The secret of success as a copywriter or direct marketer? Make the sale. Plain and simple. Make the sale. And what’s the best way to do that? “Know” your potential customer – your prospect. After all, if you don’t know who you’re selling to, how can you know what to promise him? Or which core emotions to hit?

Getting to know your prospect isn’t difficult. It just takes a little time and a good imagination. (And it’s actually kind of fun.) Start by looking closely at the description of the product you’re going to be selling. Read everything related to the product that you can get your hands on. If you’re a freelancer and you’re working with a client, they should be able to provide you with plenty of material.

Next, look for demographic or psychographic data. If you’re working with a product that’s already being sold, try to get customer surveys, testimonials, and buyer information from your client’s marketing and customer service departments. From that information, develop a picture of your prospect. Notice I say “prospect” (singular), not prospects (plural).

You want this picture to be as specific as possible, so you want it to be the picture of a “real” person. What is your prospect’s gender? How old is she? Is she married, divorced, single? Any children? What type of house? Does she rent or own? What are her hobbies? Let’s say you’re selling an anti-arthritis product. The client is sending a promotion to a mailing list of 85% women, ages 55-75, 68% married, income between $25,000 and $38,000.

The marketing data says that people on this list also bought (by mail) Prevention Magazine, Modern Maturity, “massage units”, Knitting Today, and Extreme Knitting Magazine. Given that, you picture your prospect as a 68-year-old woman whose husband is retired (based on the age and income information you have). She suffers from arthritis (good guess, based on the “massage units” mentioned in the data), and she loves to knit. And then you take this one step further and name her “Maude”… because she reminds you of your Aunt Maude who lives in Oregon.

Next, you consider Maude’s hopes, aspirations, and fears. What makes her happy? What makes her angry? You figure that she’s concerned about her health (Prevention Magazine). And that she is deeply worried and angered because her arthritis is getting worse. You also decide that part of what’s bothering her about her arthritis has to do with the fact that she loves to knit. If she can no longer knit, how will she be able to give her beloved grandchildren the sweaters she always knits for their birthdays?

Of course, you don’t want to go TOO far with this and make the picture of your prospect so specific that it excludes other possible customers for your product. For instance, you wouldn’t say something in your copy like, “How are your husband and your two grandchildren?” But if having grandchildren is part of the picture of your prospect that’s in your head, you do want to tap into that in subtle ways to improve your sales… maybe by bringing in her concerns about her grandchildren’s future, health, and safety. Do you depend solely on your imagination and the information you get from your client to create this rich, personal picture of your prospect?

Not at all. In fact, you shouldn’t. Instead, you should learn more about your prospect by “becoming” him. Go to the library and look through the magazines he subscribes to. The articles in these magazines will give you tremendous insight into how he thinks… what emotions motivate him… what types of products he buys. The ads, especially, are a goldmine of information. (Next time you’re in line at the supermarket, take a look at The Enquirer or The Star.

From the ads alone, you get a powerful image of the person who reads those tabloids, don’t you?) Go where your prospect eats. Do what he does. Unless you live in a cave, you probably have someone among your friends and acquaintances who represents your typical prospect… maybe even someone who’s actually bought your product. Take him out for lunch or a beer. Chat with him… but not about the product you’re selling. Chat about everything else. Take the time to get to know him.

And use the image you get from doing that to fashion a specific, real picture of your prospect. Then talk to that person in your sales letter, ad, or face-to-face sales pitch. By having this degree of detail and specificity about your prospect, it will be much easier for you to speak directly, personally, and meaningfully to him. And much easier to make your sale.

[Ed. Note: Will Newman is the editor of AWAI’s student e-letter “The Golden Thread.” In his article today, he shares just one of the many secrets you’ll find in the AWAI copywriting course. If you really want to understand your customer, your role as a marketer, and the relationships between buyer and seller, check it out. Click here to find out more.]