Getting to Know Your Best Friend in Copywriting – Part 1

“Know your prospect!”

It’s a nagging voice in your ear. I’m sure you’ve heard it many times, but it bears repeating. Both beginning and — all too often — experienced copywriters forget or ignore this First Commandment of Copywriting.

You must get to know your prospect as a real, living, breathing individual. Not as a group of people. Not as some vague collection of ideas. But as someone who could be your friend.

You ignore this dictate at your peril. If you don’t really know the person you’re writing to, how can you know what emotional hot buttons to hit? How can you truly know what benefits he’s looking for?

You can’t. You already know this.

But getting to know that person can be difficult, as described by Circle of Success member Jennifer who wrote me …

I’m currently working on putting together an image of my prospect, but I think I’m having trouble connecting some dots and dialing in to a deeper picture of this person. I have some broad strokes and ideas in place, but in trying to do my research (data cards, websites, etc.) I'm not sure I'm seeing what I should be seeing.

If you're developing a profile of a person who's pretty different than you, how can you be sure you're not projecting your ideas onto him? (A 60-ish man, in my case.)

Is it the real prospect
or is it only you …

Jennifer brings up a crucial question here. One of the challenging but enjoyable aspects of developing what we call a 3-D image of your prospect is harnessing your imagination to develop that picture. But where does reality end and your personal bias begin?

You run the risk of slipping over that line as long as you rely solely on demographics (statistics like age, income, gender) and psychographics (deeper, more personal info) provided by data cards or similar inanimate sources of information.

You can avoid this potential trap by turning to animate sources: Real people.

We’ll get into exactly how to do that next week — how to get real people to help develop your 3-D prospect image. But before we do, I’m going to set the stage by talking about the first steps you must take before you turn to real people.

These are necessary. Without them, you won’t know who the real people you should turn to are.

The Shadow Image: Demographics …

Beginning copywriters make a common mistake when they think a client expects them to “know it all” when they first get an assignment. Because of that, beginners are reluctant to ask the client any questions.

This isn’t the case at all. The client wants you to know as much as possible about the prospect and the product so you can write effective copy. They’ll gladly answer questions like “Who is your best prospect? Who is the prospect who buys from you time and time again?”

The client will start with two types of data about their best customers: demographics and psychographics.

Demographics let you learn the basics about prospects who are most likely to buy the product (the ‘prospect universe’).

These are things like gender, age range, income, and education. Demographics also include whether most of your prospect universe owns or rents their homes. And if they’re married or single, have any kids or grandkids. That sort of thing.

While a vital part of your 3-D image, demographics don’t provide a very rich picture of your prospect. It’s the starting place. When you combine it with your knowledge of the product, you get your first inkling of who this real person you’re writing to is.

Let’s say you’re selling an alternative joint care product. The prospect universe is primarily women ages 45 to 75 who are married or widowed with an average income of $35,000-$45,000 per year.

Bingo! Could be your Aunt Marge. But don’t be too quick to start building that image quite yet.

More than just numbers …

You are more than the sum of your age, income, education, and marital status. You’re a complex person with complex needs. If I want to get to know you, I must delve into that complexity. The same with your prospect.

This is where the digging gets more interesting …

Think about this. What do the books and magazines you read say about you? What are your hobbies and recreational activities? What political party do you belong to? (You can glean much of this information from the data card.)

This type of information shows you — and your prospect — in a richer, fuller light. We’re starting to get a feeling for your inner life. We’re learning a little bit about your belief system. With enough probing, we’re even getting a sense of your hopes, desires, fears … your core complex.

These types of data are called psychographics.

Let’s see how this might work for a joint product. The data card and talking to your client has shown that you’re an older woman with grandchildren. The data card indicates that prospects similar to you were likely subscribers to Modern Knitting and Conde Nast Traveler. I’m starting to get a better sense of why taking care of aching joints is important to you beyond ridding yourself of the pain.

Your sore, stiff hands make knitting for your grandchildren more difficult. Sore knees make travel — even to nearby destinations — less enjoyable than it used to be. Another insight into your life. Another way I get to understand you. And more important, my first personal sense of how you feel about the loss sore joints have caused.

I’m starting to feel your pain personally, to develop that all-important empathy.

But this brings us back to Jennifer’s question. How can I be sure the image I build from demographic and psychographic data isn’t just a reflection of my own biases?

That’s where real people come into your research. And where we’ll pick up this narrative next week.

Until then … keep writing!

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Published: January 28, 2013

2 Responses to “Getting to Know Your Best Friend in Copywriting - Part 1”

  1. Hi Will, I've found that getting out of the house and into the stores helps as well. It adds a whole new dimension to our shopping trips. I'm not just a tag along hubby anymore. I'm a field researcher.

    Colin NodenJanuary 28, 2013 at 12:14 pm

  2. Hi Will, This is a great article for me as a beginner. It really helps me to better understand how to actually see the prospect developing right before my eyes by looking at his/her profile. I really enjoy reading all your articles.
    Thank you very much.

    Marcellus GreeneJanuary 28, 2013 at 5:44 pm


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