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Detailed Product Review Outline
A good product review is based off real experience.
We’re hiring a reviewer for a wood stove e-commerce business, so I decided to clearly define what a “world class” review is.
First, let me give the hierarchy of reviews:
Used the product in everyday life for a year or more
Used the product in everyday life for two weeks
Lab tested the product (e.g. Wirecutter or Consumer Reports)
Talked to past customers/purchasers
Unique survey or test (like polling our audience. Pack Hacker polls their audience to see what they think of the backpack’s look.)
Meta analysis of other good reviews
There are two components to a great review:
Product knowledge: you’ve got to know a lot about wood stoves and be able to compare this stove to others. You need to use them on a regular basis. Preferably you already own one. You should talk about the good, the bad and the ugly.
Presentation: clear, outlined writing; video and photos with good lighting (that doesn’t feel too corporate) It should feel like a review and not a video from the manufacturer. You should be natural on camera and not feel too awkward or forced.
Having something to say is more important than how you say it. Knowing the product deeply and having a love for the category is the most important part. For wood stove reviews, we want to hire someone who has a wood stove and loves it.
So what does the product review look like?
In the ideal situation you’d get the product and live with it for at least two weeks. There are a few distinct points in a great review (they’ll get split out into individual pieces of content sometimes, but can get created all in one).
Installation or setup
Extended use (at least two weeks)
Conclusions and scores
How heavy is it? Did you need any special equipment to get it inside? How does it fit through doorways?
Video: you can shoot a candid with your iPhone. Check the lighting in the area you’ll walk through.
Photos: the box in a well lit spot! Take a candid like it was just a customer on Amazon posting a picture and a studio-level picture.
What’s in the box? Does it take any special tools to open? Anything to be careful of? What the parts are for.
Video: this is a fixed spot. Have a couple of cameras running from different angles. Be sure to have a lapel mic so audio quality is good as you walk around. The lighting should be consistent in the whole process.
Photos: you should be able to make a gif of the whole process by taking a picture at each milestone. Oftentimes the camera angle that’s most interesting will be over top. You’ll need shots of:
Box before it’s opened
A few shots as the box is opening (makes for a nice gif)
Item out of the box
Laying out all accessories or parts (piece by piece)
Final shot with everything that’s in the box laid out (you can label this in a still on the blog post)
Installation or setup
Walking through the installation process. Especially call out anything required for installation that isn’t required.
Video: you’ll need two cameras. First, setup a stationary camera that could be used as a Timelapse video or b-roll. Second, include a POV camera so they can see what you or the installer is doing. Use a mic to explain the process. If an installer is putting everything together, mic them up as well and give them the POV camera. You’ll have to ask them questions and have them explain what they’re doing.
This is a fun time! You’re using the product for the first time which is always exciting. Call out any special notes for the first time use. Point out anything confusing.
Video: two cameras again! One back giving a full shot and one POV
To know a product you’ve got to live with it for awhile. The excitement needs to wear off. This should be a minimum of two weeks of daily use, but the longer the better. Record the content every day for x days. These are short snippets with anything new you’re learning about the product. Little issues will come up. There will be things you like or don’t like.
Video: 1. time lapse style footage that you leave running the whole usage periods 2. Point of view for commentary. These will be quick little notes. When editing the video, you’ll want to add in day numbers (day 1, 2, 3, etc)
As a reviewer we need specific tests to help readers and viewers make a good decision.
For example, when I was buying a snowblower I wanted to know which was the quietest, so a decibel test would be helpful for me.
Pack Hacker does a dimensions check for each backpack they review so you can know which airlines will allow the hiking backpack as a carry on and which ones won’t.
Video and photos: whatever is best for the test. For example, if you’re testing the heat output, show the readout from the calorimeter and have a little clip.
Give fundamental information like the dimension, warranty, country of manufacture, fuel type, EPA rating, etc.
There’s only but so much you can learn in a short period with the product. That’s why it’s important to call past customers and look at forums like Reddit to see what the experience is for longtime owners.
Stress to them that you have no preference in them having a positive review or a negative. You just want to know what their experience is.
Ask if you can use their name and city and record the call. Release call snippets if they’re ok with it.
Questions you can ask for wood stove interviews:
Where do you live?
Tell us a little bit about yourself
What got you interested in a wood stove?
What do you use it for?
Why did you buy your particular model?
What have you liked about it?
What haven’t you liked about it?
How easy or hard was it to setup?
What questions did you have before you bought it?
What do you wish you’d known before you bought it?
Would you recommend it? (It’s ok to say no)
If you were buying a wood stove today, which one would you buy?
Get them to send some pictures of it installed at their house. Pictures of details are great. Show how it’s aging. Show wear and tear. Show what gets dirty. We want potential customers to be able to experience this as much as possible.
What questions can you think of that people might have for this product? What questions are mentioned in the manual? Do you see anything people are confused about in reviews or questions they asked on Amazon or your website? What does customer support get asked most frequently?
Videos and photos: if there are specific questions that are best shown with a video or photo, that’s great. If not, don’t force it.
How does it compare to similar products? It’s helpful to know what the top contenders are if they don’t decide to choose this product. Stress what the pros and cons are for them.
Always link back to the manufacturer’s manual. Mention anything you found helpful about the manual (or confusing).
Gather up all your data and start scoring. You want to have 3-5 metrics that go together to make the overall score. It’s also helpful because someone can compare the products and figure out which ones are best for them. Maybe they want a quiet blower and that’s more important to them than the overall score, or they’re looking for a beautiful wood stove and don’t care as much about the heating. An overall score is good, but you need to give a few additional dimensions.
Bonus: How it Works
If customers can understand how the product works, they’re more likely to buy. There are two parts to this:
Big benefit. Explain how this wood stove works to put out heat. Use 3D models or simplified diagrams to explain it. If possible, have an analogy.
Minor benefits or features. Pick out a few cool features and explain them using the process above.
Bonus: Customer Support
Test return or contacting customer support. Doing a little mystery shopping so you can explain the return or customer support process is helpful so customers know what will happen if anything goes wrong. Don’t just say, “you can call the retailer any time”, say “I got stuck so I called support and Susie came on. She helped me figure out I had the pieces on backward.” Best of all, record a call with customer support. Show the refund request process and troubleshooting process.
Bonus: Purchase Experience
Do a screen recording of what the purchase experience was like. Start with going to the product page, figuring out whether or not it was actually in stock, show all the checkout steps, the after purchase upsells, phone call and text confirming the order, email confirming the order. Shipping updates (how long it took to ship). Updates as we’re waiting for it to be delivered. Texts or phone calls with the freight people.
After publishing your review, it’s worth coming back and giving annual updates. If there’s a new option you’d recommend, mention that. If it’s still at the top of the heap, you can say that. It’s important to keep the content regularly updated!
These reviews are about generating content that would help the most hardcore researcher make a decision. We’re trying to write a one-stop review that dominates the word spam competition.
It will be time consuming and expensive, but for long running, hero products the value can be immense.
If each review like this costs $10,000 and each wood stove sale makes $250 in gross profit, it’ll take 40 sales to break even (just on gross profit). No product sells forever, so be sure it’s worth the effort!
Post Script: What if you can’t do this?
This is the gold standard review. It can take 40 to 200 hours to make this happen. It is not a cheap process.
If you can’t do all the steps, pick the ones that seem most important to your customers.
What if you can’t get your hands on the product and review it? Do some in depth research, ideally with customer interviews.
You need to answer the same questions as above, but you won’t have the luxury of having the product in your hands.
Customer interviews via phone calls and forums are your best option.