A common misconception among artists is that a high-quality image, accompanied by a short description of the artwork and its features, is enough to sell art online.
If that were true, Google wouldn’t deliver 4,600,000 results when you search the phrase, “Why isn’t my artwork selling online?”
Now of course, as a regular reader of the Art Storefronts blog, you already know there are many things you must do effectively on your website to consistently sell your work.
Writing good product descriptions is just one of them.
So if you’re getting a decent amount of traffic to your website but making too few sales, consider improving the descriptions of your artwork as one way to help convert more browsers into buyers.
As I mentioned in a previous blog article about the three rules of selling, buying decisions are emotional decisions. People tend to buy based on emotion and justify purchases based on logic.
This is important to keep in mind when writing descriptions of your artwork.
One of my favorite ways to illustrate the emotion versus logic point is with ice cream. I happen to love ice cream with a passion.
Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Caramel Fudge is my favorite flavor, and I would happily eat it every night if there were no deleterious consequences.
And I know plenty of other people for whom ice cream is also a terrible weakness.
But if we acted rationally, we would never eat ice cream, because as we all know, sugar is terrible for you – it’s not nutritious, it makes you fat, and it’s nothing but empty, unhealthy calories.
And yet, ice cream is a billion-dollar industry, because eating sugar makes you feel good, if only until the guilt sets in.
And once you’ve eaten a pint of your favorite flavor, you can justify that decision based on a few logical facts, such as, “I worked out and ate a clean, healthy diet all week, so this won’t hurt,” or “I lost 5 pounds this month, this is my reward.”
When writing descriptions of your art, it might be helpful to keep the ice cream example in mind.
Since art is considered an aspirational purchase rather than a logical, necessary one, like buying groceries, using words that make your clients and customers feel good about their purchase is important.
If ice cream is bad for us, but we buy it anyway because it makes us feel good, then buying art makes more sense, because it’s not inherently bad for us, it also makes us feel good, and it can sometimes even be a wise investment.
Sure, it’s way more expensive than a pint of ice cream, but you get the idea.
So what you want to do when writing product descriptions is create an emotional experience for your buyers that’s in line with the way they want to feel when owning your art – because a dry-as-dust list of dimensions and specifications isn’t going to help you make sales.
When writing any kind of copy for your business, there’s a variety of emotions you can tap into – curiosity, benevolence, pride, vanity, love, and trust, among others.
This will depend on the intersection of your clients’ needs and wants and how your products fulfill them.
This isn’t about manipulation, it’s about offering them something they already have a desire for.
There’s no one exact “right” way to write a product description, but here’s a 3-step process I often use:
The first rule of effective copywriting is to know your customer.
Everything flows from this. You really want to get inside their heads and figure out the deeper emotional benefit they’re seeking when buying your work.
What is the core desire you’re tapping into with what you sell?
With one-of-a-kind art, it could be your customer’s desire to own something no one else owns, and therefore to feel unique and special.
It could be to show off her good taste or to be the envy of her friends.
It could be that satisfied feeling that comes from completing a collection she started years ago when she was on a tight budget, and now she can add to it whenever she pleases because she has a disposable income.
In that case, the purchase represents success, and the feeling that comes along with it.
Or it could be because she wants to support the work of a favorite artist, or contribute to a cause she believes in that the art and/or artist supports.
One way to uncover your ideal customer’s core buying emotion is through use of the “so what?” technique.
This is a copywriting exercise that helps you figure out the deeper emotional benefit your customer is searching for.
Let’s say you sell original watercolor paintings of the Italian countryside done in the realist style.
That your paintings depict the Italian countryside is a feature, so you ask yourself, “so what?”
The answer: My collectors have spent time in Italy and want a piece of art that reflects their experience there, and my work gives it to them.
But you could go still deeper and again ask, “so what?”
The answer: My collectors want to own a work of art that reminds them of that one summer they spent in Tuscany, a painting that transports them right back there every time they look at it, to that same feeling of joy and freedom they felt traveling through Italy and that very special summer in Tuscany, and my work gives it to them.
The core emotional benefit is recreating the feeling of their favorite summer in Tuscany, and the freedom and joy that comes from traveling to a favorite place.
The goal is to connect with your potential buyers on an emotional level, and you do that by selling benefits, not features.
Features are things your product is or contains – such as its specifications and dimensions, and the materials you use to create your work.
Benefits are what the product does, the result it produces – as in the example above, the feeling of joy that comes from looking at a piece of art that reminds you of your favorite summer in Italy.
When writing product descriptions, you want to be sure to weave benefits among the features.
You’ll include the features in your description as well, both to embed your keywords and to satisfy your buyer’s need to justify the purchase.
Let’s use the example of the painting of the Italian countryside to demonstrate.
And let’s assume that the buyer has traveled extensively in Italy, already owns many original pieces of art that depict the Italian countryside, and prefers realism as a painting style.
We already know the core buying emotion is recreating the same feeling the collector had when spending her favorite summer in Tuscany.
Here’s a typical example of a product description that focuses solely on features:
Title: Tuscan Hills, Summer. Medium: Watercolor; Size: 30” x 40.”
I’m sure you’ve seen many art piece descriptions just like this; I know I have.
The problem is, that’s a lackluster description with no emotion-inducing benefits to compel interest from potential buyers.
It simply isn’t persuasive enough to help you make the sale, unless you’re already well-known and in-demand.
Here’s how we could write a description that uses both features and benefits:
Title: Tuscan Hills, Summer. Medium: Watercolor; Style: Realism; Size: 30” x 40.
Whether you’ve traveled to Italy multiple times or daydream of being there, this stunning watercolor will instantly transport you to the golden rolling hills and warm summer breezes of those perfect Tuscan days, the ones destined to remain etched in your heart forever. [Then add specifications info here.]
Now granted, that might seem a little on the cheesy side, and you don’t have to write your product descriptions like that, but the bottom line is, you have to romance potential buyers with more than dry and dull size and medium/materials specifications.
Paint a verbal picture of how your art will enhance your customer’s life and how they will feel owning it.
This is where it all comes together. You’ve figured out the ideal customer for your artwork and you’ve determined her core buying emotion.
You understand the difference between features and benefits, and you’ve used both in your product descriptions.
Now you want to add some creativity by painting a picture for your customer of how owning your artwork will make them feel.
This again is part of that all-important emotional connection.
We’ve already begun to do this in the description above when we talked about being “instantly transported back to the rolling hills of Tuscany.”
But you could go further and talk more about the themes of joy and freedom, and other emotions associated with traveling to beautiful places, or go into more detail about the Tuscan countryside, or describe in greater detail the emotional benefits of owning this particular piece of art to your core collector of Italian landscapes in the realist style.
Yes, that would create a long product description, but you can whittle it down to size for the online platform you’re posting on.
Pro-Tip: Use the entire description on your own site, and a shorter version on third-party sites you post on, changing it up a little so you’re not duplicating content.
This isn’t the only “formula” for writing winning product descriptions.
If you don’t know your customers and collectors well enough yet to determine their “core buying emotion,” a tried-and-true way to approach writing your art piece descriptions is the “inspiration + facts” framework.
This is where you share information about your inspiration, your creative process, why you use the materials you use, or any other interesting info you think will entice buyers, followed by “facts” about your work – size, materials, and other specifications.
I recently reviewed a few dozen product descriptions for an artist preparing to launch his website who used this formula very well.
To give you a little context, this artist creates contemporary colorful, uplifting art in the form of digital prints that “radiate positivity,” and reflect his “positive, forward-thinking, outlook on life,” as he describes it.
Here are a few art piece descriptions from a series he calls “Verticality,” to give you an idea of how to approach this style of writing product descriptions:
VERTICALITY 399 02 7: When I finished this, I recalled a phrase or motto a letterpress artist recently said in a presentation on his work — “Always Choose Happy!” And indeed, I think this work exemplifies that philosophy very simply with its color and gestures. [Size/materials/specs go here.]
VERTICALITY 400 08: After completing this painting, I thought — I am in a new floating colorist, gesturalist world, and I am writing and painting in the air as I float up with it. The paint is very light and is slowly rising, then disappearing off the canvas in an act of visual joy, positive movement, and exhaling beauty. [Size/materials/specs go here.]
VERTICALITY 392 08: First light. Early AM. Nothing is awake yet. The birds have not started to sing. The sky is just getting some new blue and turquoise color and emerging out of the grayness. This is the wonderful feeling or beginning of another new and exciting day that will be filled with endless possibilities. That’s how I felt after finishing this painting.[Size/materials/specs go here.]
VERTICALITY 406 05: This is a banana Popsicle. It is the sun at its brightest on many levels. Mango, but the flesh is more yellow than orange. Bananas from the tropics. The whole feeling is the sunniest yet. I am layering over the old with big swaths of yellow. Making big colorist moves to happy. [Size/materials/specs go here.]
VERTICALITY 328 05: Is this painting going off the edge literally and metaphorically? Or stuck and not able to move? Is this a dawn after a particularly tumultuous dark night, with the dew finally evaporating in an upward slow motion gestural fogginess? Is this calm water or a calm dawn? In the end, I thought of this as a subtler emotional awakening. A refreshing morning stretch and a yawn. [Size/materials/specs go here.]
What’s so great about the descriptions above is that they convey the artist’s unique personality, style, and approach to his art in a genuine, engaging way that reflects his enthusiasm for the work.
They’re not the standard boring descriptions one sees so much of – and importantly, these descriptions work because they don’t sound slick, formulaic, and full of marketing speak.
Which just goes to show you, you are likely the best person to write your art piece descriptions.
Because only you know why you create your art, what inspires it, and what message you’re trying to convey or feeling you’re trying to evoke.
If we can't teach you, no one can!