Reach Your Prospects on a Deeper Level

How well do you really know your customers? Reading the list data cards is a good way to learn something about the folks you mail to, but it’s not enough. Knowing that you are writing to farmers, information technology professionals or plumbers is just the start. You have to dig deeper.

To write powerful copy, you must go beyond the demographics to understand what motivates these people — who they are, what they want, how they feel and what their problems and concerns are that your product can help solve.

One direct marketer told me, “We want to reach prospects on three levels: intellectual, emotional and personal.”

Intellectual is the first level and, though effective, is weaker than the other two. An intellectual appeal is based on logic, such as, “Buy the stocks we recommend in our investment newsletter and you will beat the market by 50 to 100 percent.”

More powerful is to reach the prospect on an emotional level. Emotions that can be tapped include fear, greed, love, vanity and, for fundraising, benevolence. Using our example of a stock market newsletter, the emotional appeal might be, “Our advice can help you cut your losses and make much more money so you become much wealthier than your friends and neighbors. You’ll be able to pay cash for your next car — a Lexus, BMW or any luxury automobile you care to own — and you’ll sleep better at night.”

The most powerfully you can reach people is on a personal level. Again, from the stock market newsletter: “Did you lose a small fortune in the April 2000 tech stock meltdown? So much that it put your dreams of retirement or financial independence on hold? Now you can gain back everything you lost, rebuild your net worth and make your dream of early retirement or financial independence come true — a lot sooner than you think.”

To reach prospects on all three levels — intellectual, emotional and personal — you must understand what copywriter Michael Masterson calls the buyer’s “Core Complex.” These are the emotions, attitudes and aspirations that drive them, as represented by the formula BFD: beliefs, feelings and desires.

Beliefs. What does your audience believe? What is their attitude toward your product and the problems or issues it addresses?

Feelings. How do they feel? Are they confident and brash? Nervous and fearful? What do they feel about the issues in their lives, businesses or industries?

Desires. What do they want? What are their goals? What change do they want in their lives that your product can help them achieve?

For instance, we did this exercise using IT people as the prospect group for a company that gives seminars in communication and interpersonal skills for IT professionals. Here’s what we came up with in a group meeting:

Beliefs. IT people think they are smarter than other people, technology is the most important thing in the world, users are stupid and management doesn’t appreciate them enough.

Feelings. IT people often have an adversarial relationship with management and users, both of whom they service. They feel others dislike them, look down upon them and do not understand what they do.

Desires. IT people want to be appreciated and recognized. They also prefer to deal with computers and avoid people whenever possible. And they want bigger budgets.

Based on this analysis, particularly the feelings, the company created a direct mail letter that was its most successful ever to promote a seminar titled “Interpersonal Skills for IT Professionals.” The headline: “Important news for any IT professional who has ever felt like telling an end user, ‘Go to hell.’ “

Before writing copy, write out in narrative form the BFD of your target market. Share this with your team and reach an agreement on it. Then write copy based on the agreed BFD.

Occasionally, insights into the prospect’s desires and concerns can be gleaned through formal market research. For instance, a copywriter working on a cooking oil account was reading a focus group transcript and came across this comment from a user: “I fried chicken in the oil and then poured the oil back into a measuring cup. All the oil was there except one teaspoon.”

This comment, buried in the appendix of a focus group report, became the basis of a successful TV campaign dramatizing the selling point that food did not absorb the oil and therefore was not greasy when cooked in it.

Veteran ad man Joe Sacco once had an assignment to write a campaign for a new needle used by diabetics to inject insulin. What was the key selling point?

The diabetics Sacco talked with praised the needle because it was sharp. A non-user probably would view being sharp as a negative. But if you have given yourself or anyone else an injection, you know that sharper needles go in smoother, with no pain. Sacco wrote a successful ad campaign based on the claim that these needles were sharp, thus enabling easier, pain-free insulin injection.

Copywriter Don Hauptman advises, “Start with the prospect, not the product.” With BFD, you quickly gain a deeper understanding of your prospects before you try to sell them something. Stronger marketing campaigns usually follow.

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