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!

Time to talk research!

It’s Mailbox Monday, which means it’s time to dip in the ol’ inbox and see what YOU want to know…

If you have a questions you’d like me to answer in an upcoming Mailbox Monday issue, send it to me at

I’m happy to cover questions on copywriting, marketing, selling, business-building, life, whatever!  Send yours in, and I’ll add it to the queue for an upcoming issue.

Now, on to today’s question…

Hi Roy,

All the top pros, A-list writers, and even you talked about it as perhaps the most important element in writing sales copy.

No, it’s not the headline, opening paragraph, or even the P.S..

What’s got me yanking out my hair out?

Drum roll, please…


Look, I get it. You need to understand who you’re selling to be persuasive.

But I need to know more.

Other copywriters talk about how they found through research so and so reads this magazine.

Or they are 24 years old and has 3 children.

Maybe even they take 3.5 vacations a year, earn $96,103 per year, and like cooking Sundays only.

Now, I understand the common wisdom of research. Amazon reviews, topic forums, blog posts etc.

But this is just not clicking for me completely

Now let’s suppose I had all of this information.

How do you piece it together into research you can refer to as you are writing.

Or is there a way to add it to an outline or build it into the flow of a letter?

Anyway… Thanks and best wishes.


Good question Steve — because research is really the foundation of having something compelling to write…

And for the sake of this, I’m going to break down research into two very specific categories…

  1. Market research
  2. Message research

Market research is everything you asked about.  Who is your prospect?  What do you know or can you find out about them?  We’ll dig in a little deeper below — including defining what’s really important when doing your market research.

Message research is all about what you’re going to say.  This can be about your product, but it doesn’t have to be.  Many of my big idea promos fail to go into specifics about the product until pretty deep in the copy (and some of the top copywriters I know write in the same way).

Market Research…

Market research really comes down to a few key measurements, all of which can have some importance to a copywriter…


Where is your market at?  This can be in a specific city or state.  For example, it’s a whole lot easier to sell Nebraska Cornhusker memorabilia to folks in Nebraska than, say, Texas.  But it can also be represented in other ways.  For example, is your market suburban?  Urban?  Rural?  These are simple geographic measurements.  For most mass market products, they are relatively irrelevant.  However if you have something like farm products, or college football gear, or something else that’s geo-specific, it may help to pay attention.


A lot of your research covered in the question was really about demographics.  Age, gender, income, socioeconomic status, family size, and so on.  In some cases, such as if you were selling loans, it might be really important to be able to target homeowners with an income over a certain amount.  Or if you’re selling something to do with families, it’s nice to be able to target parents.

By and large though, I’ve found demographic data to be mildly helpful, at best.  I’m a homeowner.  I have a certain income.  I have a minivan and an SUV.  None of those things really define me, or are something I spend a ton of time thinking about.  They’re mostly mild annoyances, in fact!  Yes, I prefer them to many alternatives, but I don’t get excited because someone sends me a letter that starts, “Dear homeowner…”


Here’s where things get really interesting (and I’m noting the pun as I write this).  Psychographics are about how people think.  Their interests (see, it was punny).  Their hobbies.  Their political affiliations.  Their beliefs.  And so on…

For example, out of all the research you listed in your question, the vacations data and the liking to cook on Sundays only get closest to psychographics.  But it gets way more interesting if you find out they go on 3.5 evangelical Christian cruises every year.  Or if they cook on Sunday because they have a Bible study group.  (Not really meaning to target Christians here, but religious affiliation and belief — or lack thereof — is a HUGE psychographic component.)

A lot of psychographic research is akin to good detective work.  If you find out that 63% of your audience subscribes to Guns & Ammo magazine, that’s interesting in itself, I suppose.  Maybe it means advertising in the magazine, or doing some kind of joint venture is in order.  But it also speaks to something a lot deeper.  It probably means you have a heavily conservative-skewed list.  That gun rights might be a prevalent issue among your audience.  And perhaps even that topics like hunting or going to a shooting range are worthy narratives to loop into your copy.

Of all the research that a top copywriter will do, this is probably the most important to think about and delve into in terms of focusing your brain power.  Because if you can find out something about your market that allows you to resonate with one of their core beliefs, you can create some HUGE breakthroughs.


All else being equal, someone who has responded to a direct response ad in the past is more likely to respond to another direct response ad.

That’s primarily what I’m talking about with behavioral research.

In the direct mail days, these were called “Buyers lists.”  You could pay a premium to rent a list of folks who’d bought similar or complimentary products in the past.  So newsletters would send out mail to other newsletters’ subscribers, book marketers would send out mail to book buyers, and so on.

Also, my friend and colleague Brian Kurtz discovered something interesting while at Boardroom, Inc.  Even the type of direct mail that someone responded to in the past could predispose them to responding to yours.  So if you had a magalog that was doing well to lists on complimentary topics, it might also be worth it to test people who’d responded to magalog-formatted direct mail solicitations for completely unrelated products.  Sometimes it would work, and work big.  Today the equivalent might be to look for other folks who have a VSL like yours, or something similar — even if the topics don’t overlap 100%.


You also want to know how well the people getting your marketing piece know your spokesperson or company.

Are you a brand they recognize?  A perfect stranger?  Have they bought from you before?  Do they have a negative opinion about you that you have to overcome?

The angle and tone you use for raving fans is drastically different than you would use for a total stranger.  Take this into account as you plan your copy.

Message Research…

I’m going to spend less time on this, but you shouldn’t necessarily.

I break down message research largely into product research, and hook research.  I’ll get to those in a minute, but first we talk about how the market research feeds into this.

Once I know who my market is, I want to do everything I can to imagine what life is like for that person.  I literally put myself into their head and heart, and try to experience the issues from their perspective.

What’s my daily life like?  What do I want most?  What are my dreams and desires?  What do I see as my greatest destiny in life?  Also, what am I afraid of — what do I fear?  What frustrations do I have with my life in general?  And what about frustrations related to the product?  What failures am I most ashamed of?

With that in mind, I dig into the product…


What is the product?  What does it do?  What are its features?  For each feature, what benefit does that bring?  And why is that important?  How does that benefit change my prospect’s life?

I want to really dive in and understand the product and what makes it compelling to the person I’ve identified through my market research?  The biggest thing is I want to figure out what transformation they will expect in their life as a result of ordering my product?


Sometimes this is in my product.  Sometimes I go out and find it elsewhere — in the news, through my own digging, whatever.  While I’m inside the heart and head of my prospect, I’m looking for anything that jumps out at me.

This isn’t a scientific process.  More art.  More gut feeling and intuition.

I’m trying to find the story that’s exciting, and compelling and titillating and that I want to know more about instead of ignoring.  And remember this is from the prospect’s perspective.

Then, I dig deeper and deeper into that story, to try to find the most compelling things about it, and the most compelling way to present it.

Big picture thoughts…

In wrapping up, I’ll say this.  Don’t get bogged down in any research you’re “supposed” to do.  Sometimes, I do very little research about a market or product, before feeling like I have the gut feeling I need to go out and find my hook.  Other times, I feel like I need to interview folks, have conversations, whatever.

What I will tell you is this.  Research QUALITY is far more important than QUANTITY.

You can have all the facts and figures and demographic data you want, but if I know the thing that will make a business owner respond is that he hates looking at his competitor who’s doing twice as good as him, I’m going to be able to wipe the floor with you.

Find out who your market is, what they want, and how you can tell them that the product you’re selling will give it to them, and you’ve done all the research you need.

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr

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