David Ogilvy, the patron saint of advertising, famously once said: “Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.”
For many copywriters, it’s tempting to just dive in and start writing on the basis of what they know so far. And most of them will probably churn out something passable – in terms of writing, that is. But in terms of a sales message, it’s likely to be as weak as a newborn kitten.
Really good copywriting is about much more than being able to string an interesting sentence together. It’s about knowing who you’re really writing for (hint: it’s not your client, and it’s not ‘anyone’). It’s about understanding the audience, and who they are, deep down.
The best advice I’ve ever heard is to think about what keeps your prospects awake at 2am. What’s stressing them out so much they can’t sleep? And what can you do to relieve that stress, sending them off into restful slumber?
How I research
Research can be as simple as a bit of time spent Googling, or as complicated as multiple trips to the library. It all depends on what the client’s trying to achieve, and how good a handle they have on their target market.
If they know their market really well, then often all I need is in the brief, because they can furnish me with just about everything I need to know. Sometimes I can fill in the blanks by looking at their previous successful marketing materials and looking at how they pitch themselves.
But it’s usually not quite that simple.
I once wrote a website for a small home building company. The website was new, and the company had only been around a couple of years. Most of it was straightforward, but when it came time to write compellingly about the new subdivisions that the houses were being built in, I drew a blank. Thanks to urban sprawl, they were a fair way out of town, and because the subdivision was new you’d have a 20-minute roundtrip to buy a carton of milk.
So what would appeal most to potential buyers?
This company was most appealing to professionals with young families. They’d probably outgrown their first home, and rather than hunt all over town for another place to buy, renovate, and maintain, they wanted to build an affordable new home so they could spend their weekends with the kids. And once I started thinking like them, it was easy – schools in the area. I rang a real estate agent who was marketing properties in that area, and he directed me to a nifty little tool that gave in-zone schools for a particular address. Bingo. So I wrote about which schools were in the area.
Where I look
One of my favourite places to find out about markets is LinkedIn groups. This works best when you’re doing B2B, but looking at what they’re sharing and commenting on can be a goldmine.
If you’re doing B2C, blogs and forums are also great sources of information. There are forums for just about anything out there – single mums, axolotl breeders, vintage furniture collectors, ultramarathon runners – and lurking in a few of those for an hour can give some fantastic insights.
Other times, I might look for newsletters and magazines – something as simple as a magazine ad can tell me a lot about a market.
But perhaps the best thing is talking to someone in that market. Sometimes that’s not possible – but if it is, and you can get them to talk candidly to you, the results can be huge.