Technical language hurts your sales
Descriptions using technical language made people up to 16% less likely to buy a product. Focus on benefits instead.
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You’re about to launch your new washing detergent and expect it to do really well. Your engineers have developed a groundbreaking formula that has worked wonders in trials at removing stains.
But how do you explain that to your customers?
Experienced marketers know that it’s better to focus on benefits, and not get bogged down in technical features.
Here's the scientific evidence to support them.
P.S.: Beyond technical language, make sure you generally avoid using words people might not understand, or your product will seem lower quality and more expensive.
Technical language makes people less likely to buy a product
Channels: Ads | Messaging | Copywriting | Content
For: B2C. Can be tested for B2B
Research date: September 2023
Avoid overly technical language when describing your product (e.g. this shampoo contains Panthenol, Glycerin, and Citric Acid).
Instead, focus on describing the product’s benefits using simple language (e.g. this shampoo leaves your hair silky and shiny and prevents dandruff).
People will be more likely to buy your product. Particularly if they know little about your product beforehand.
People are less willing to purchase products when technical language is used in the ad copy.
As part of a series of 4 studies, researchers found that:
People were 15.7% less interested in buying a quilt when the ad used technical language (“Made from soybean fibers with multi-layered 3D crimp”) vs described benefits (“It’s soft and warm, breathable, fluffy and does not cling”).
People had 11.9% lower intentions to buy a laundry detergent when shown an ad using technical language (“high concentration, [...] biological enzymes, and a neutral PH”) vs one focused on the product’s benefits (“residue-free, prevents discoloration and is mild on the skin”).
This effect disappears when
Technical details about the product are important to differentiate it, such as for a powerbank (where charging time and capacity are important)
People have strong technical knowledge
🧠 Why it works
We like ads and products less when they’re harder to understand. Unfamiliar or technical language isn’t as easy for us to understand because it frequently uses terms we are unfamiliar with.
If we don’t understand a product description we’re also less inclined to trust the product.
In contrast, we’re more likely to feel positively about an ad that’s easy for us to mentally process.
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The study did not account for whether people had previous experience using the advertised product.
The research looked at products in isolation. When comparing brands in a competitive market, technical details may be a useful tool to differentiate products.
🏢 Companies using this
Most established companies correctly focus on describing their product’s benefits, rather than technical features. For example:
Skincare brand Neutrogena, soapmaker Lux and clothing brand The North Face all highlight their main selling point without delving into the technical specs that make it possible
Even AI software, from Seamless to ChatGPT tends to focus on benefits rather than technical details of how they provide them
Electronics and tech product companies, such as laptop or smartphone brands correctly highlight their technical specs in detail, often including comparisons with competitors.
Entrepreneurs from a technical background often struggle to grasp the advantages of leaving technical descriptions aside, and focusing on the benefits.
Listerine prominently highlights its product’s benefits, with a footnote added in to share how it technically achieves it (by preventing tartar buildup).
⚡ Steps to implement
Make sure your ads and product messaging are easy for potential customers to understand:
Keep your audience in mind when you decide how much technical information or details to include about your product. For example, if you’re selling artisanal face creams, you may be able to focus broadly on its benefits at a local pop-up bazaar, but will need more detailed information about its components at a beauty and cosmetics expo.
Similarly, if technical specifications are the main differentiator between you and your competitors, like the RAM and processing speed of a laptop, or the ingredients that make a cleaning product or personal care item effective, make sure to highlight that.
🔍 Study type
Liu, J., Hong, X., Zheng, Z., & Zhong, J. When consumers have difficulty understanding ads: How technical language lowers purchase intention. Journal of Consumer Behaviour (September 2023).
Jiayao Liu. Zhejiang University
Xinyue Hong. Zhejiang University
Zhixing Zheng. Zhejiang University
Jianan Zhong. Zhejiang University
Remember: This is a new scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.
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