The Importance of Research for Effective Copywriting
Most people who write for a living will say that getting it right requires about 10% actual writing time and 90% research. Knowing what to write before writing it, and to whom, may seem like an obvious place to start, but when you’re under pressure to meet a business writing deadline, the obvious can go out the window. It shouldn’t, though, because even when you’re up against time, the entire process of writing your content will be easier if you put down the stylus, sit down at the keyboard, and consider it first.
“An important first task when planning a written assignment is to think carefully about its purpose.” (1). Start by identifying your reader by considering these three simple questions:
* Who is my reader? * Will they read this? * What value is being created? (2)
If, for example, your mission is to write a 1000-word “business-to-consumer” brochure on a new range of motorized mobility scooters, the language, tone, and style of your article should not be aimed at a youth audience. Sound too obvious? Search any newspaper, magazine, or website and you’ll soon find countless examples of product advertisements that seem incongruously to target a completely irrelevant market. This explains the irritation or amusement you feel when watching a television commercial that is not directed at you. When this happens, the audience immediately feels disconnected and the desired message of the content falls between the cracks. It’s one of the main reasons why sales copies and ads fail.
In our example, once you’ve identified your top ‘mobility scooter’ readers as seniors, you’ll have a very compelling reason why they’ll want to read about your new products. But it is a competitive market and scooters will not sell themselves. So the next part of the process is to ask yourself, ‘What’s in it for my potential readers? What benefits will our products bring to these readers in addition to those of our competitors? And how do I communicate this to them in a language that they appreciate? ‘
Consider the benefits, not just the features
This is when the ‘analysis’ stage of the research process begins, when you go back to your product and establish all the features that you offer to your target reader, listing the corresponding benefits. Think about all that your product can do and how this will help the reader, how this will create value for them within the content you are about to write.
If at this stage you need to clarify certain product features or specifications, or identify a more pervasive topic that reinforces your point, go online and Google your key topics, read the relevant details that will put your claims in authoritative context. Imagine yourself in the mindset of your target reader and look for examples of similar products targeting them. Take into account the language used to speak to them and consider what works and what doesn’t in terms of tone.
The more detailed your research is at this stage, the more rounded and effective your writing will be. You may think that you are gathering superfluous details, but when it comes to writing your content, you will find that you are already a ‘mini expert’ on the subject and can choose the best facts, statistics and juicy pieces of information to support your message.
The final stage of your research should take the form of compiling your rough notes into a definitive structure. This structure will depend on the media in which your content will be published; For example, writing for the web is very different from writing a sales letter or brochure, but if your research is solid, you will put yourself on a solid foundation to really structure and write effective content.
1. Prof. Gail Huon, University of New South Wales, Writing Workshop, 2006 2. Gerry McGovern and Rob Norton, “Critical Content”, Financial Times Prentice Hall, 2002