There’s a world of difference between run-of-the-mill copywriters and world-class copywriters.
If you wonder just what that difference is, that’s a good sign. It means you strive to understand your market. You know that copywriting is a cornerstone of your business.
Even then, it can be hard to pinpoint the difference between each tier of writers.
See, copywriting is an art as well as a science, so many things separate the big names from the small ones.
Research is an important one of those things and a worthwhile copywriter is also a master researcher. The artistry in copywriting is nothing if you don’t put in work on the science side of things.
That’s where researching what your audience wants and needs comes in.
It’s a common belief that copywriters only excel at creating new things. That’s not true. Copywriters don’t just create, they assemble — and they do it like their lives depend on it.
To help show that balance of creativity and assembly, we’ll cover two of the biggest names in copywriting history. The Leonardo DaVincis of copywriting. Their names are David Ogilvy and Gary Bencivenga.
If you look them up, you might be surprised. David Ogilvy wrote in the 50s and passed away in 1999. Gary Bencivenga was at the height of his career in the 80s and retired in 2010.
How could they be relevant in the internet age, with social media and website landing pages and blogging being a company’s bread and butter? The answer is simple. Good advice never goes out of style.
Copywriting at its core hasn’t changed. The goals are the same as they were a hundred years ago. Copywriters (and businesses in general) today are trying to get their audience to take action — just like Ogilvy was in the 50s.
David Ogilvy had some powerful words on research. For example, he once said,
“Advertisers who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore the signs of the enemy.”
That’s a kick in the pants for writers who don’t research. Hearing those words would be especially stressful if you don’t know where to start with research. It gets even worse if you know how to research but not how to incorporate it in your writing.
Here’s the good news: it’s easier than you think. This article will give you solid tips on how to research and how to write.
Here are 5 copywriting research strategies to help you do that.
Copywriting isn’t about impressing readers with big and fancy words. It’s about speaking to customers in a voice they’re familiar with. And what voice is better than their own?
That’s why compelling copy comes off as trustworthy advice. It's made up of real people’s words and expresses real desires and needs.
Its creation doesn’t happen in an isolated corner of the copywriter’s brain. Instead, it takes form during the hours spent in research. The first tip is to research directly from the source, whenever possible.
Thanks to digitalization, this direct route has become a lot simpler than before. Rather than needing to speak to a customer face-to-face, you have tons of options to choose from online. After all, you can:
Or fire up good ol’ Google and scour the web for snippets of your audience’s language. Anything can work as long as you’re using your customer’s unique voice.
You’ll be amazed at how your copy virtually writes itself once you hear your audience. You could bang your head against a wall for ages trying to think of a good way to write a particular phrase, and then discover that a quote from a review says it better than you ever could.
Why does this work so well and so consistently? First of all, it’s organic. Without this research, a copywriter is sitting in an office, wondering what the best angle is, and then writing some words based on what they think.
Writing without research is sales-y and dry. It can be too narrow, based only on the writer’s experiences.
Or it can be too broad, over-generalizing the target audience and sounding like nothing special.
When you use your customers’ voices, you get copy that is based on real-life experience. That translates to your writing. Getting words from the source prevents your copy from sounding like a sales pitch.
It helps you find specifics about your audience without being general. When you research and write from your customers’ voices, the common thread among experiences is clear.
And a bonus of writing your copy from your customers’ voices? It’s much more efficient. Once you do the research, the writing is a breeze.
Learn how to do proper audience research here.
The heart of any research lies in asking a lot of questions. Copywriting research is no different.
It demands a dialogue with target consumers. And a dialogue without meaningful questions can be void of any useful insights.
Gary Bencivenga agrees. He more than agrees, he advises copywriters to begin every assignment like an investigative reporter. He even prescribes a list of 10 pivotal questions to ask clients or their best salespeople.
Here’s what they look like:
As good as these questions are, there’s no exhaustive list that can mark the end of your labor. Most of the answers to your preliminary questions open the doorway to new and more nuanced questions.
These doorways can make copywriting research become a never-ending rabbit hole. It can make you want to throw in the towel and look for other ways to grow your business because you feel like you’ll never get the answers you need.
If you want to be the top banana in your industry, don’t give in to that impulse. Remember that you don’t have to answer every question ever.
Follow your gut. Which follow-up questions will help you understand your audience? Which ones spark your curiosity most?
Stick to your guns and do your homework. It’s the only way to uncover the hidden desires of the 20% who generate 80% of your sales.
And once you’ve gathered more information than you can use, you may even end up dreaming about your next big idea.
If that sounds far-fetched, let’s change your mind with a history lesson. In the 1950s, Pepperidge Farm Bread released their first commercial. Wonder how it came to be?
David Ogilvy dreamed it up.
Our brains are incredible, working 24/7, even when we’re asleep. Getting as much info as possible helps your brain make unconscious connections and decisions.
That’s why it’s so important to put in those research hours and then relax. Eat, breathe, and sleep your research and let your brain do the rest of the work for you.
You know what I’m talking about. You’ve put in hours on a project that you just can’t get right, and then suddenly a solution comes to you. That’s your brain making those unconscious connections.
The more information you give your mind to work with, the easier it will be to find the right words in the right order.
Here are the 4 simple ways to improve your copywriting research process.
PDPF stands for Pains, Dreams, Features, and Proof. These are the attributes that come together to make a product or service desirable. And you can bet your weekly banana supply your competitors know this too.
The best part is that you can conduct a PDPF analysis even when you’re in a crunch. It’s still wiser to take your time though.
By focusing your research on these four areas, you can figure out the benchmarks you need to beat.
Maybe you’re strong on the proof, but you aren’t reaching the dreams as strongly as your competition. Or you have the pains on lock, but you’re struggling to find some proof.
No matter what your strong and weak points are, you’ll have to go where consumers meet your competitors for the first time.
Yes. You guessed it. Landing pages.
To kick things off, visit your competitor’s landing page. Now, open a Google doc in another tab and divide it into four sections (Pains, Dreams, Features, and Proof).
Here’s what you need to write under each section.
Example: Consumer is a fitness enthusiast with a sugar addiction.
Example: Consumer wants to overcome his addiction without going cold-turkey on sweet foods.
Example: Bananas are a natural source of sugar. They’re a godsend for dealing with cravings and also have other health benefits.
Example: Scientific studies state that sugar in bananas is healthier than refined sugar. Countless athletes, fitness coaches, and recovered sugar addicts recommend eating bananas.
This trick works best for landing pages. But, you can use it for whatever you want. It can work on Facebook or Instagram ads, email lists, etc.
The important part is using it on your direct competitors to compare and see what you’re missing. You need to break down the info they have to the minimum of what they’re saying.
Here’s an example, using the “pain” section. Let’s say my competitor’s landing page talks about how bananas are great for runners. It mentions how our customers know they need to eat more healthily, but aren’t sure where to start.
Breaking that down looks like translating “runners” into “health/exercise enthusiasts” and “needing to eat more healthily” into “sugar/junk food addiction”.
When creating a PDPF, you’ll need to read between the lines. Think about what your competitors mean by what they’re saying, and why they chose the words they did.
You can even compare it to your customer’s voice from Strategy #1. Knowing what your competitors are saying and what your customer’s voice sounds like gives you an edge.
For this tip, Gary Vaynerchuk is the perfect example. As a bonus, he’s someone still writing today.
Gary Vaynerchuk is an embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit. He’s relentless in the pursuit of his goals and has high regard for discipline.
Here’s the interesting bit. His greatest asset has nothing to do with his ability to hustle day-in and day-out.
What makes Gary special is how he pays attention to people on the most fundamental level. He even calls himself “an ear disguised as a mouth”.
What does that mean?
It means that your most important job isn’t to say something clever. In fact, it isn’t to say anything at all. Your most important job (at least, if you want to be a great copywriter), is to listen.
Like Gary, you need to start from a place of empathy and become “an active consumer of humans”, as he says.
And what does that mean?
Don’t worry, you don’t have to resort to cannibalism to be a good copywriter. You “consume” humans the same way you’d “consume” a good book.
Become completely absorbed in every person you interact with. Focus on the things that make them excited, interested, disgusted, etc.
Doing so will require you to have a fascination for everything — especially the mundane.
Chances are you’ll have several plain and uninteresting conversations with clients or customers. A client may start talking about how they almost quit. Or a customer may bring up visiting the lake with their grandpa when they were little.
When that happens, you’ll think, “What does this have to do with the copy I’m trying to write?” Your monkey mind will tell you to zone out.
Don’t. Your mission is to carve out an identity as a sincere listener.
Find the gold in even what seems like nothing but gray pebbles. Ask more questions to find out why they said something a certain way. Look for the enthusiasm or excitement in their face or voice when they talk about a particular subject.
Maybe your client told the story of how they almost quit because they want their customers to know what kept them going. Your customer talked about the lake because it’s their favorite memory, and the product makes them feel the same way they did back then.
Then your job is to ride their enthusiasm and sentimentality and let it carry into your copy.
If you succeed, you’ll realize that some of the sweetest marketing bananas are often hidden in interactions that seem bland on the surface.
Learn the core stages of market sophistication here.
Let’s imagine you like sports cars.
Would you buy an Aventador SVJ Roadster because it’s fast? Or because it hits 62 mph in 2.9 seconds?
What makes you feel that it’s safe to drive one?
The fact that it has excellent braking? Or that if you slam on the brakes at 62 mph, you’ll come to halt in just 30 meters?
The takeaway here is clear. Specificity breeds trust.
David Ogilvy, one of the greats I mentioned at the start of this article, loved this concept.
One of the best-selling pieces of copy of his career, and his personal favorite, used only this concept. It was a magazine ad for Rolls Royce with the headline,
“At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in the New Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”
Look at some of the things he said about his copy for this ad in his book “How To Write Potent Copy”:
“Factual advertising like this outsells flatulent puffery. The more you tell, the more you sell. Notice the very long headline–and 719 words of copy, all facts.”
“In my Rolls-Royce advertisements, I gave nothing but facts. No adjectives, no ‘gracious living.’”
In a footnote, Mr. Ogilvy describes how the chief engineer at the Rolls-Royce factory shook his head sadly and said, “It is time we did something about that damned clock.”
Did you notice that last part? Ogilvy based his headline directly on something the chief engineer of his client said. He didn’t randomly pick specifics about his project, he got it straight from the horse’s mouth.
That’s where the research comes into being specific. Talk to the designers, the engineers, the head of the company, or even the customers.
Ask them questions about the specifics -- what do they like? Why?
Then listen. How can you put that into your copy?
Consumers don’t want marketers to play them for fools. They want to have as much information as possible. And they don't want to receive information that's bloated or implausible.
Serious marketers need to understand this. Being precise and factual is a million times better than indulging in advertising babble.
And getting your facts from previous customer experience or inside designer knowledge seals the deal. The only way to be specific in your copy is to be specific in your research.
Learn how to write hyper-specific copy here.
Research paves the way for all progress in the marketing world. It’s a time-tested process (and skill) that helps copywriters turn words into big ideas that sell.
Research is a deciding factor between million-dollar copy and writing that won’t make it past the first draft. Even worse, without research, you’re walking into a room with a dozen banana peels on the floor. And you have a blindfold on.
Is it certain that you’ll fall on your butt? No. Is there a good chance you will? Hell yeah.
If you aren’t putting time into research, it’s not a guarantee you’re throwing your money away — it’s just the most likely scenario. Research gives you the vision needed to navigate the market. It tells you what your best (and worst) bets are.
Time put into research is well-invested.
Here’s the flip-side, though. Research can also turn into a wild-goose chase if you don’t invest your energy in making a proper plan. You can spend hours upon hours researching and telling yourself it’ll pay off.
If you haven’t put a second into the writing, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.
That’s where these strategies come into play. Playing around with them will help you find what works for your customers. You’ll learn through doing which steps work best for your business.
Once you establish a system that works, you’ll have plenty of time to do whatever your heart desires (I usually eat a few bananas). You may face some growing pains at first… but you can always take help from digital marketing consultants to smoothen the transition.
Want higher conversions on your landing pages, sales letters, emails, or ads? It might be time for you to work with an expert copywriter. I’ve driven tens of millions of dollars in revenue for hundreds of clients over the past 10 years — including some of the largest B2B companies and digital brands in America.
Using my words, I’ll tap into your prospects’ deepest desires, deploy my menagerie of psychological sales triggers, and prime them for the sale. The result? More wins for your business and more revenue and profits in your pocket. Sound interesting to you? Click HERE to learn more about my copywriting work and see if we’re a good match.
High-converting direct-response copy for growing B2B companies and disruptive digital brands.