points!


5. Keep Your Product Content Free of Advertisements

We’ll talk in a future post about the use of product images, but keep in mind that the vast majority of online shoppers consider the quality of images to be an important factor in whether to purchase from an online site. Your images (and videos) should not be extensions of your advertising campaigns. No celebrities, no Sunday-insert screen shots, no “As Seen on Oprah” logos. They should show your product from multiple angles and contextualized in real-life situations.

[Tweet “The first commandment for any product description is to be honest.”]

The Takeaway

Foster positive brand experiences by producing informative, billboard-free enhanced content. Your products will sell and your fan base will grow if you simply tell it like it is.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on 10/14/2011 at content26’s old blog, For this update we made edits and added a link or two, but the message is the same.

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