It's Monday -- that means it's time to open up the mailbox and answer YOUR questions!

It’s Monday — that means it’s time to open up the mailbox and answer YOUR questions!

Let’s check the mailbox, shall we?

It’s Mailbox Monday, which means it’s time to answer YOUR questions!

And remember — if you’d like your question answered in an upcoming issue of Mailbox Monday, all ya gotta do is send it through to

Oh yeah, and before we get started…

It’s May 4th…

Which means it’s Star Wars Day.

May the 4th be with you!

Alright Jedi, let’s dive into the ol’ mailbox for a question on how to read the mind of your target audience…

Hi Roy,

The Breakthrough Marketing Secrets blog has been an amazing resource for me, and your advice for copywriters helped me land my first contract.

I’m obviously a huge fan of yours now 🙂

Question: Would you be willing to write about your target audience research process for copywriting projects?

The most successful sales letters I’ve written are ones where I’ve been a dissatisfied member of the target audience.

You seem very scientific in your process, and I would love to be the same way.

Thanks for all your help,

Jeremy Estes

Thanks Jeremy! And so great to hear that you’ve started getting clients as a result of following my advice!

I know this stuff works. I’ve done it. I want YOU to know it works by applying it! (Happy to hear your success stories at

I could tell you crap that doesn’t work. And frankly, I know how to sell the dream.

I could probably make a whole lot more money with these lessons if I were to only tell you what you want to hear (instead of the truth, that you need to hear).

But I like to sleep well.

And I like to hear ACTUAL success stories, measured in YOUR success, not mine.

Which is why I continue to share what actually works in marketing.

And believe it or not, that’s a setup for today’s lesson, too…

The answer was already in the question!

The problem is, it’s only easy in SOME instances.

Let me explain. In Jeremy’s question above, he mentioned that the most successful letters he’s written are ones where he was “a dissatisfied member of the target audience.”

And there’s MAJOR truth in that.

Let me share a little bit…

How I lost a lot of money to get good at financial copywriting…

When a lot of folks get into copywriting, they look around for where the money is. Then, when they get an answer that it’s in financial publishing, they think, “bingo!” And the next day they hang out their shingle as a financial copywriter.

Well, I did things a little differently. Late 2007 or early 2008, I discovered that financial copywriting was a pretty lucrative niche.

But I realized that I knew very little about it.

And so, early 2008, I started investing.

I started off with some pretty mainstream advice. Put your money into market index mutual funds. Which means, a fund that manages your portfolio for you, by buying all the stocks in a certain index, like the S&P 500, or the NASDAQ.

Well, you don’t have to be much of a stock market historian to know what happened in 2008 and early 2009 to the markets…

In short, they tanked.

And the value of my portfolio with them.

But, believe it or not, this was actually GOOD news!

While one goal of my investing was to make money with my investments…

The bigger goal of my investing was to get an education in investor psychology, and what it would take to talk to investors on their level, in order to sell them financial newsletter subscriptions…

And here’s a truth of that market…

You don’t know how an investor thinks until you’ve made BAD investments and lost money.


Losing money in the 2008 crash did something great for my financial copywriting education.

It connected me — on a lizard brain level — with what it feels like to lose money.

I’ve also had other investments take off, and make me a bunch of money. (And lost money other times.)

All along the way, I’ve gotten a feel for the fear and greed that drive the average Joe or Jane’s investment decisions.

And it’s this emotional understanding based in firsthand experience that is the most helpful in connecting with investors.

There’s not much better way to research your target audience than to actually become one of them — preferably, “a dissatisfied member of the target audience!”

It’s part of why I haven’t done much work in health — because I’m still fairly young and healthy. I just don’t get the market psychology.

It’s also why I haven’t done a bunch of work in all sorts of different areas. If I’m not willing or able to become a member of the target audience, it’s much harder to connect with them.

Business opportunities, home-based businesses, marketers, and business owners, though… I can definitely shine there. In fact, anything wealth-related, with an ROI component, can work for me. Because I’ve fully immersed myself in those worlds. Or, at the very least, they’re pretty close to what I’m doing, enough so that the emotions will be similar.

But let’s say you stick me in a women’s market — say, women’s fashion.

Could I succeed? Maybe. But I’m at a huge disadvantage. I’m not a woman. I only have a man’s opinion on woman’s fashion. And I don’t know the fears, frustrations, failures, dreams, desires, and destiny of the target market. I could make reasonable guesses — but it’s a lot harder for me to feel like the target audience feels.

This leads to two important points…

First and foremost, it pays to seek out and choose projects in niches where you have some preexisting affinity for the target audience.

I once accepted a referral for a project writing about a supplement that was supposed to help with erectile dysfunction. It’s a problem I don’t have…

(Yet — and hopefully never!)

My copy wasn’t horrible. But it was an uphill battle, every inch of the way. (Pun noted.) And ultimately, it wasn’t successful.

Why? Because I was speaking to an audience whose pain I didn’t really understand.

Second, this is one of the biggest benefits of developing a specialty for your copywriting business.

It’s nice to be able to sell anything. And frankly, early in your copywriting it’s good to get experience in a bunch of different areas.

But in the long run, everything is easier when you specialize. And especially, this.

The longer I write investment copy, the easier it is for me to feel what the prospect’s feel.

Even what they feel about experiences I haven’t had yet. I know what it feels like to lose money in a market crash — it’s only a small extrapolation to imagine what that feels like when you’ve just retired, and you don’t expect to have any employment income ever again, for the rest of your life. Just take the fear, insecurity, and shame I feel in the middle of that crash, and multiply it by 100. Take the need to get that money back and multiply it by 100. Then, I’m in the head of my target market.

This is way easier to do now than it was five years ago, as I started writing investment copy. It will be even easier in another decade, easier still a decade after that.

The longer you specialize, the less you have to worry about researching your market, because you just know.

That said, this question was really asked from the perspective of a NEW copywriter, so let me give some tips there…

I went into a lot more detail about this at my workshop last November, but I’m not going to cover all that here.

Rather, I’m going to actually adapt the six steps of the scientific method to teach this…

Ask a question.

Good science and good answers always start with good questions. Here are some that work well for understanding your audience.

What are their biggest problems, challenges, or needs? What are their fears, frustrations, and failures? What are their dreams, desires, and perceived destiny? What roadblocks have they faced to getting what they want?

What happens if their problem is solved? What does that mean? And what does that mean? And what does that mean?

How will the perfect solution to these problems completely transform their life?

Do background research.

Search blogs and forums online. Look at comments, more than content. Search for book reviews in your market.

Ask people what they think and feel about the topic, and related topics around it.

Immerse yourself in the people who make up your audience, until you start to get a good feel for who they are, how they talk, how they think, etc.

Construct a hypothesis.

Start to develop a set of thoughts and feelings that you believe represent your target audience. As you start to do this, it will pay to write them down.

You want to make sure you have a clear understanding — the best way to make sure you understand anything write it out clearly, in your own words.

Test your hypothesis by doing an experiment.

There are two ways to do your experiment.

First, it pays to have someone who really knows the audience, that you can ask. Tell them that you’ve been researching, and want to make sure you understand the audience. Share what you’ve written, and get their thoughts. If the person does really understand the audience, they can give you feedback to hone your understanding. A really accomplished copywriter or direct marketer is your best bet because they understand the market based on previous buying behavior. If your client is friendly about working with you on this, they can be a great resource.

Second, you do the best experiment possible. That is, a market test. Make assumptions about what people in the audience will respond to, based on your understanding. Create little ads (banners, AdWord ads, text ads, email lift notes, etc., all work well) that you can put in front of a small segment of the audience. See which get response, and which don’t. This will tell you a ton about your market. Famously, Tim Ferriss did AdWords tests for the title of what would become the best-selling book, The 4-Hour Workweek. The original title? Selling Drugs For Fun And Profit.

Analyze your data and draw a conclusion.

Use what you learned in your “experiment” — whether it was peer feedback or a real market test — to establish basic understanding of your market.

As applies in any scientific body of knowledge, you should start to develop a complete set of “laws” that govern how you approach your audience. But in true science, none of it becomes dogma — all “laws” are subject being proven wrong or limited in application by further evidence.

Report your results.

The most organized (and often best) marketers keep a thorough file of what worked, and what didn’t. They can draw on this accumulated wisdom through time, establishing a body of knowledge that supports their future efforts.

If you have an accurate picture of your target audience, you can share that with your team. You can share it with other copywriters, eventually becoming a senior copywriter yourself. And, it usually doesn’t hurt your business to share it with the industry, either. (Brian Kurtz’s term for this was coopetition — working with businesses that would traditionally seen as competitors, because helping the industry usually helps every good business in it.)

Wow… This was another monster… So one last quick thing before I sign off…

Understanding what moves your target market is the single-best thing you can learn as a marketer.

Tomorrow, I’m going to go into a bit more on this — so make sure you open your email as soon as it lands in your inbox!

More breakthroughs to come…

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr

Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets

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