When You’re Serious About Maximizing ROI, Start Here…

by Scott Martin

Last updated on March 15th, 2018

It’s not a scientific equation but it’s mostly predictable:

Deep Digging = High Conversion

To help me buttress and augment my theory, I want you to meet someone.

I’m currently watching the DVDs of the Gary Bencivenga 100 Seminar (a $5,000 product and worth every penny) that took place in New York City in 2005.  Now retired, Bencivenga is generally recognized as the top postwar direct response copywriter.


Gary Bencivenga

Bencivenga wrote primarily for information marketers like Rodale (the publishers of Men’s Health, Prevention Magazine, etc).

Rodale had this to say about Bencivenga:

“Against other top creative talent, he has never lost a split-run test in selling any of our books.”

Bencivenga used a formula for maximizing ROI.

In the seminar, Bencivenga revealed he spent 40% of his time conducting research. When beginning a promotion, he invited his client to ‘back up the truck’ and provide piles of information.

Here’s an example of Gary Bencivenga copy written to promote a book by David D. Seltz titled A Treasury of Business Opportunities.

Notice Bencivenga’s use of specific numbers to create authority. His extensive research results in persuasive, fact-filled copy. You can clearly see Bencivenga fully completed his homework before writing.

Gary Bencivenga Copy

You don’t just open a word processor and write this kind of copy. It takes deep digging. And deep digging requires time.

Dan Kennedy is a highly successful information marketer. When working for a client who marketed to life insurance salespeople, Kennedy attended a conference, hung out in a bar replete with life insurance salespeople and discovered they LOVE golf. So Kennedy organized the next campaign around a golf theme.

As you’d expect from a company that generated $36 billion in the 4th quarter of 2013, Apple can afford to hire outstanding marketers and provide them with the time to research new products. Take a look at the features and benefits clearly explained and illustrated on a web page for the iPad mini. There’s ample detail for the techno-maniac.


I’m confident Apple’s copywriting team spent significant time with their engineers, mining for features and benefits.

Understandably, many companies cannot provide the bandwidth for days of research.

Many times, a writer gets a budget and a brief and quickly writes a squeeze page or sales page using basic information plus standard direct response techniques like a classic ‘How To…’ headline. The page converts decently and everyone is happy.

However, when you’re serious about creating a massive winner, the quality of the research provides the rocket fuel for a sales page that sends conversion into the stratosphere. Yes competent writing is important but during his seminar, Gary Bencivenga admitted he’s not the world’s most flowery wordsmith.

Bencivenga’s results came from connecting with the reader’s soul and that connection was the direct result of astute observation and research—plus a healthy dose of testing.

How To Get Started with the Research

To maximize the impact of the valuable research time, I use a system I call my “Preflight Direct Response Copy Checklist.” In full disclosure and with total transparency, I admit to swiping from at least 40 checklists to create my version.

It starts with 10 basic research fundamentals. If you want to maximize conversion, then fully and completely answer these questions before the creatives get to work.

1.  What’s the elevator speech? Can you explain the benefit of the product in about 15 seconds?

2.  What’s the primary problem the product/service solves? Make a list and prioritize.

3.  Who is the person you want to persuade? The psychographic is often more important than the demographic or income bracket. If you communicate the right offer, people will part with their money—even if they have little, or none.  In a blog about the Gary Bencivenga seminar, a cash-strapped Lawrence Bernstein admits to borrowing the money for the seminar cost from family members.

4. What is the primary benefit? If you had a gun to your head and you had to list the ONE benefit that’s most likely to make someone buy the product or service, what would this be?

5.  What do potential customers fear? Fear can be powerful but it must be used carefully. Potential clients do not want to be ‘over-reminded’ about their wounds, blemishes, and problems.

6.  What are the numbers? List the specific numbers associated with the results this product generates. How many pounds have people lost? What was the percentage gain of a stock picker’s stocks in 2012?

7.  What is the USP? What is the unique selling proposition of the company and the product/service? The USP differentiates the product from the competition.

8.  What would you recommend as the primary motivator (can be one or all)?

  • FEAR – Reaching retirement with no money.
  • GUILT – You know you don’t eat well.
  • GREED – Earn a passive income in just 60 days.
  • EXCLUSIVITY – Get behind the velvet rope. Now.
  • SOLUTIONS – Got acne?

9.  Is there are a story associated with this product/service? One of the most famous print ads, about learning the piano, tells a simple but powerful story to illustrate the benefit of the end result.


10.  What is (are) the offer(s)? Buy one and get two free. Plus the bonus items.

You can download the entire Preflight Direct Response checklist here.

But the checklist is just a start.

If you have additional bandwidth, it’s important to go beyond the checklist and really understand what potential customers want.

If you don’t dig, you might miss the target.

For example, golf ads regularly show a happy golfer hitting a ball out of a bunker. The creative team for this account clearly DOES NOT include any golfers because golfers do not want to be in a bunker and golfers are NEVER happy when they’re in one.

Here’s the message from the ad below: Come to Pinehurst, Get in a Bunker.


To find the benefits that really excite golfers, visit online forums, conduct an extensive online search, and read testimonials.

What could you learn as a golf marketer by looking at these three tweets?  Does Tiger Woods still excite golfers?


If you are selling custom golf clubs, what could you learn from this golf forum discussion? Could your offer capture the excitement this guy feels when he is “hitting truely flush shots” with his new custom clubs?

Just ignore the spelling: it’s a forum.


I’m gearing up to write a promotion for a product my neighbor recently bought. Over a glass of wine, I’m going to discover what persuaded her to pull the credit card out of her purse and try the product. Was it the price? The offer? The quality? Ease?

Discovering somewhat obscure problems during the research can be especially powerful.

I attended a conference in November, 2011 and found myself in a room packed with over 1500 potential clients. The organizer would not sell the database but when a company provided a way to make myself known to the people in that room, I paid the equivalent of 18 days of skiing at Aspen for the product.

Someone discovered my itch—probably through careful research. For that product, the offer could have started “Eeny, meeny, miny, mo” and I would have purchased the solution.

While extensive research takes time, the investment pays off.  The campaign almost creates itself; this reduces the time to market and reduces creative angst.

With a foundation of rock-solid research, the campaign is more focused and more likely to convert at a rate that generates significant ROI.



Get updates on new articles, webinars and other opportunities:

Scott Martin

Scott Martin is a direct response copywriter based in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has also written or edited 18 books including The Book of Caddyshack: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Greatest Movie Ever Made. Scott provides free resources for marketers including direct response checklists.


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  1. JC says:
    March 19, 2016 at 6:04 am

    Thanks for this. This got me in the right frame of mind and I discovered product benefits that I had not seen before.

  2. owen says:
    July 24, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    this is a great post and I definitely need to become better at communicating the benefits of my products to my customers. I will have to hunt down this dvd training. It seems the modern stuff is all hat and no brains.

    • Neil Patel says:
      July 24, 2014 at 4:03 pm

      Owen, awesome! We look forward to hearing more from you 🙂

  3. February 18, 2013 at 2:13 am

    Great Post… worth reading carefully. Its easy to overlook the extent (I know I have in the past) to which one person will respond to a compelling benefit whilst another will simply yawn and move on…So research and deep digging as Scott says is where the true copywriters concentrate their efforts.

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