Research is critical

Before you start writing a page of copy, you need to know a lot about three things:

  1. Who you’re selling to (your audience).
  2. What they want (i.e. what their problem is).
  3. How your product can solve their problem.
  4. How alternate solutions solve their problem.

Notice that each of these 4 things is really all about the customer. The customer is the most important part of sales copywriting.

There is only one boss. The customer―and he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.

Sam Walton

If you want to be a great copywriter, start with a deep, deep understanding of your customer and what they want.

So, does that mean you need a market research agency and a $150,000 budget. Not on your life! A little ingenuity, empathy, and elbow grease can give you all of the market research that you need. In this section of the course, we’ll be covering some of the key things you need to learn, plus some proven research tactics to gain these insights.

1. Know your audience

The first thing you need to understand is your audience–who you’re writing to.

Here’s a really important thing to remember: take the time to understand the audience for every piece you write. The people who visit your homepage are a different audience than the people who signed up for your ebook, who are a different audience than the people you met at a trade show. These different audiences could be slightly different, or they could be radically different. If you write the same piece to all of them, it won’t be as effective. Take the time to identify and understand your audience each time you’re creating a new piece of copy.

Here are some good questions you can ask yourself as you get to know your readers:

  • What are their demographics? Age, gender, nationality, location, income, etc.
  • What are they passionate about? Hobbies, political beliefs, religious beliefs, music, etc.
  • What is their relationship/family status? Single, dating, engaged, married, married with kids, empty nesters, divorced, etc.
  • What are they worried about? What keeps them up at night? What makes them feel insecure?

Read 29 Market Research Questions to Guide Your Marketing Strategy for more questions that will help you better understand your audience.

Should you use a buyer persona?

One popular tool marketers use when getting to know their audience is buyer personas. These are very specific descriptions of a person, a fictitious person who represents a larger group of your customers.

Buyer personas can be useful because they help you write your copy to an individual person. Read these articles for more information on how to build buyer personas:

Buyer personas can be useful tool, but I’m honestly not a huge fan of them. My beef is actually that they’re too-specific–they box you in with details that are completely made up and don’t represent the majority of your audience. Take the screenshot above for example: when you’re writing copy, do you really want to write it specifically to a 42-year-old man whose kids play hockey? Probably not, because that would be 0.1% of your target audience.

My personal preference is to use:

  • Audience profiles. This is a document that compiles information that accurately represents your audience as a whole. Instead of building a persona for Joe, the 45 year old bowler, your audience profile might say something like: “70% are age 40-65, 43% go bowling at least once per month”.
  • Real customer profiles. These are profiles based on your actual customers. The audience profile represents your audience as a whole, these profiles give depth and personality, making it easier to empathize with and write directly to your readers.

Here’s a very basic example of an audience profile. Note that instead of saying “Brenda owns a white iPhone 8” it offers data that represents your entire audience: 70% own and use smartphones.


Important: whether you’re using personas or audience profiles, you’ll need more than one. You’ll have different audiences for different campaigns, and it’s worth the time to understand each audience separately.

2. Know their problem

Now that you know a bit about your audience, it’s time to understand what they want. Customer needs, wants, problems, paint points…whatever term you use, you gotta know them like the back of your own hand.

Why would this person be interested in purchasing your product? They have a felt need, or problem, they’re trying to solve.

There are a few things you need to understand about the customer’s needs:

  • What do they want? (What’s the problem or felt need they have?)
  • Why do they want this?
  • How does having this problem/need make them feel?
  • How will it make them feel if they solve this problem?
  • What will it cost them if they don’t solve the problem?

Read these articles to learn more about understanding customer needs:

3. Know your product

Now that you know the customer and you know what they want, now it’s time to dig deep and understand the solution you’re offering–from the customer’s perspective.

Take the time to document each of these areas:

  • The problems or pain points your product is solving
  • The benefits your product offers
  • Your product’s features and how they deliver the benefits
  • Your product’s weaknesses
  • Objections/concerns prospects may have about your product

4. Know the alternatives

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Sun Tzu

Next, you need to understand the competitors. But keep in mind, your #1 competitor might not be a competitor at all. For many businesses, the #1 alternative to their product is simply “doing nothing.”

Here are some key points you need to understand:

  1. What are your top competitors?
  2. What are the up-and-coming competitors?
  3. What are your top non-competitor alternatives (i.e. doing nothing)?
  4. What does each competitor do best / better than you?
  5. Which problems do you solve better than your competitors?
  6. Which problems does a competitor solve better than you?
  7. How do competitor prices compare to your prices?

Read these articles to learn more about understanding your competitors: