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Two-Minute Toolbox: Studying Product Reviews is Like Delacroix Painting for the Paris Salon

Wait, what?

I know that’s what you’re thinking, because this title doesn’t make any sense.

Look, I didn’t want to go into academia or become a teacher, so this is what I have left to do with my history background.

But I was reading (for fun) about Eugène Delacroix last night, I saw some similarities between his approach to his painting exhibitions, and an important Amazon approach to perpetual product improvement.

Curious? I hope so!

(Spoiler alert: This is about improving your product through product reviews).

Combining the “tried and true” with the cutting edge

You’re probably tired of hearing us say this, but as an Amazon seller, you need to be (at least) one step ahead of your competitors at all times.

That philosophy doesn’t just apply to your listing copy, or your PPC, or your keyword rankings.

That philosophy applies to your literal product.

You can market your product to the moon and back, but if the product itself isn’t a step above your competitors’, nobody will buy it (and you can be sure they’ll tell everyone on Amazon not to buy it either).

However, as humans, we find comfort in the familiar.

What I’m saying is … your product can’t be SO out there that nobody wants to take a chance on it.

Part of your job when designing your product, then, is to reconcile what already works with your audience’s unaddressed needs.

Experimental, but not too experimental

If you’ve ever set foot inside a museum, taken art history 101, or maybe read Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, you’ve probably been exposed to Eugène Delacroix.

Here’s one of his tamer paintings, The Sea of Galilee, since if I posted some of his more famous works, I might get a slap on the wrist.

Note the way the painting is rendered. You’ve got clear figures, but with wispy brushwork so that the people don’t look like an attempt at photorealism. You’ve also got plenty of drama, movement, and staging going on – the sort of stuff his audience would have liked.

See, just before Delacroix came into the spotlight, the accepted and mainstream painting style was to render figures as realistically as possible. That was Neoclassicism (so coined because everyone was busy worshiping the “classical” period of Hellenistic Greece, with some Ancient Roman hodgepodge thrown in).

For example, here’s J.L. David’s Oath of the Horatii, which is essentially Neoclassicism 101. It’s the accepted cocktail of Ancient Rome and photorealistic people.

Delacroix was arguably the start of what we now call Romanticism, a romantic departure from the austerity of Neoclassicism.

But how did all of Paris and beyond ever come to accept Delacroix’s work – while he was alive (that’s right, they didn’t wait for him to die before letting him become famous)?

Here’s my long-winded point:

Delacroix knew how to balance what was already loved and accepted with, well, progress.

Consider the Impressionists later in the century who basically flipped the bird at the art trends of their time – they were laughed all the way out of the Paris Salon, whereas Delacroix was accepted.

Again: Balance.

For the rest of his career, Delacroix continued to enjoy success in the Paris Salon (which was basically the Mecca of the Western art world) while gradually introducing new subjects and styles.

(Occasionally he did shock his audience with more daring pieces, but that’s another paper – er, blog post.)

So what does this have to do with product reviews?

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations and thanks for sitting through my nerding out over art history.

But my point here is, again, where your product design is concerned, you need to start with something that people want, and then make it better.

This is an approach you can take both before and after your product launch, and is something you should start in the early stages of product development, but still continue to do long after your launch.

holiday amazon data mining
Metaphorical thing that people like, waiting to be unwrapped by you, the diligent researcher.

First, figure out what people like

While still in the product development phase, you’ve narrowed down a product idea and are ready to actually design the thing.

Start with what people already like.

Find the top ranking ASINs in the space and study their product reviews. You can use Helium 10’s Review Insights tool (inside our free Chrome Extension) to quickly sort and download product reviews by date, star rating, and so forth.

To find what people like, I’d suggest narrowing the reviews by 4 and 5 star reviews, then seeing what people most frequently talk about. The tool quickly combs through reviews for the most mentioned words and phrases just for that reason.

So, find out what people are praising most about existing products, and make sure to include those in your own product designs.

Then, figure out what they don’t like

On the other hand, you can use those frequently mentioned words and phrases to also discover the most common customer complaints. Gather those complaints; that’s valuable intel.

If they hate a particular feature of a product, or if there’s a common technical issue or other bothersome thing, make sure to address that in your product design.

Then, perhaps equally importantly: call out that comparison in your product listing.

“Other mascaras clump too easily; our mascara applies smoothly with no clumps!”

Finally, figure out what they need

Hand in hand with what customers don’t like is generally a cry for something they want or need.

On top of improving upon product issues customers have complained about, this is your opportunity to figure out what additional perks they’d like.

With the above mascara example, the clumping is a clear negative. But perhaps the applicator shape is suitable, though nothing to write home about. Maybe customers have mentioned a different shape or bristle type would be better – it’s not a dealbreaker to them, but still a possible improvement opportunity for you to convert them over to your product.

Go forth and conquer

Armed with this new knowledge, it’s time to convert your competitors over to your side! As for me, going forward I’ll try to think of Amazon as the Paris Salon.

Kai is a Bay Area transplant currently based in Long Beach, CA. A visual artist, art historian, and Nintendo geek, he's an avid purveyor of the strange and delights in the intersection of art and natural sciences.

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