You’ve got your brand dialed in. Your product is ready to go. You sit down at your desk, ready to tell the world about how amazing it is—and stop. You have no idea where to start.
You may get one or two points, but you’re going to waste a lot of bananas.
There’s a lot that B2B customer research can tell you. It’s imperative you write about the things your customers want to know. To understand what that is, you’re going to need to do a bit of research.
David Ogilvy, one of the original Mad Men, was a huge supporter of research. When he had a new product to sell, he’d absorb as much information as possible, burying himself in research. Take this quote from his book, Ogilvy On Advertising:
“When I got the Rolls-Royce account, I spent three weeks reading about the car and came across a statement that ‘at sixty miles an hour, the loudest noise comes from the electric clock.’ This became the headline...”
This led to the creation of one of the most successful car ads in history. It could have ended up as another generic advertisement had he not done his research.
Ogilvy is something of a pioneer in that regard. Advertising has changed since those days, and research wasn’t always so important.
When advertising was in its infancy, research was non-existent. Every year companies would create hundreds of advertising campaigns. Some worked, and some didn’t. The next year they’d do it all over again.
As crazy as it sounds, no one thought to look at what was working and what wasn’t. If they had, they likely would’ve discovered how much they were missing. Key facts like how people read a headline four times more often than any other part of the copy. That having reverse type, white writing on black paper, is hard to read and doesn’t sell as well.
These things matter. If you don’t know what works and what doesn’t, you’ll spend a lot of time and money on the wrong thing. The good news is that others have already done the research for you.
In the forties, companies started to realize the importance of research. They came to understand why some campaigns failed and the methods of success. Companies tested these theories year after year, refining them into a science.
Today, this information is available for anyone to browse through at their leisure. If you know another company that sells a similar product, take a look to see how they’ve been marketing it.
Are you an expert on every industry? If not, you can benefit from doing research. See, you may have to write about things you know nothing about. While that could be intimidating, you can also look at it in the sense that you can become an expert on anything.
After all, research can help you understand your topic—but that’s not the only reason it’s useful. Diligent research can also help you find concrete information to bolster your authority regarding any industry.
That doesn’t mean you’ll always need to flash back to high school, though. Some types of writing don’t rely as much on research, like anything involving your opinions, research, or area of expertise.
Other topics or industries might require more research than you have time for. Keep that in mind when you write anything involving science, health, or finance. Basically, you want to research when facts have a bearing on your audience’s future.
Here's how you can increase conversions with proper audience research.
Good question. The internet is full of resources, some of them better than others. Now, some of those resources aren’t great for any copywriting purposes. Others can be excellent in the right context but awful in others.
Keep that in mind as you research, but don’t be too rigid. Here are a few types of sources you can look toward for the most part:
On the other hand, you might want to avoid these sources:
That’s not to say you can’t find important information there, but you’re better off using your time to look at legitimate sources. Use your judgment, but, more than anything, exercise caution and discretion.
The last thing you want is to appear uninformed after you trusted someone else’s research.
You’re probably ready to get right into the research portion of this article, but let’s cover a few things first. Don’t worry, you’ll be glad you know this stuff when it’s time to conduct your research.
See, your copy should follow the classic principle of function over form. That doesn’t mean your copy shouldn’t be clever—in fact, it might need to be. Instead, your copy should be concise and clear before anything.
Once you have that down, you can focus on injecting some humor, personality, or whatever else your brand is known for. But how do you make your copy concise and clear?
Research, as you might have guessed. If you’re not quite sure what you need to do in preparation for research, don’t worry. Here are some of the most important questions you can ask before you start your research.
Find the right answers, and you’ll be one step closer to copy leagues above your competition.
First, let’s make sure we know what a unique selling proposition is. You might already be aware, but here’s a quick recap just in case: a unique selling proposition is what sets your offer apart from all the others on the market.
Another way to look at it is the angle of your copy. Think about what makes your offer worth buying over your competitors’ offers. It could be anything, and you might even have a winning USP that you haven’t identified yet.
Now that you have your unique selling proposition, you should focus on your competition. Well, not exactly, but this is where awareness of your competition can help.
See, it’s not just enough to have a unique product. It needs to be special. It needs to not only be different from the competition but also better. After all, plenty of products are unique because they aren’t good, and nobody else wants to sell them.
So what makes your offer special? Do you have some proprietary technology? Unmatched craftsmanship? World-class customer service? Figure out what sets you apart, and don’t let your audience forget about it.
It’s no surprise that you think your offer is special. If you didn’t, you probably wouldn’t be selling it. And even if you tried to sell it, you’d realize soon enough that it’s not a great offer.
The problem is that your audience doesn’t know this. Even worse, they have every reason to be skeptical of every business and over that comes their way. That may be an unfortunate truth, but that doesn’t mean you can’t earn your audience’s trust.
You’ll probably need some help, though. That’s where social proof, like a testimonial, comes in. To give you an idea of how powerful social proof is, consider how often you take recommendations from people you trust.
If you see an ad for a new restaurant, you might not be sold at first. The advertisement, of course, will only show the positive aspects of the restaurant. That’s not to say the ad is dishonest, but it sure isn’t going to warn you about any of the problems.
Now, imagine your best friend recommends the same restaurant. That’s much more trustworthy, right? You’d probably even be more likely to eat there next time you go out.
That’s the power of social proof.
Before you answer this question, ask yourself which problems your audience has. What do they want? What do they want to avoid? Consider their deepest desires and how far they’d go to fulfill them.
Once you have an idea of that, consider how your offer relates to those problems and desires. Maybe your product or service solves one or more of the problems. It might have the potential to help avoid something undesirable.
Whatever problems your offer solves, you should use them to position your offer as something your audience needs. Whether you’re saving your audience from an uncertain future or helping them improve their lives, your offer has to solve one or more problems.
If you aren’t aware, features don’t sell products. Nobody buys a car because it has AC, power windows, or 18-inch wheels. Those things are great, sure, but they’re just features—features that may or may not serve a purpose.
But they do serve a purpose, and they can all benefit the driver. The same goes for every product. Everything has features, but your audience only cares about what that means in terms of benefits.
So what can your offer do for them? What does the customer’s life look like when they buy your offer? That’s what’s important. The tangible effects of your offer matter most, so translate your features into benefits.
With most offers, about 20% of buyers are responsible for 80% of sales. So who are these buyers? It differs for every offer, but finding these buyers should require a similar process regardless of what you’re selling.
If you’ve already done research on your niche, this would be a good place to reference that. Your goal in answering this question is to figure out the most specific segment of your audience who are your most diehard customers.
By figuring that out, you can get a better idea of who your ideal buyer is. If you choose to, you can use that persona to figure out what people like about your offer and why.
Even better, you can engage with these heavy users to get feedback, positive and negative. Someone who falls into this group is about as close to your ideal customer as you can get, so their insight can be invaluable.
Last but not least, we have the “uncomfortable truth” part of research preparation. Look, this doesn’t mean you have to pick your offer apart until you no longer believe in it.
The purpose of this question has more to do with ensuring your audience still believes in your offer—even if they’re inclined to analyze it. Let’s use an example to illustrate this process:
Imagine you’re selling some banana bread. It’s far from healthy, but you think it’s worth the tradeoff for how delicious and rich the banana bread is. Maybe you figure your audience will have the same sentiment, so you don’t call attention to the less-than-ideal calorie count.
Unfortunately, some customers read the nutrition facts and believe you misled them since banana bread is often seen as “healthier” than other baked goods. That wasn’t your intention, but that doesn’t matter.
Now, imagine you edit the label to call attention to the rich, decadent flavor and texture of the bread. You turn it into a selling point, trading off nutrition for flavor. Then, your audience is already aware since you called attention to it.
So, all that talk about shortcomings? It’s more about turning your shortcomings into selling points. Or, at the very least, acknowledging your weak points, so your audience sees you as trustworthy.
There are a few different steps for copywriting research, each as important as the last. None of them are hard, but they all require your full attention and dedication. Doing any of these steps without fully committing is a waste of time, and you might be better off doing no research in the first place.
That’s not meant to discourage you, though. It’s more to emphasize the importance of proper research. Robert Bly, author of The Copywriter’s Handbook, provides four easy steps for researching.
If the product has already been around for some time, you should be able to find a treasure trove of information. You can find websites, press releases, technical writing, reports, marketing plans, proposals, etc.
Like David Ogilvy, reading through these will get you acquainted with the product. It’ll help you discover the main features that make your product stand out. You’ll find facts and statistics that back up your claims. You may even come across your headline.
You need to know what you have. Ask yourself questions like:
Knowing this type of information will help you come up with your main selling points when writing the ad.
The main things to understand are the product’s features and what benefits they give. The average reader doesn’t give a monkey’s about all the different chemicals used in dish soap. They want to know how well it cleans a greasy pan.
By knowing your product, you know how it makes life easier for your audience. That’s what sells a product.
If you’re looking to sell bananas, you shouldn’t put your ad in a science journal. Likewise, you wouldn’t want to display your test tubes in a food magazine.
Know who you’re selling to and who your primary consumer is going to be. Here are some things you should be thinking about:
You don’t need to have teams of researchers and piles of money to figure these things out. Social media has made it all too easy to connect with people from all walks of life.
Let’s pretend our product is a banana. If you want to know what type of bananas people are buying, join a cooking enthusiast Facebook group. Ask them if they use any bananas in their cooking and why they prefer a particular brand. Search on Reddit subgroups and see what kind of topics crop up when talking about bananas.
Don’t be afraid to talk to people in your own life as well. Plenty of people will give an honest opinion on a product if you ask them. Find a restaurant and ask the staff what kind of fruit they like best.
The more you know about who you’re selling to, the easier it is to position your product as that solution.
What part of the sales funnel are you targeting with the copy you’re going to write? Are you bringing awareness? Trying to get traffic? Pushing for sales? Repeat business?
Knowing the goal of your copy will help you tailor it to fit that need. For example, imagine you’re raising awareness about your product. You only need to contain factual information, and you don't need a hard sell.
Learn about research strategies that top copywriters use to drive more sales here.
You may not have to worry about references right now—or ever—but you should be prepared if you ever have to. And yes, we’re talking about those references. The ones that you hated dealing with in school.
Here’s the silver lining, though: proper references in your copy mean you do a better job which can translate to a more successful career. So, whether you find yourself adding references in your copy now or not, just keep referencing in mind.
There are plenty of ways to handle this in your copy, and clients will often have their own protocols. The important part is to include references with the intention of backing up your claims.
Just don’t get in the habit of overlooking this part of copywriting research. When references are necessary, you don’t want to be caught off-guard. Try to develop your own system when you can, but stick to your clients’ style guides as closely as possible.
Here are ways to improve your copywriting research process and write stronger copy.
Not quite. Audiences are volatile with their wants and needs, always changing. That means that what works one minute may not the next. As veteran copywriter Luke Sullivan puts it, “How do you measure a moving snake?”
These steps are a great way to get your arrow flying toward its target. The thing is, this is only the basic recipe to get you started. Research is a whole field in and of itself. There’s much more to figuring out how you can best sell your product or services.
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