How to Supercharge Your Content With Concrete Details

Detailed Concrete

One of the cornerstones of powerful writing is the use of concrete details that can tell your story for you. I don’t care if you’re writing a sales letter, a blog post or a short story for The New Yorker, you need details.

They have to be vivid.

They have to be compelling.

And they have to matter to your reader.

“Show, don’t tell” is one of the most important rules of effective writing. Instead of telling readers “the car chase was exciting,” the writer finds the perfect details to put the reader right into the action, with the gear shift vibrating under her hand and muddy grit splattering the windshield.

Learn the art of using concrete detail and you’ll learn how to put your readers into any emotional state you want. Make them hurt, make them hope, make them crazy with curiosity to find out more.

Create credibility with incidental details

Which of the following two do you find more convincing?

“A local business used my marketing services and attracted significantly more customers.”

vs.

“Jenny Lee–who makes a damned fine coconut cream pie, by the way–used my techniques to promote her bakery. Before she talked to me, she used to see about 60 customers a day. Last Saturday she served 314 happy customers, and she’s seeing those numbers climb every day. She told me she was going to take out that little bell that “dings” when a customer comes in, because the dinging is driving her up the wall. Mind you, it’s her pies and cakes (and that great smile) that bring them back, but it’s my marketing techniques that got them through her door in the first place.”

It may not win any writing prizes, but the second example is inherently more convincing. It’s stuffed with concrete detail… the name of the baker, what kind of pie she makes, precise numbers. The writing speaks to multiple senses… the taste of coconut cream pie, the sight of a great smile, the ding of the customer bell.

The more specific details you use, the more credible the story becomes. You don’t necessarily need to pile them on the way I have here. Good novelists spend a lot of time and thought coming up with the perfect single detail that tells the whole story. But if you don’t happen to be a great novelist, give yourself permission to layer in a few details to make the picture come alive in your reader’s mind.

This is a big part of why long copy consistently outperforms short copy, by the way. Long copy gives you room to add the specific details that make your story more compelling and believable.

Use color to paint a mental picture

We are a visual species. No matter what your dominant learning style is, you’ll remember new information better when it’s accompanied by a strong visual.

While actual images can be a valuable addition, one of the strongest ways to create visual impact in your copy is to use a color word. This almost forces your reader to paint a mental picture, which anchors your idea in his consciousness.

Remember the “red hills of Georgia” from Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech? Then there was Homer’s wine-dark sea. Or to go from the sublime to the ridiculous, how about Monica Lewinsky’s infamous blue dress?

Associating an idea with a color is a great way to anchor a particular thought or fact in your reader’s memory. When you’re looking for concrete details for your copy, try to incorporate a color. The impression you make will be more vivid and more enduring.

Make your details relevant

Ever started reading a book that began with a detailed description of a sunset, or the ocean, or a pristine forest? How long did it take you to start skimming until something interesting happened?

Microbiology textbooks are full of details, but most people don’t find them interesting. Details have to answer an interesting question for the reader. Talk about something that benefits them (like seeing more customers and making more money). Talk about their problems. Talk about people–we almost always find stories about people interesting. Talk about an emotional trigger, like food or babies or bankruptcy or an unexpected death.

Details about most products are boring. Details about people and how they’re solving their problems are much more interesting.

Almost every piece of writing can be improved with the skillful use of concrete details. Start using details today to make your copy more persuasive, more memorable, and more effective.

About the Author: Get more online marketing advice from Sonia Simone by subscribing to her blog today.

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  1. Sonia, as always you manage to grab the essential ingredients of the message, making you a great messenger and pro at understanding how copywriting works.

    Loved your reference to using colors too. Your second example of the Jenny Lee and her pies was so palpable that I got really hungry. Damn you for making me lust after something sweet right now.

  2. Thanks a lot for the Sonia. These tips hopefully should help me write a bit better.

  3. This is great, gush, gush.

  4. That is the best picture of concrete I have ever seen.

    You are so right, of course. Details make a huge difference. That’s why you are the master!

  5. I think it’s important to keep in mind that although adding details, benefits, and telling a story is generally a good idea, it is also important that your copy not be too long.

    Long copy might out perform short copy in many instances – but just make sure it’s not too long.

    Sometimes less is more.

  6. How could I not like this?

    And I am in love with that slab of concrete.

    Thanks for reminding me of Homer’s wine-dark sea. Touchstones. Strong ones elicit a response.

    Memorable, thanks.

  7. Good reminder! This is something I know, but when in a rush, the old reliable terminology just flows off my fingertips.
    My best garage sale ever was years ago when we paid extra to itemize our inventory in the classified ad… “Barney comforter” instead of bedding. The comforter was gone at 7 am, but people came all day asking about it and as a result only one load of leftovers went to charity at the end of the day.
    I’d be interested to see some “before” and “after” examples of the bakery marketing, just to prime the pump, so to speak.

  8. Even someone (Theophile Jules-Henri Marzials) who wrote what may be considered as the world’s worst poem likes to use color;

    “From the slimy branches the grey drips drop…
    To the oozy waters, that lounge and flop… “

  9. Show don’t tell is one of the cornerstones of screenwriting as well. When you’re writing for the screen, you want to show action whenever possible, not just two characters talking back and forth. This is somewhat similar. The more details you use in your writing, the more it comes alive. Thanks for the post, as always!

    – Dave

  10. Thanks for reminding me how much resonance the perfect concrete detail can bestow upon a sentence –wine-dark sea and red hills of Georgia: such crystalline mental images.
    In my world of food writing Tamasin Day-Lewis paints vivid word pictures, i.e.: “earthily misshapen artichokes, twisted knobbly roots that are a peeler’s nightmare, but worth every knuckle grating minute.”

  11. The concrete does make a nice contrast with the naked lady.

    @John Hoff, hmm, I wonder if a post on how to cut copy effectively would be worthwhile.

    @WDOC, that quote is astonishing. Thank you, I think. :)

  12. @Sonia- I so went there immediately. :) (And yes to the cutting copy,please)
    @WDOC- Rich. Thank you for that!

  13. I like the point about using some color in words to express points. Good tip.

  14. Absolutely, absolutely! Nothing has been more powerful – for my work as a copywriter or my reactions as a reader – than deep and colorful details. Good storytelling has been so overlooked in corporate copy over the years, I’m glad to see it making a comeback.

  15. Good post Sonia…We like Jenny Lee’s version of the baker’s example because we can associate with real people. We need real life examples before some one can convince us of their stories.

  16. Sonia,

    You are right, the details do make a difference. Thanks for this- right on, especially on the color.

  17. I like to remind my clients that “sensory detail is the difference between a statement — and a story.”

    About the cobalt call to have you post on cutting crimson copy, it might be fun to send out a purple paragraph (or maybe the sparkly story you posted) and let your luscious loyal readers try their hopped-up hand at 1 of 3 tingling types of edit: say, one for a wrinkled word count; one for salty sales; and one for… well, it’s your goose-bumped gig, don’t mean to blast over and butt in…
    (See how tough — and necessary! — self-editing can be? I have a delete key right here and I still can’t stop…!)

  18. Terrific, and you know why? Because you stressed the need for relevant details. Adding numbers, personality, and colors are very vivid and memorable. But what adds even more to that is when it’s oriented towards readers and their needs/goals/purpose. Great reminder!

  19. That was as good as sweet potato pie covered with freshly made whipped cream after Sunday fried chicken.

  20. @ Sonia – I think that would be a great follow-up post. Hey, would that make my comment one of those “getting ideas for blog posts from your comment section.” ;)

  21. Hi, Sonia! Thanks for posting this. I’ll learn to write a better details on my copy. Love the idea about colour. For sure, I’ll use it.

  22. Thanks Sonia, I am not the best writer and I am always looking for ways to improve. Great tips.

  23. Ah, well said. I seriously should be more “detail oriented” in my writings. Great reminder. :)

  24. Thanks a lot for the info. I started writing not so long ago (at least for my blog) and I’ve been thinking about ways to make my articles more interesting. The subject itself is interesting enough I think but you will remember it better when it was fun to read.

    There are a few blogs I sometimes read that provide super helpful information, but they’re just no fun to read, and that makes a lot of difference, because I’m not very tempted to read every article then!

  25. @John Hoff, ok, the “how to cut” post definitely goes on the list. Thanks for the suggestion!

    @GirlPie, LOL. You’re scaring me a little there. I like that “salty sales,” though.

  26. Your comments are ideal for aspiring writers, and a great reminder for seasoned pros.

    One note I’d like to add — one of the elements that made your examples compelling was the combination of concrete images and storytelling. If you can turn a cold phrase into a hot story, you’ll win every time.

  27. Creative licence at its finest!

    Thanks for a very timely post, which will be forwarded to a new writer who needs to be liberated from the confines of reality. If the bakery is a faded grey, let’s encourage our readers to believe that it is sunny yellow.

  28. Great blog, I was introduced to it from Viral Garden. As a marketing copy writer, I sometimes feel the pressure to cram as much detail and visualization into a small space – this is a good reminder that brief still needs these aspects, and when possible extend the length. I love the credibility section. I’ll be checking in here often!

  29. Unfortunately (and often out of necessity) the web has created a bunch of piece-meal readers who only skim and look for the most relevant content without reading into things. That’s why relevant, short, detailed, keyword-style content will always be much more hard-hitting. Great post!

  30. Very interesting thoughts. In fact this approach has significantly helped me write better copy for my clients. People want to read about the actual beneficiaries, they want to see the actual number of benefits your product or service has. You need to know what motivates your readers.

  31. I shared your article with my students and they loved it. They like to hear real world examples of the concepts I teach them. Effective, powerful, and persuasive writing is not just for school!

  32. “Details about most products are boring. Details about people and how they’re solving their problems are much more interesting.”

    So true. Apple understands this. Esthetics aside, the details of Apple computers are arguably not a whole lot different from PCs. But boy, does Apple make it look like their users are creative and hip.

  33. This post is like Maxwell House Coffee quote: “Good to the last drop.”