Do your product pages really need pictures?

Every marketer you speak with is bound to tell you that you sell benefits, not features. Most online stores are lists of features, rather than benefits. Amazon, for instance, doesn’t tell you the benefits of buying its products. Instead, it shows all of the technical details, lists of features and several images so you can see every aspect of what you intend to buy.

The world’s most successful online consumer retail store is clearly going against centuries of marketing advice. So how come Amazon sells billions of dollars of goods by focusing on features, not benefits?

The answer to that was in a blog post I wrote nearly three years ago about the confidence levels of consumers. People with lower levels of confidence tend to focus on features, rather than benefits.

From a marketing perspective that is important. If your customers are confident kind of people, they’ll focus more on the benefits. And therein lies another issue – the kind of pictures you use, or indeed whether or not you should use pictures at all.

The parade of pictures on Amazon are feature-based; they do not sell the benefits. So what kind of pictures might you need if your website has to sell benefits instead of features?

New research suggests you should not have pictures at all. A study conducted at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, found that people can focus their attention much more accurately when they visualise than when they are shown images. In other words, your attention is better focused when you create the images in your head rather than seeing those images.

Several years ago I worked with a group of Olympic athletes preparing for the Games in Sydney, Australia. I remember asking a leading sprinter “what do you look at when you are at the start?” He was completely clear with his answer – “nothing”. He looked at nothing – he was oblivious to everything going on around him. All he was doing was visualising his finish, breaking through the finishing line in the next 10 seconds or so. All successful athletes I have met do the same thing; they do not look at anything – they visualise the finish.

This suggests that the new research has a point. When people visualise, they appear to be able to focus better and pay more attention to what is important. You can use that principle in your product pages. All you need to do is to use word pictures or stories of the benefits, rather than showing pictures of the products you sell. That way, people will translate those stories and word pictures into images inside their heads, visualising those benefits. In turn, that means they will be more focused on buying.

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