I’m opening up the mailbox and answering YOUR questions!

I’m back and ready to make 2019 a great year!

I have a ton going on and I won’t get into all of it here.  But I’m excited.  Excited for the possibilities, yes.  But also excited for the new sense of purpose and self-imposed discipline that will help me achieve new heights.

As for today, it’s Mailbox Monday.  And here’s today’s question…

Hi Roy

First let me thank you for the valuable content you give us.

Now as a copywriter I would like to know what is the best and most efficient way to conduct the market research that takes place before the writing.

I find it to be the most challenging part.

Thank you,


First, let’s give you a brand new way to look at research…

Let me give you a new idea, a new perspective.

You can look at research from one of two angles: top-down, or bottom-up.

Top-down research is research meant to support a conclusion you already have, or a narrative you already expect to tell.

Bottom-up research is raw research, looking for ideas in the great stream of information out there.

Most research I do is top-down

For example, I just had an interview with a client’s editor.  Someone specialized in one niche industry’s stocks.

He has a handful of companies he likes right now.  We’re writing a single-stock promo to sell his newsletter, based on the appeal of investing in one of these companies.

My job then, is to do a bunch of research into the company he picks, and find the narratives that exist that are the most exciting to investors.

Basically, I’m looking to piece together as much research as possible to support a logical argument that this is a can’t-lose investment opportunity.

So, in that regard, I’m going to just search and search and search through the company website, news sites, stock forums, and so on, looking for any info on the company and its stories.

Plus, I’m going to look at other things going on in the market, around the company, and try to identify how they support that central narrative.

Always asking more questions, via search, to help me get more information about what’s so exciting.

This sounds kind of vague, I know.  But the thing is, I can’t tell you exactly what to look for.

Rather, I can tell you to try to get in the mind of your prospect, and just start looking for things around your core topic or idea that are appealing to you, from that perspective.

The product or the message you have from the beginning tells you what story you need to tell.  The job of the research in this case is to flesh that out, fill that in, give it vivid detail that will make it interesting.

Sometimes I also do bottom-up research

This is way more vague.  But it can also be a source of HUGE big ideas for your promos.  So you shouldn’t ignore it.

If you’re a copywriter in any given market, you should constantly immerse yourself in news relevant to that market.

So, if you’re always writing about technology, you should read the top 10 tech news websites on a regular basis.  Same for fitness.  Or finances.  Or whatever.

You’re not necessarily looking for the headline stories.  Because those will be old news by the time you get them into a promotion.  Rather, you’re looking for stories that feel a little out-there, that are going to become big news once they develop.

In investing especially, I like to think of these as “tomorrow-today” stories.  That is, stories of trends or technologies that feel like they’re coming from tomorrow, but that there is tangible evidence they’re being rolled out today.  This is perfect from an investment standpoint, because you always want to be on the front side of a trend.

More generally, the idea of “tomorrow-today” is a great heuristic to remember that people are always excited by the next big thing, and that’s great to look out for in your marketing research.

Even better, in your research be on the constant lookout for two or more stories you can combine into a new narrative.

My favorite example of this kind of bottom-up research turning into a marketing win was selling an EMP-resistant solar generator.  I was working for the client who had this for sale, not yet working on a project to sell it.  But then I saw a news headline about a Russian satellite that international space agencies were concerned was weaponized.

I knew that an EMP could be generated by humans, as a form of weapon, by detonating a nuclear explosion in space.  So I put two and two together, and imagined that this satellite were carrying a nuke and could be used to generate an EMP.

From here, it became top-down research, figuring out if this was a realistic scenario, even if it weren’t the case with this satellite.  And when my research put together enough evidence that you could launch an EMP attack with a satellite, I had a promo.

Now here’s what to research…

First and foremost, research your product and any direct competitors.  Then, think more broadly: what problem does your product solve, and what are all the solutions?  You have to have at least some level of awareness of this.

Next, consider advertising that has worked to sell this product, as well as any competitive advertising.  Also, look to comparable ads — ads that have sold different products to the same market.  (E.g. if you’re selling to musicians, what other ads have sold to musicians?  If you’re selling high-end luxury goods, what have others done to sell high-end luxury goods?  Etc.)

Next, research your prospects.  Get the demographics, such as their age, income, occupation, and so on.  But even more importantly, try to understand how they think.  What are their fears, frustrations, and failures?  What causes them to experience shame?  What are their unfulfilled dreams?  What do they desire?  What do they see as their destiny?  Who do they love?  Who do they hate?

Importantly, research what media your prospects consume.  What do they watch?  Read?  Listen to?  Spend SIGNIFICANT time consuming that same media.  Until you start to have the same emotional reactions your prospects do, to the stories coming out.

Finally, make sure you know all proof and credibility elements associated with your product, its creator, the company, and so on.

As you write, research more

I find that I spend a huge chunk of time lost in research, before I write.

But that’s hardly the last of it.

As I write, I’m often pausing, looking for items here or there to support my case.

Any time you make a claim, you should be able to support it.  Empty platitudes don’t sell.  Bold claims without backing won’t move your market.

Imagine your prospect sitting on your shoulder, yelling “bullshit” every time you write something that you can’t back up with credible evidence.

I once heard Gary Bencivenga say you should always say where your claims come from.  There’s a reason Gary was called “the world’s greatest living copywriter” by clients who made hundreds of millions of dollars in sales using his copy.

(Study that paragraph for how to conversationally slip in your sources.)

The idea is that anytime someone might have a shred of doubt about a claim you’re making, the next thing they read or hear should be direct support for your claim, from someone or somewhere with more credibility than you.

That comes from research in the trenches, as you’re writing.

Most great copywriters are collage artists

I’ve heard more than one copywriter describe their process about like this.

They look for what inspires them.  They’re looking for an idea to run with.  This gives them a general direction.  But even then, they don’t know what they’re going to write.

Then, they just look for more and more pieces they can put together around that idea.

It’s like cutting and pasting a bunch of pictures to make a new picture.

It’s like making a collage of ideas, instead of with images.

Your job, as the copywriter, is to combine those ideas in a new and interesting way that leads the reader to want to take advantage of whatever offer it is you’re putting out there.

It takes time, and effort.

Sometimes, you’ll look at your collage and think it’s missing something.  Then you go back, and fill in that spot.  And keep filling in spots until you have the image that works for you.

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr

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