Back when my wife and I lived in a hip loft on the east side of downtown Dallas (read: back before the kids came), I used to take the dog for walks in our funky little neighborhood just north of Deep Ellum. There resided an artist who worked and lived out of his studio, where he crafted eccentric sculptures out of recycled iron and steel scrap.
I’d often wonder as I walked by his place if it was worth his while to have a website to gain a wider audience for his work. Back at that time, just after a monumental Internet bust that resulted from outrageous amounts of money being spent to promote sock puppets, I wasn’t sure if the guy could attract enough traffic from a web presence to actually make sales, no matter how good his work was.
Fast forward to 2006.
The Rise of the “Catablog”
John Unger is an artist in rural Michigan who works and lives out of his studio along a lonely highway, or as he puts it, “dead center of the middle of nowhere”. John makes eccentric art and sculptures out of recycled scrap materials, such as propane tanks, old cars, rivets, and bottle caps.
Here’s the cool thing. John sells quite a bit of his work thanks to his blog.
Why? Well, when other little blogs like Boing Boing (and many others) take notice, amazing things start happening in terms of traffic and sales. That’s something that the e-commerce people of the late 90s just never got — it’s the little guy with the unique product that can gain the most benefit from worldwide exposure.
Basically, anything that can be sold by catalog is a perfect candidate for Internet sales. And when you create a “catablog,” you have no worries about printing, distribution, copy space, or often even advertising costs. You don’t even need a fancy $10,000 ecommerce site or a merchant account thanks to PayPal.
Why John Unger’s Product Blog Works
John not only makes unique products, but he knows how to present those products via photography and copy that sells. Let’s take a look at one of his items and how he presents it.
John’s Pot-de-Feu (pot of fire) grill is hand-cut from scrap 20 lb propane tanks, and is a miniature version of his extremely popular (and much more expensive) Great Bowl O’ Fire recycled fire pits. These more affordable grills are an attractive summertime backyard item, and that’s the story John tells with his copy.
- His headline “A Hot Little Portable Grill for Summer” is nicely done, engineered for humans as well as the search engines.
- The copy is very specific about the materials John uses, and hints at exclusivity and scarcity by mentioning right away that each piece is hand-made and one-of-a-kind.
- John then begins to allow the reader to imagine the grill in use, which is essential. A prospective buyer must imagine the grill in her own backyard, and John evens adds in tasty menu suggestions that allow the reader to imagine how well the item will reflect on themselves when entertaining.
- Next, the reader is presented with pricing and multiple purchase options. People love choice, as long as the choices do not prompt “analysis paralysis.” John might want to test various other ordering menu options to see what works best.
- John then presents more photos, and even more useful, descriptive copy, testimonials, reviews, features, and even safety tips. Remember, people love to get as much information as they can before committing to a purchase. This is another big advantage catablogs have over paper catalogs, and you should definitely take advantage of it. Only stop giving information if you no longer have anything pertinent to say.
Filling in the Narrative Gaps
When it comes to eclectic consumer products, one must remember that we don’t buy things because we need them. We buy them because they help tell a piece of the story we want to tell about ourselves, or as Hugh MacLeod eloquently says:
If people like buying your product, it’s because its story helps fill in the narrative gaps in their own lives.
Help people tell their own stories better, and your product blog can create a wonderful story for you as well.
Brian Clark teaches his readers how to blog (and sell) more effectively at Copyblogger.