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marketing 101

Never Say These 5 Things When You're
Selling Your Product

Good writing can make or break a website — take it from someone whose entire career has been dedicated to writing for international brands. These 5 things are big no-nos when it comes to selling your product, but here’s 5 alternative approaches you can use instead.

A bunch of neon signs that all say "sale"

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No matter what your business is, you have something to sell. It might be a service, like coaching, photography sessions, or tutoring. It might be a tangible product, like a necklace, a handmade journal or a jar of delicious candied jalapeños. Or it might be an intangible product – an online course, a downloadable PDF, or design templates. 

It doesn’t matter what your product is. Somebody out there wants it. NEEDS IT. HAS TO HAVE IT. (I think I just transcended time/space and landed in a Coldstone Creamery.) Your job is to sell it to them. 

But my product is so good, it sells itself, you might be thinking. 

And on the one hand, yes, quality is important. Nobody wants to buy something crappy with their hard-earned money. But on the other hand… 

Have you ever seen a real estate listing for a house that has really bad photos? I know you have, it’s practically its own category of social media post. A few times a year, my friends will share a listing in our group text, and we’ll go through every photo, laughing at bizarre details. 

“Did anybody else see the nine bags of cat food?” 

“Wait, is that backyard pool actually an enormous KOI POND?”

“Is that some kind of sex shower or… a baptismal tub??” 

(These are all real details from real listings, by the way.) 

It doesn’t matter how nice a house is – whether it’s got top-notch construction, marble floors, is completely solar powered or has a solid gold toilet – if the presentation is bad, it’s never going to sell for what it’s worth. 

The same goes for you. Your product can be absolutely killer, but if you don’t present it well, you’ll never know what it’s truly worth. And there are tons of different factors that go into “good presentation,” but today, I’m going to share with you 5 phrases you should never use when you’re selling your product. 

A bicycle parked on a lush, green street

NO-NO #1 for selling your product: “You’ll love it.” 

This was one of the earliest rules I learned in my career as a copywriter. You never, ever tell people what they love. They’ll tell YOU what they love. 

The satisfaction of your customers is something you have to earn. You can’t cheat it, and you can’t assume you have it by telling them you think they’ll love your product. Why? Because most people’s gut reaction will be, “We’ll see about that.” Or worse, “This brand doesn’t understand me at all.” 

Say you’re shopping for a bike. You want a nice, cushy cruiser for tooling around your neighborhood with your kids. So you go to the bike shop, start looking at cruisers with extra-padded seats and space for a basket at the handlebars, and all of the sudden, a salesperson comes up. 

“You’ll love our state-of-the-art roadbikes.” 

“You’ll love our heavy-terrain mountain bikes.” 

“You’ll love our adult tricycles.” 

Uh, no, actually. I won’t. Because none of those are what I came for. 

Even just, “You’ll love our $1000 cruiser,” when your budget is $500 can be enough to leave a sour taste in your mouth. 

Don’t tell people what they’ll love. They’ll tell you what they love.

 

WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD: “We did X, so you can Y.” 

Trust people to evaluate their own purchases. You don’t need to tell them what to love – tell them about the love YOU put into your product, and why. 

“We hand-tune all our cruiser bikes before we ship them to bike stores so you can leave the shop and ride home.” 

“We provide high-shine glitter decals you can apply on our frames so you can have the coolest bike on the block – and nobody can steal it and pass it off as theirs, because it’ll be one of a kind.”

“All our bikes come with a pre-installed hitch compatible with any of our accessories, from kiddie trailers to tandem-bike add-ons. So as your family grows, you can keep your kids close to you while giving them a taste of adventure.” 

People know what they need – you just have to help them picture themselves using your product. And the more vivid the picture, the easier selling will be. 

NO-NO #2 for selling your product: “It has…” 

It has X, it has Y. 

The dresser has five drawers. 

The watermelon has no seeds. 

The conference has 100 seats. 

Zzzzz. Snooze. 

When you use the words “It has,” you’re not selling your product – you’re describing it. And you’re not even describing it in an interesting way. 

Picture Stephen King sitting down to write his newest horror novel, about a two-headed crocodile that inexplicably lives in the sewers of Portland, Maine. He sits down at the typewriter he’s had since 1975 (I assume), threads a piece of paper through the rollers, and begins.

“Gage peered into the oily darkness of the drainage pipe, squinting hard as though it would help him hear better. But he only heard the gurgling of water as it joined up with the creek, flooding across old man MacDougal’s farmland. Suddenly, a great beast rose from the water, two sets of wide jaws gaping open as though it could swallow him whole. It had 100 sharp teeth, green scales, two heads, two snouts and a tongue…” 

Close book. No thanks. 

What your product has is important. But telling people what it has is only half the equation. It’s an unfinished sentence. 

WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD: “It has X, to [why it’s important].” Better yet, “Its X is great for Y…” 

“My company, ABC Naturals, sells high-quality hair care products for people with sensitive skin. Our signature shampoo, Squeakee Clean, has hypoallergenic, all-natural ingredients like X and Y to strip buildup off your follicles without irritating your scalp, face or body. Its plant-based lather is great for giving your hair a deep clean, while rose water imparts a subtle fragrance without the use of essential oils or perfumes, which are common allergens.” 

You might notice another formula you can borrow in that paragraph above.

“While X does Y without A.” Don’t just tell people what your products are, tell them what they do.

A woman shampooing her hair

NO-NO #3 for selling your product: Anything that overpromises. 

Overpromising results or making wild claims about your product or services is bad business. It’s toxic marketing, assuming people believe you. And it’s embarrassing, assuming they don’t believe you. 

There’s a great Tom Waits song that’s literally just ad slogans, guarantees, and marketing cliches. It’s called Step Right Up and it’s one of my favorite songs of all time. You can hear it here

“Act now only! Act now only!”

“They come in all colors, one size fits all…”

“It picks up the kids from school, it gets rid of unwanted facial hair, it gets rid of embarrassing age spots, it delivers a pizza…” 

“It walks your dog, it doubles on sax…”

There’s a reason most people disdain sales as a profession (only outdone by their disdain of lawyers) and as a skill.

And it’s because too many people think to sell their product, they can just say whatever they think their customer wants to hear – whether it’s true or not. 

When I was in high school in the late 90s and early 2000s, I remember getting sucked into fitness commercials. Tae Bo was all the rage, and Winsor Pilates. This was back when we were still doing workouts off of VHS tapes. There would be these hour long infomercials that would play early in the morning and late at night on certain channels, and boy, did they know exactly what to say to hook an unsuspecting, 16-year old rube. 

You can have a flat stomach in 30 days. 

You’ll lose 10 pounds in a week. 

Sheila went from a size 16 to a 000 in a week and a half. 

You know how we all know it’s not true? Because nobody’s doing Tae Bo and Winsor Pilates workout tapes or DVDs anymore. Of COURSE it wasn’t some miracle cure.

They were just pretty average workouts with huge marketing budgets.

What I didn’t know at the time is that even before/after shots of the same person can be heavily manipulated without being faked. Yeah.

They don’t have to photoshop an “After’s” face onto a “Before’s” body. They could pay a fit person to take the After photo first and then gain 20 pounds, take a Before photo, and lose it again on their own time. Or they could take a fit person, have them gain size with a combo of bloating, water weight, fat and bad lighting, and then take their after a month later when they’re back to normal. Same person. Similar photos. But it’s all a lie. 

And you know what? They sold a lot of tapes. But it’s deeply shitty, and someone might try and sue you, because people are going to be mad they got duped. 

At 38, my skepticism meter is much more well-honed. I can scent bullshit from a mile away.  

A sign that reads Buy Now or Cry later

WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD: Claims you can back up.

The fantasy of transforming yourself overnight is sexy, but it’s only a fantasy. People will absolutely buy your product even if you promise way, way less. 

In fact, I would argue it’s the products that promise way less – but really specific, specialized things – that do the best. 

Would you buy a travel mug that promises to keep your coffee hot for a week? Or would you buy the one that says, “Our tests show coffee stays at 110-degrees F for up to 16 hours”? 

Would you buy the foundation that promises to make you look like you’re 20? Or would you buy the foundation that says, “Leaves a luminous, dewy finish that blurs imperfections and doesn’t transfer to your clothing.” 

The specificity of our everyday concerns is powerful. We don’t need someone to gas us up, telling us we’re a well-dressed Emperor when we’re walking around buck-ass-naked. But we might buy a pair of ponte pants tailored to look like work trousers that are as comfortable as sweats. It’s 2022, nobody wants to wear uncomfortable clothing anymore, but we all still want the option to look polished.

Get real with your audience. Make specific claims you can back up and believe in your products. 

NO-NO #4 for selling your product: Being too formal. 

Marketing is about connection. You need to understand what your customers need. You need to connect with them and earn their trust. And you need to make them believe your product can help them. It’s a relationship

Have you ever met someone who speaks really formally? Hitting their T’s with precision, e-nun-ci-a-ting every word me-tic-u-lous-ly? 

Does it make you feel comfortable to be around them? Or does it make you feel a little bit like you’re being judged for the way you speak? Like maybe you didn’t get the memo and there’s a presentation you were supposed to be practicing for all night. Or like this person is speaking particularly formally as a way of showing you how much better they think they are than you? 

Look, I don’t think any of those things are actually true.

Probably, people who speak like that have their own baggage, their own demons. A history of stuttering, maybe. A grandmother who forced them to practice their diction to earn dinner. It’s never about us, even if something triggers big emotions inside us. 

But think about the opposite. Have you ever met someone who instantly put you at ease? Who seemed to like you right away, who spoke to you with so much comfort it was like you’d known each other for years? 

The overly-formal person and the instant-friend person can say the exact same stuff to you – but because they say it in different ways, it affects how you feel about the message. 

It’s the difference between, “I’m so pleased to finally meet you,” and “Oh my god, YOU’RE Lana? I’ve been dying to meet you!” 

Or the difference between “The hostess reported that the wait time is above forty-five minutes, and recommended we take a seat at the bar instead,” and “It’s a forty-five minute wait, do you want to grab a glass of wine while we wait?” 

Formal language does not put people at ease. I would argue that formal language creates distance – that it’s designed to create distance between the speaker and the audience. That distance can be useful in formal occasions. It can lend gravity to a funeral, or pomp to a graduation ceremony. 

But we’re talking about marketing, and your job is to build that relationship with your audience. Who would you rather be in a relationship with?

WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD: Talk to your audience the way you’d talk to a friend. 

Your tone can be informal and still match your subject matter. If you ran a plumbing business, you could still use all the specific, jargony words for various parts and pieces while building a rapport with your audience. If your branding is funny, you can be funny and still share important details about your product that aren’t a joke. 

If you’re a math tutor, you can sell kids or their parents on your services without having to use big, scary words like binomials and arctangent. You can just say, “I’ll work with you until you know your algebra so well, you sleep like a baby the night before a test.” Or if you were speaking directly to fifteen-year-old me, “Failing trigonometry out of spite? I’ll catch you up so you won’t have to take it again next year.” SOLD.

NO-NO #5 for selling your product: Leaving out important info. 

Have you ever been looking at a product you needed for a specific use, and you couldn’t find a crucial detail? Like you’re looking for an over-the-door hook for your closet, but you’ve got old, extra thick doors, and you can’t find the width of the hook itself to see if it will fit your door size. 

Maybe you’re looking at a gorgeous editorial image in an online magazine – The Cut, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar – and there’s a beautiful pair of gloves you’d love to know more about. So you go to the caption and it says, “Contact X for pricing info.” Oh, fuck right off. 

It’s your job to offer as much relevant information as you can without overwhelming people. And you need to know what “relevant information” means to your audience. 

If you sell specialty art yarn meant to be used in weaving projects, and it’s distinguished by your use of creative, unconventional materials – feathers, dried plants, shells, whatever – the fiber content of your yarn may not be super important. It’s probably not at the top of the list of things your audience looks at when it comes to your products. 

But if you’re selling beautiful, hand-dyed yarns in a weight that’s perfect for making sweaters from? Or baby blankets? Or socks? Your fiber composition is going to be one of THE most important details you can list on your product page. 

Know what details are important to your audience, and make sure they can find them easily.

WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Break up your product info into different sections. 

Clothing retailers do this well. If you’re looking at a leather jacket, there might be a description section that tells you about the construction. Is it lined? Does it zip or snap closed? Any secret interior pockets? 

Then, there’s usually another section for fit or sizing. Does it run small? Is it unisex sizing, women’s sizing, plus sizing? Are the sleeves full length? 

After that, there’s usually another section talking about the composition of the jacket. Is it real leather? Leather from a cow or sheep? Plastic faux-leather or that weird mushroom leather that’s supposed to help save the planet? Is the lining polyester, rayon, silk? 

When you have a lot of details to offer, you don’t have to tell a story about each and every one of them. It’s fine to create a section called “Dimensions” and list measurements, or add the runtime of your course videos to a section called “Course length.” 

Give your audience ALL the details that are important to them, and organize it in a way that doesn’t feel overwhelming. No need for blocks of copy when you could list mundane details. But be sure to speak to any unusual or important elements and give them context, like we talked about above. “My course videos are under 15 minutes each so you can complete a module a night and still have dinner with your family,” for example. 

To recap: 

  1. Don’t tell people how to feel about your product. Do tell people what your product is good for. Ex. Our cruiser bicycles have an easy-adjust seat so you never have to fiddle with the height in the middle of the road.

     

  2. Don’t tell people what your product has. Tell people what your product can do for them. Ex. With extra-wide tires and super shocks, you can bike on all kinds of terrains and still have a smooth ride.

     

  3. Don’t overpromise. Do get specific. Ex. We have bikes to suit adults from 4’9” to 6’6” and 90lbs up to 450lbs, which means there’s a bike comfortable for just about anyone.

     

  4. Don’t speak too formally. Do build a connection. Ex. Whether you haven’t been on a bike since the summer of ‘89 or you’re looking for a tricked out rig that can swing a 720, we’ve got options we’d love to show you.

     

  5. Don’t leave out important info. Do organize details to avoid overwhelming your audience. Ex. Our base Lemonade Cruiser model starts at $499, with options for add-ons and accessories. See the full list of optional features and accessories here. 
 
 
Have you made any of the mistakes listed above? How do you plan to fix them, and which tips did you find the most useful? Let me know in the comments below! 
A white woman sitting outside, smiling at the camera.

Hi, I'm Lana.

I’ve spent 16 years in advertising, and now I’m using that knowledge to help creatives grow their own small businesses. Will that include you this year? 


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