Winning Copy Needs Deep Research

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Almost nobody does enough homework before writing ad copy, and that's why most of the copy I see is full of puffery instead of power; loaded with generalities instead of specifics; and full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.


Here's what I mean by homework. Before I write a word of copy for a client, I have them fill out a 25-question survey. Questions include:


· What is the product/service being offered?


· What does it do? How does it work? How is it used?


· What is the OFFER? Price, terms, guarantee, time limit, bonuses?


· What are the product's FEATURES, facts and specifications?


· What are the main BENEFITS? What will it do for me? What specific problem(s) does it solve? What need(s) does it fulfill? How will it make or save me money, time, work or worry? Will it make my life easier or better?


· What are the KEY SELLING POINTS? What will it give me that I can't get elsewhere? How and why is it new, better or different than what's already available? What is unique or exclusive about it?


· What is our copy ASSIGNMENT? Direct mail package, sales letter, display ad, brochure, press release, insert, catalog, self-mailer, postcard, information kit, TV spot, radio spot, Web site, complete campaign?


· What is the project's OBJECTIVE? To generate leads or inquiries, make a direct sale, answer inquiries or leads, make an announcement, build image, etc.?


· What is the BUDGET?


· What is the SCHEDULE? When do you want it? Any deadlines or project schedules we should be aware of?


· Who is the MAIN PROSPECT? In business, what is his title/responsibility? What are his goals, concerns, fears, hopes and dreams, attitudes, possible objections? How will he use your product to get ahead or keep from falling behind? For consumers, what main interests/desires/fears/hopes and dreams does it appeal to?


· Who (if any) are your SECONDARY PROSPECTS? Are there enough prospects in this secondary niche to create specially targeted copy versions that appeal directly to them?


· What MAILING LISTS/MEDIA have you used in the past? What worked and what did not? What is the sales performance by source?


· What TESTS do you wish to conduct? What copy, price, offer, mailing list, media?


· What selling points MUST be included?


· What TABOOS do you have? What must never be said or promised?


· Who are your COMPETITORS? How do you compare on product, service, price, terms, features and benefits, etc.? Where are you strongest and weakest by comparison?


· Any IN-HOUSE COMPETITION that might affect positioning, copy approaches?


· Any operational RESTRICTIONS? (e.g., no 9-by-12-inch envelopes, 4-color, etc.?)


· What is the METHOD OF PAYMENT? Cash with order; bill-me later; purchase order required; or credit cards?


· How do you receive ORDERS? What percentage of your sales comes by phone? Internet? Mail? On-site retail? Through distributors?


· What GUARANTEE do you offer? (100% money back any time? 30-day free trial? Refund of unused portion upon return?)


· What is your COMPANY PROFILE? Company history, personality or bio of the owner, founder, main spokesperson; position of prominence in the marketplace; special achievements; public/community image; industry awards; anything else that might enhance sales or goodwill?


I also try to get these items from the client: product samples; any testimonials or endorsements - letters from happy users, media coverage, publicity, celebrity endorsements or industry/peer reviews; any complaints - letters from unhappy customers; copies of past advertising/marketing efforts; copies of competitors' advertising/marketing efforts; any other research or background material you can supply; and recommended background reading and names of key resource people I should talk with.


WARNING: If you try to weasel out of getting the answers to these questions before you write copy, you might be a "marketing accident waiting to happen." Sure, some of these questions might not relate exactly to your project. Omit them or modify them to fit your situation, but make sure you are not kidding yourself or trying to cut corners. If you are, it will come back to haunt you!


The good news is that if you do this homework, you are halfway to having killer ad copy that can make you lots of money for years to come - maybe even set you up for life! When you realize that even a fraction of a percentage point in increased response can add thousands of dollars to your bottom line, you will realize it's worth the work.


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