Let’s get dirty…
What? What do you think I’m talking about? 😉
It’s only the dirtiest, ugliest, grimiest, least glorious part of being a really good copywriter. And it’s the same dirty, ugly, grimy task whether you’re a freelancer or write for your own business.
It’s something that most novice copywriters overlook, because they’re way too into the actual writing part of writing.
And it’s something that pros spend an inordinate amount of time on, knowing that when you get this right, everything else is both easier and more successful.
I’m talking preparation — specifically, research…
It’s Monday, which means it’s time to open up the ol’ mailbox, and see what kind of questions are in there.
And when I did, this was our topic du jour — and a good one!
Before I dive in, I’ll remind you. You, too, can have YOUR most important questions answered by emailing me at [email protected].
As a side note: have you seen any particularly bad advertising recently? Something that missed the mark? I’m considering writing a few issues where I do a “makeover” of bad ads, but I need you to send them to me. [email protected].
Okay, here’s today’s question…
How do you approach copywriting research?
I’m bad at doing research, especially on a new subject.
Hopefully, you can teach some skills to help understand my target market better.
Fisk, this is actually a GREAT question, and I’ll let you know why…
Like I said in the intro, this is one thing that the best copywriters know they need to spend a TON of time on, and rookie copywriters seldom spend enough on.
It’s where true BREAKTHROUGHS in copywriting response come from.
Not just knowing your customer, but in research and preparation in general.
A few years ago, I got a chance to sit down with Bill Bonner, the founder of Agora, and interview him about writing compelling copy.
For those who aren’t familiar and fans already, you should be. Today Bill is known primarily for writing regularly about the economy, politics, and investing. But Bill started as a direct response copywriter. And he started Agora with a sales letter selling the International Living newsletter that has remained the single-best piece of copy to sell that publication (with tweaks) for almost four decades.
Much of the AWAI copywriting training was based on Bill’s thinking, Mark Ford’s who has worked with Bill for decades, and the copywriters’ who trained under those two.
He’s left an indelible mark on direct marketing, and he’s still going. He is a guru’s guru of copywriting — everyone who is serious about writing to convert (and writing to build followers) should study Bill.
What Bill told me (twice — he also shared this in a speech at AWAI) was that he’s largely forgotten every one of the 5,000 rules for writing copy that he once knew.
Headline and bullet-writing formulas have fallen away. How to write a lead, largely unconscious. The 15 ways to structure a guarantee, gone.
Most of it is now subconscious, sure. So he doesn’t have to think about it to do it.
But there’s a bigger truth he discovered.
A bigger secret to creating really compelling, response-pulling writing.
You have to write about something that’s interesting, compelling, newsworthy!
You can’t put lipstick on a pig and expect your prospect to want to kiss it.
If you want something your prospect is going to want to read, you have to write about something your prospect wants to read about.
And if you get this one thing right — if you’re TALKING ABOUT THE RIGHT THING — then it’s simply up to you to not screw it up!
So… If you find the right story, the right narrative, the right topic…
Then you tell it clearly…
In a compelling way…
And attach your offer onto the back end of that…
That’s the single-best thing you can do for getting maximum response from your advertising and marketing!
Which brings us back around to research.
You COULD try to make up that narrative or topic, based on the product, and hopefully hit the nail on the head in terms of coming up with something the prospect wants.
But more often than not, it’s a lot easier and more effective to find that topic through research.
Bill admitted, and I’ve found this to be true myself, that it’s hard-to-impossible to know when you’ve found the right story.
Using tips and tactics I’ll share below, here’s your best bet…
First, you want to try to understand your prospect on the deepest level possible. What do they want? What keeps them up at night? What are their fears, frustrations, and failures? What are their dreams and desires? What’s the ideal destiny they see for themselves?
What do they BELIEVE to be true and untrue? What do they KNOW to be true and untrue? What does their day look like?
Some of this comes from facts. A lot of it comes from your imagination, based on those facts.
When you are digging through all the stories — in the news, in your market, in your product — you want to be “inside” the prospect’s head as much as possible, trying to view them from the filter of your prospect’s experience.
When you find something that excites you, gets you interested, pursue that.
Marty Edelston, found of Boardroom, had a good term for this. He would ask of copy, “Does this make me VIBRATE?” Does it stimulate an emotional and even physical response? The same works for ideas. Does the idea, the story, the narrative you’ve uncovered make you VIBRATE?
When you find that, the best thing you can do is invest the blood, sweat, and tears required to get the copy out and written.
Then, test it. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it’s back to the drawing table, to find another idea.
So, now that we’ve got the BIG IDEA of how important research is done and out of the way, I’m going to give you a bunch of rapid-fire research tips and tactics that will get you better research results.
Here are specific tips and tactics for doing your copywriting research…
What are your market’s demographics?
Demographics are really basic facts about a group of people. Age, race, gender. Home ownership. Income and net worth. Occupation. What kind of car they drive.
This is the kind of stuff that is measured in statistics. It’s easily measured, and so it’s often included on the list data card, if your client rents their mailing list (this is becoming less common).
Also, if your client is targeting online advertising, sometimes they do it by demographics. If your client will share, ask them how they’re targeting and you may get a basic idea of this information.
I find this marginally-useful information to have. Nobody is going to respond to an ad just because I target it to white females between the ages of 35 and 55. But if I know I’m targeting white females between the ages of 35 and 55 as my primary customer, I can start to find out other things about them that makes that more useful.
What are your market’s psychographics?
Psychographics is a big word for “what they think.” That is, a particularly large segment of your market might be conservative or liberal. Or of a specific religion. Or they might all believe aliens regularly visit the planet in UFOs.
This information doesn’t necessarily show up as easily as demographics, but you can get it a few ways.
Where has your client had success advertising before? If there are a couple representative mailing lists, what topics are those mailing lists focused on? If it’s specific magazines, what does the content of those magazines tell you? If your client has particular success getting customers from The Huffington Post or Zero Hedge, that tells you something about the way they think.
Also, buying behavior can be grouped in here. If your client has tracked past buying behavior and found that 25% of their list responded to an offer for a report on XYZ, you can imagine that’s a hot topic.
What relationship does your prospect have with the voice of the letter?
Are you writing to regular customers who know you well? Are you writing to a brand new audience who doesn’t know you from Adam or Eve? What is the pre-existing relationship?
This matters a lot to research, because the less the prospect knows you, the more work you have to do up front establishing credibility and believability, and the less you can lean on the prior relationship.
What are the competitive products and advertising?
Your client should know, for each major product line, who their top 3 to 5 competitors are.
Who are they? How does their product line compare to yours? What are they doing in their current advertising that you can learn from? Are there any “formulas” that appear to be successful for your market? Are there things that appear in every ad, that you must presumably include in yours? What are the offer details? Are there any “holes” where your competitors aren’t promising something that you could?
There is an advantage to staying in one or a couple limited markets, too. For example, the investment markets go through cycles. And knowing where you are in the cycle and how investors are responding is a really good shortcut to knowing where to focus your narrative. Many markets have this kind of knowledge that’s evident to veterans and insiders, that’s not obvious to a copywriter researching for a single project.
Study the competitive landscape and the advertising being used.
What are the comparable products and advertising?
Competitive products are things your prospect might buy instead of your product. Comparables are other products that are being targeted at your prospect, that aren’t a replacement or alternative to your product.
What other products are being sold through the same media you’re acquiring customers through? How are they being sold and presented? What can you learn from that?
What news and media does your market regularly consume?
This is usually where I spend my most time researching, looking for anything that catches my eye. In fact, because I work in a limited number of markets, I’m pretty much always reading the same media my prospects read, so I’m always on top of it.
What can you learn about your prospect from what they read and consume regularly?
What themes are consistent? What beliefs show up over and over again?
You can also look at “the enemy” when it comes to media. John Stewart, when he ran The Daily Show, and Bill O’Reilly had an ongoing feud. And you could learn as much about Bill O’Reilly’s basic beliefs by looking at what John Stewart made fun of as by listening to Bill himself.
What are the current stories?
In line with watching their media, it helps to know what stories have been big recently — and especially the stories that just keep getting bigger.
Between now and November, anything having to do with the election will be big.
But you don’t have to choose the obvious. One of my clients writes a lot about power grid issues. There’s almost always something having to do with the power grid in the news. One story I saw had to do with hackers targeting the grid — that turned into a winning promotion. Another I pieced together from a few stories — the risk of an EMP attack, and an unidentified Russian satellite — to create my own mixed narrative that did very well.
What can you learn from the product?
This is where many novice copywriters start. It’s usually one of the last things a really great copywriter thinks about.
And yet, it CAN provide a hook to hang your copy on, so you don’t want to forget it.
If your product is published information, comb through it. Something in it could be incredibly compelling.
The Titans of Direct Response seminar was definitely a compelling product. I didn’t have to do anything but talk about where the idea came from and who would be there, and we filled the room.
Other products are especially interesting based on how they’re made, or where they came from. The famous Claude Hopkins example of Schlitz beer falls in this category. When he saw how the beer was made, and how this backed up the universal claim of “pure” beer, he realized all he had to do was tell the story to hook people in a far more interesting way than the empty claims of “pure” had up to that point.
Who is the product creator?
Here, consider the person behind the product. Who are they? What makes them an interesting character? Do they have any compelling story that’s relevant?
For example, one narrative that works well is, “I had this common problem, I didn’t like the solutions out there, so I made a better one.” That’s a winning narrative — if your product creator had it.
What kind of amazing story can you tell that makes the product compelling?
A few final tips…
This has already run too long. So let me wrap up.
I mentioned a few times that it helps to be in one or a few markets, when it comes to research. This shortcuts the process, because when you write for a similar product, you don’t have to learn the market again, you already know it. Also, you know the trends and past successes and failures, and other relevant information.
Also, the longer you write (especially in limited markets), the better “gut feeling” you get when it comes to all of this. Someone who’s written for financial newsletters for 10 years and seen test after test after test — as well as boom and bust cycles — has a much better hunch for what will work today than someone who is brand new to the market.
And finally, this seems like a good spot to add that it helps to write for less businesses, not more. The business owner only has to occasionally refresh themselves on this information, as they’re regularly writing to the same people. The staff copywriter, or writer on retainer, has the same advantage. Skipping from client to client to client, industry to industry to industry requires more research and effort in each project to just get started, and puts you at a big disadvantage when it comes to creating big winners.
One more thing…
This was one of the HUGELY-valuable topics that I discussed in a small, closed-room workshop on Advanced Direct Response Copywriting, a little over a year ago. It’s probably been about 12 months since I last offered the audio recordings for sale. They’re now in “the vault.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about these, and maybe making them available again, for a limited time. But the amount of work required just doesn’t fit into my near-term schedule.
However, if you are really interested, and want to throw a lot of money at me to get them, I do believe they will transform your direct response copywriting career.
Before I knew what I shared at that workshop, I charged $2,000 per sales letter. Today, my fee STARTS at $20,000.
If you’d like to know what makes me worth an additional $18,000 per project today, I tried to put it all into that workshop content. (They’re easily worth $2,500, but I won’t charge that much.)
If you’re SERIOUS (as in, cash-in-hand), send me an email at [email protected] and I’ll tell you how you can get them.
You’ll have 60 days to decide that they’re worth AT LEAST $100,000 in future income to you, or I’ll give you a prompt and courteous full refund of your investment.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,