One of the hardest things to do as a business owner is write and research your own product. It’s pretty common to sit down in front of a computer screen and think that you’ll turn out ready-to-use copy in a jiffy.
But, more often than not, you’re left scratching your head and wondering what’s wrong when the copy isn’t writing itself.
The problem is, you’re too close to your own business. You need a fresh perspective and maybe some professional guidance.
A lot of businesses take care of this by hiring a good copywriter. Simply by coming in and interviewing you, he or she can often turn your ideas and business insights into pure marketing gold.
Do you really need someone else?
Fortunately no. Here’s why…
While you have fallen in love with your business and are overlooking a lot of compelling reasons why someone might want to buy from you, the copywriter is looking at your business from fresh eyes. And, that’s more valuable than you might think.
But you can achieve the same thing if you take a step back and start where all good copywriters would—the research.
No matter how well you know your product—you could have invented it—you should still do the proper research before sitting down to write.
Don’t start rolling your eyes yet! When you’ve done your research …
- You’ll likely come across a big idea you never would have considered without the research. A big idea is a strong, compelling, and unique idea that you build your copy around. For more information on big ideas—including how to come up with your own—check out this article: The Story No One is Telling.
- Once you’ve researched your product or service, your target market, and your competitors, you’ll probably have so much to write about that you’ll feel like you’ve completely eliminated writer’s block!
- Research also helps you better understand your prospect. This extra level of understanding will help you capture the attention on your prospect and keep him reading—which gets you that much closer to a sell.
- Your copy will also be filled with compelling proof. This is essential if you want your reader to believe you. The more you can back up your claims, the better conversion rate you’ll have.
In other words, research will save you time, not add to your work load.
Always Start with Research
So, how can you put yourself into the copywriter’s shoes and research your product or service? Here are six steps to help you:
1. Compile all the information you already have on your subject.
If you created your product or service, you probably already have samples of it. In fact, you might use it every day.
Start there and imagine you’re seeing it for the first time. What do you notice? What do you like? What do you have questions about? Record all your thoughts because you never know when something is going to spark an idea for great copy.
If you’re too close to your product to effectively do this exercise, invite some friends over and watch them use your product for the first time. Imagine you’re leading a focus group and take a lot of notes. Later you can go back through your notes to find gems for your copy.
If you already have your product or service on the market, collect things like customer support questions and testimonials to review.
For example, here are testimonials from a landscape company. One of the testimonials mentions a benefit of using the landscapers’ service. The owner of the company—or the copywriter—could pull this out and use it as a unique selling proposition.
Also, look at copy you’ve used before—both the home runs and the bombs. What worked? What didn’t? Can you decide why or why not?
2. Interview the maker of the product.
No one knows the product better than the person that made it. Talk to them and take a lot of notes. If you’re the creator, you’ll have a bit of a challenge interviewing yourself, but you can do it. You could also have someone interview you.
Here’s what they should ask to get started:
- How did you come up with this idea?
- What makes your idea different?
- What big problem are you solving with your product/service?
- How does that make you feel?
- Are you your target marketing?
- Why or why not?
- What experience do you have that makes you credible?
- Tell a story about the early days of your business.
- Was there a time you almost quit? What made you keep going?
- Was there a great success story from a customer? How did that make you feel?
It’s really important to think your answers through. Don’t just rattle off your tagline or mission statement.
Really think back and consider why you started the company, what you were trying to do, who you wanted to help, why you were excited, etc. The more passion you have during this process, the better your final copy will turn out.
Also, don’t stop with the creator of the product. Interview others who were involved. Did someone help you with your idea or give you advice? Do you have a business partner? What about your biggest fan or your best support specialist?
All these people could know something that when added to your copy will take it from ho-hum to brilliant.
3. Read and take notes.
Many experts say the best writers are also readers. Read as much as you can about everything. You’ll have more ideas, be more creative, and have more to say.
Start by reading everything you can about your product—including your competitor’s marketing materials.
Also, read the news, books on your subject, articles, websites, and blogs. Pour through anything you can get your hands on.
But, don’t forget—as you find interesting things to use, don’t forget to make a note of where you found them. This will be really useful for citing or finding the original text after you’ve read 10 books, 23 articles, and 17 competitor’s websites.
Bob Bly, an expert copywriter, says, “Gather as much information as you can and key your notes into your PC. This reduces the mountain of source material into a more manageable print-out of between two and 20 or so single-spaced typed pages.”
Also note that keeping good records of your research is especially important when you’re looking for statistics to use in your copy.
4. Look to outside sources for research.
When you’ve researched everything in steps 1-3, turn to a few outside sources. Even if you think you have enough research to write your copy, check a few outside sources just to be sure. You never know what you might find …
Spend some time searching the Internet, but go beyond page one of the search results. Your research process should be fun and entertaining—especially considering that you’re looking for information to grab your readers’ attention and draw them in.
Pretend you’re an investigator and spend a while doing this. Here are a few exercises to get you thinking:
- What search term do you usually use to find your business online? Try searching for the opposite of that.
- What industry is like yours, but different enough that you could learn something from it? For example, Copyblogger.com merges the world of direct-response copywriting and blogging. What could you merge with your business to get another angle?
- What news stories are happening now that could somehow relate to your business?
- What main problem does your product or service solve? What other products or services solve that problem? For example, a leaf solves the same problem as toilet paper, but the toilet paper has a lot of benefits that the leaf doesn’t …
It’s important to make sure any statistics or facts come from reputable sources. For example, Wikipedia can be a great starting point. But because anyone can edit it you never know what you might find. Use the citation links at the bottom of the page to verify the information before using it in your copy.
Also, check out USA.gov—which is a great site for statistics and U.S. Census reports—and The CIA World Fact Book.
And, this fact finder from the US census bureau is great for looking up local and regional information:
5. Research what others have to say.
In step one we talked about hosting your own focus group … if you didn’t do it then, now’s the time. Start a conversation with friends, family, or neighbors about your product or service.
What do they say, think, and feel? Are any of them in your target market? Take note of what interests them, really gets them exciting and talking, or what bores them. You wouldn’t want to write your copy around a subject that bores people.
Also, take note about what they find hard to believe. For example, if you’re selling a diet program and none of your friends believe it works, ask them why. Then address those concerns in your copy, but be sure to back up all your claims with proof to make your case.
Remember, if your friends have an objection, your prospect is likely to have that objection as well. Remind your friends that you need the complete truth so you can fix any issues or address them in your copy. If you think they’ll have a hard time being honest with you because it’s your business, you could ask someone else to lead the conversation and ask the questions.
Another way to research what others have to say is to find similar products and websites and read the comments and testimonials. Check out reviews on sites like Amazon.com and comments on blogs in your niche. Forums are also a great place to find people’s true feelings.
You’re likely to find a lot of thoughts across the web so remember that you can’t please everyone or take every suggestion. As you’re listening to people’s opinions and researching, you’re looking for common themes and patterns.
For example, if your Aunt Betty says she never buys anything online, don’t get discouraged. Talk to the people who do buy things online and find out if they would buy your product or service and why or why not.
6. Research to back up weak spots in your copy.
Once you’ve gone through the five steps above, you’ll likely have a lot of material to look through. This is the time to organize it and decide what you’ll use. Don’t throw anything out though. You might need it.
Now it’s time to write your control-breaking sales copy.
After you finish your first draft, it’s time to research a little more.
Start by proofreading your copy.
Go through it once and look for phrases that are boring. How could you spice it up by adding an interesting statistic? If you have one in your research already, great! If not, you’ll have to do a little more research to make your boring phrase interesting.
Then, go through it again and look for unbelievable phrases. What proof could you add to make your claim believable? You might need some more research for this, but it will be worth it.
Now, go through your copy one more time. Look for confusing phrases. How could you clarify those statements with better research?
Finally, have a few friends read your copy and do the same test for boring, unbelievable, and confusing copy. Make sure to beef up any areas that they find.
At this point—if you did enough research—you probably have a really solid first draft.
Wait a few days and then review it one last time. If you’re sure there’s nothing else you can fix, beef up, or enhance, it’s time to send your copy to the next stage. Depending on your business that may be your editor or a business partner.
If you have neither, make sure someone reviews your copy. Many copywriters offer copy critiques where they will check your copy and make sure it has all the elements to convert readers to buyers. I highly recommend sending your copy through a process like this if you are not a copywriter yourself.
Now I’d like to hear from you …
What is your favorite way to research?
Or—if you’ve been skipping the research phase—will you change the way you write your copy moving forward? Will you start writing with research?