What do you really know about your prospect?
Their age range perhaps? Where they live? What they do for a living?
Useful definitely, but not enough to create copy that rouses emotion and compels action.
For that we need to take a journey much deeper into the dark recesses of our customers’ minds …
Want to join me?
Today’s article is inspired by someone who understood that in writing, how well you knew your ‘characters’ made the difference between captivating an audience, or boring them.
In 1946 The Art of Dramatic Writing, (now regarded as one of the best works on the subject of playwriting), was published.
The author, Lajos Egri, had a simple rule: know your characters and you’ll know your story.
And the same principle works in copywriting. Before you can write content that gets and grips your reader’s attention, you have to get to know them … intimately.
Fortunately, Egri has some advice to help us do just that.
The one thing your reader wants most is …
… to be important.
According to Egri, this is the number one desire that motivates all characters.
Even small actions are attempts to increase our importance in the world. Whether it’s going for a promotion, dressing up for a date, or making sure your children are healthy and happy. These actions are influenced by our goals to be well-respected, noticed, or loved. And if we succeed, we have a measure of how important we are to others.
So how do companies make their customers feel important?
A business owner wants a better looking website to be more important to prospects. A web designer wants better tools to offer a high-quality service, and be more important to her customers. A blogger wants to produce epic content to be important to readers so they keep coming back.
When you know what makes your customer wants to feel important, you can ensure it is one of the leading benefits in your copy.
But this is just the beginning, because when you stir the murky waters of the desire for importance, you’re just a few steps away from another piece of the puzzle that helps you understand your customer.
Your customer is insecure (but do you know why?)
According to Egri, no-one is wholly satisfied with themselves, because if people were satisfied and happy, no-one would ever do anything.
Apparently, insecurities cause dissatisfaction which then motivates us to pursue activities to make us feel more important.
And the angle of your copywriting can change dramatically when you’re targeting different insecurities, even if the product is the same.
For example, not everyone who decides to get fit is motivated by the same reasons.
One guy might be embarrassed about his body and decide once and for all to get buff for the ladies. Another guy might have a chronic condition that he fears will cause him to miss out on life unless he can gain strength by increasing his fitness.
While the same fitness product might work for both people, the same approach to writing copy may not. And if you want to write copy that resonates deeply with your customer, you have to tackle their fears as well as their goals.
You can find vital clues in their past
Most customer profile templates focus on the present-day. Where does your customer live now? What problems do they have today?
Egri understood that if you really wanted to understand a character you had to go back in time and know the events that made your ‘character’ who they are today.
So what about your own customer? What events turned them into your target market?
If you help small business owners, how did they get there? Were they always self-employed? Have they been in business long? Have they always ‘gone their own way’ or are they more used to conforming and being told what to do?
Taking this journey through your target market’s history helps you build a better view of your customer’s values. And again, this helps you shape your content and pick themes that appeal specifically to your customer.
Consider the following target market divided by different histories:
- Business owners … forced into self-employment after the recession
- Business owners … starting up fresh out of university
How might you change the theme of your copy for each group?
The conflict reveals your customer’s true character
Egri suggested that in conflict, people’s true characteristics are revealed … but what conflict is your customer really facing?
Some conflicts are obvious. It’s an action that causes a problem that needs to be solved by a reaction: your car breaks down, you need to be somewhere — you call a mechanic.
Your pipes burst, you don’t want water damage, you call a plumber.
Other conflicts are more subtle but no less worrying to your customer.
A business owner wants a polished looking website to look important to her customers.
No real conflict there.
Looking a little bit closer, we discover that maintaining a professional appearance is something she worries about.
Okay, we know more about her insecurity, but still there’s no real conflict.
Do a bit more digging and we find out it’s likely to be a start-up business and she’s probably new to online technology. She doesn’t have the funds to hire a design company, but she doesn’t know enough about technology to do her own design.
The business that solves this problem and understands this conflict can plan content to reach this customer much better than the business that simply advertises affordable web design.
Now, you don’t have to know the individual story for each and every customer you may have, but without an idea of the conflict faced by the majority of your target market, understanding their real character (and writing copy to appeal to them) will be a challenge.
Okay, we know what makes our customer feel important, what makes them secure, what their past is, and their conflict.
Finally, you need to know …
How far are they willing to go?
In fiction, you need to know if your characters are prepared to go bankrupt, embark on an adventure, commit a crime, or declare love to achieve their dreams.
And you need to know the same about your customer.
Okay, you don’t need to know if your customer will go to Mordor for new computer software, but it does help to know what they’re willing to do to resolve their particular conflict.
- What price are they willing to pay?
- Are they willing to shop around or is it more of an impulse purchase?
- How desperate are they to solve the problem?
- Do they need to solve it quickly or can a solution take time?
- How much do they want to work with you compared to another company?
Your research might lead you to try new approaches in the way you present your offer to prospects. If you discover your customer likes to shop around, and reads lots of information before making a buying decision, you can create content to cater to this need.
Getting to know your customer isn’t a quick, cursory task. Egri would spend hours plotting question and answer scenarios with characters, thinking of a range of different back-stories and visualizing how they might react with different events and opposing personalities.
Now granted, your customers aren’t imaginary but you can use the same inquisitive approach to build a clearer profile of your customer.
How do you get to know your customers?
What do you find helps gain a better understanding of your reader?
How does this affect the copy you write?
Let us know in the comments below …
About the Author: Amy Harrison runs Harrisonamy Copywriting, providing practical resources for business owners who want to tell a more persuasive story. Still interested in fear marketing? Watch her episode of AmyTV, which uses badgers and mineshafts to make a sale.