Would You Like to Get to Know Me?

So, you've just landed an exciting new copywriting assignment in a niche you know little-to-nothing about. Maybe you're just starting out, or perhaps branching out. For whatever reason, it's time to get to know your prospects, and quick. Because knowing your prospects is the first — and probably the most important — step to writing an effective sales letter or web page, or any other piece of copy.

So, how do you do it? How do you get to know your prospects, quickly?

I recently branched out into a new field — writing for investment advisories and financial publishers — and faced this issue. I'm going to let you know how I handled it so you can copy this process for yourself.

What You Need to Know About Your Prospects

First, a little lesson in what you're looking for, because you need to know what you're looking for to find it. So, here's what you want to know about your prospects to have the best chance at writing winning copy. (Kudos to Clayton Makepeace for this breakdown.)

Find out what your prospects think. In relation to your product, service, client's company, or industry, where does the client see themselves? What reasons do they have for being interested in your offer, the company, or the industry? What reasons do they have for NOT being interested, or avoiding it? This is their logical, rational stance with regards to what you're selling.

Find out what your prospects feel. Beyond reason is emotion, and I guarantee your prospect has quite a bit of it. What's their visceral reaction to offers like yours? Do they get hopeful and excited? Do flashes of betrayal and anger hit them from past transactions gone wrong with other merchants in the space? Beyond what feelings they currently have, what feelings are they striving for? Security? Relaxation? Love?

Find out what your prospects believe. Beyond our thoughts and feelings, we all define ourselves with a set of core truths (and their corresponding fictions). Do your prospects believe the government is corrupt — or trust it wholeheartedly? Do they believe God is ready to work a miracle in their life — or that there is no god? If you're on the right side of their beliefs, you gain instant rapport. Get on the wrong side though, and you'll gain an instant enemy.

13 Ways to Get to Know Your Prospects

Now that you know you're looking to understand your prospects' thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, it's time to find out what they are. Each of these 13 ways can provide you with some insight into the world of your prospects — together they make up much of their reality.

  1. Books

    There are two ways I like to find books that give me an idea of what's going on in the heart and mind of my prospects.

    The first is Amazon bestseller lists. Just click over to http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/books and select your category on the left. Keep drilling down by clicking subcategories until you get a reasonable category to match your product. (For investing, it would start with clicking "Business & Investing" then "Investing," and then perhaps one of the eight sub-categories under "Investing.") These are the books your prospect is reading right now — buy them, read them, know what they're about, and especially read others' reviews of them on Amazon. This is priceless.

    The second way I find books prospects are reading is by going to my local bookstore and browsing the appropriate section. Pick up anything that looks interesting — or more importantly, that may look interesting to your prospects. Scan it, and if it looks good, buy it to take home and dig deeper.

  2. Magazines

    While you're at the bookstore looking for books, look over the magazine racks for any that might be related to your topic. These are niche and market goldmines. Look for consistent themes in cover stories and major headlines. Look at the ads — especially those that appear in multiple magazines. Read through the editorial, and the letters to the editor.

    Get a feel for the language, the topics, and the areas of high appeal that magazines are featuring now. From week to week and month to month, these publications are shaping your market — you'd be remiss to ignore them.

  3. News Sources

    On a daily basis, your prospects turn to news sources like TV news networks, newspapers, and news websites to find out what's going on right now. Do your best to find out any relevant TV programming your prospect may watch — and sit down for a while to see what people are saying. Read the newspapers your prospects browse daily. Find the top 5 or 10 news websites, and read all the headlines, plus any stories that snag your attention.

    Like magazines, these news sources are shaping your prospect's consciousness and focusing their awareness — you better know where if you want to connect with prospects where they're at.

  4. Commentary on Popular Websites

    News sources primarily focus (or at least, are supposed to) on the facts — in essence, telling your prospect what to think. I like reading commentary on popular websites on my topic because this gets down to feelings and beliefs — it reinterprets and rehashes all the "factual news" through the lens of opinion, and sometimes covers topics mainstream news won’t touch with a ten-foot pole. So, while I look at the news sources to pick up trends, I search for blogs and online newsletters to understand what my prospect feels and believes about those trends.

    To do this, I spend a lot of time on Google searching for popular websites on my topic. Then I click as many links to new sites as possible until I keep running into the same sites over and over again. These are the influential sites, and I dig in deep and read as much commentary as I can from them (and subscribe to their email updates, if possible).

  5. Email Newsletters

    I mentioned this under commentary on popular websites, though it's worth focusing on separately for a moment. If you intend to spend much time at all writing for a particular market, it pays to regularly be reading what your prospects read. That means subscribe to as many email newsletters on the topic as you can — and refer to them on a regular basis to ensure you've got your finger on the pulse of the market.

    A side benefit of doing this in industries like financials and health that are skilled in direct marketing, is you also get to see much of the marketing your prospects are receiving — from clients and competitors alike. This is a great way to get ideas and build a swipe file.

  6. Forums

    You want to know what your prospects are passionate about? Look no further than online forums. 90% or more of what you find in forums turns out to be a waste, but I'll give you a shortcut.

    Most online forums list discussions along with the number of views and comments. When you're browsing through forums on your topic, you can quickly see the most viewed and most commented upon discussions. Stick to these and you'll quickly understand the hot topics in your niche, and what gets your prospect's blood boiling.

  7. Other Social Media

    Depending on your topic, there may be tons of discussion on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, or other social media sites. It's worth browsing these to get an up-to-the-minute idea of what your market is talking about.

    This can also be a great source for finding other online resources — as one of the most popular things to do in social media is to share interesting things you find online with others.

  8. Your Client

    Many of my best insights into my target market have come from savvy clients. "Our customers have responded to this, and not that." "Here's our most common customer for this item." "We get the most positive customer feedback on this." Don't be afraid to ask your client about the customer you're speaking to — you may get very specific information about how to speak to them most effectively.

  9. Your Client's Customers

    Customers love to give their opinion — don't be afraid to ask. If they loved the client's product or service, they'll be a good source for information on how to sell to prospects like them. If they hated it, you can find out why — and either avoid over-bold promises, or advise the client on where to fix the product to get and retain more customers.

  10. Your Prospect

    If your client knows who the prospect is, you can track them down and ask them about your topic. If you get someone telling stories and giving their opinions, you may find it hard to get them to stop! Even an unrelated story may give you some insight into the feelings and beliefs of your prospect which you can leverage down the road for higher response.

  11. Friends and Family … Even Strangers!

    Perhaps a friend or member of your family is an ideal prospect for what you're selling. (Maybe even on your client's mailing list!) Don't be afraid to ask their opinion about the topic, the offer, or both. You could even have them read your copy, and ask for a gut reaction. Be careful with your copy though — because friends and family will tell you your copy is "good" to make you happy. When asking those close to you to read your copy, only one question matters: "Does this make you want to buy?"

    Strangers are a great source of wisdom, too. A random opinion could give you tremendous insight into your market. For this, I like owners and clerks at small stores that may have something to do with what you're selling — like asking the clerk at the local coin store about investing.

  12. Analyze Controls

    This is a popular approach among copywriters, but I put it near last because it's hard to get a unique Big Idea if you mire yourself in what others are doing. You're also perpetually keeping yourself weeks or even months behind your competitors by focusing on what marketing works today — by the time your copy is live in the market, the topics you copied may be months old.

    That said, advertising shapes our ideas as much as news, and is a good source for knowing what your prospects are responding to. Plus, you may be able to pick up some techniques that will help you as you write to the same market.

  13. Your Imagination

    Once you've done all this other research to get to know your prospect, it's time to put your most powerful tool to work — your imagination. Step into the head of your prospect. Look over all you've gathered and let yourself start to think like he'd think. How does the news and what's going in this market make you feel? What do you believe needs to happen to get the outcome you want? And, what do you believe will happen?

    Spend some serious time running the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs of your prospect through your heart and mind, in rapid succession. You're not looking for individual snapshots — you're looking for the Gestalt, the whole picture. And once you're in this mode and start to discover what's most important to your prospect, let the ideas flow. When one gets your (your prospect's) engine revving, you know you've got gold.

How to Use This

A quick note before I sign off. Whenever you're going into a new market, you should use this checklist to get to know your prospects quickly. You should also use it on a regular basis to ensure you're keeping up with where your prospects are at — because their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are an ever-moving bull's-eye.

Get this right and you connect with your prospect instantly, can speak with them on their level, and ultimately will find it much easier to get them responding in droves to your copy.

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Published: August 9, 2010

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