One of the main lessons that AWAI, ETR, and other experts on direct marketing drive home is the importance of really knowing your potential customer or client (what we call “the prospect”) – almost like a close friend. Why? Because you can’t hope to be a top-flight copywriter or marketer unless you know your prospect intimately – unless you get inside his skin and understand what makes him tick and motivates him to buy.

You might think that the best way to use this information about your prospect is to write to him as if you know what his problems are – and you want to change his life for the better. Big mistake. Mistake? How is that possible? How can you know your prospect like a close friend and NOT want to change his life? It’s quite simple. It’s your product – not you – that should change your prospect’s life. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. I review student assignments for the AWAI copywriting course.

One of these assignments is for a fictitious men’s health product – and I can count on at least one-third of the assignments I critique to contain advice to the prospect on how to make himself healthier. It usually sounds something like this: “If you want to have a better life, you have to stop smoking, eat less fats and salt, exercise more, and (whatever).” But if you use this approach in your promotion, you’re wasting your time. Telling your prospect what he should be doing does absolutely nothing to sell your product.

In fact, you will irritate him and make him stop reading your sales pitch. He stops reading. He doesn’t buy your product. No sale. No profit. Why does this happen? Well, think of it this way. When was the last time you whole-heartedly embraced unsolicited advice? Unless there was some very clear, overriding, huge benefit, my guess it was never. Only one thing should concern you as a marketer: to make the sale. And the way to do that is to make it absolutely clear to your prospect that your PRODUCT can not only solve his immediate problem, but also fulfill his deepest wants, needs, and desires.

Understanding your prospect’s deepest wants, needs, and desires is one of Michael Masterson’s most powerful copywriting secrets. He calls it “The Prism.” In his presentation at AWAI’s copywriting Bootcamp last October, Michael introduced the concept of The Prism with a quote from Sir Walter Raleigh: “Our passions are most like floods and streams. The shallows murmur, but the deep are dumb.” With The Prism, you see your prospect fully, getting down to his “deeper and stickier” buying level. You know what he fears and what keeps him awake at night. What gives him that tightness in the gut when he hears a certain word or phrase. You understand the man he wanted to be when he was 25. . . as well as the man he dreams to be at 65.

You know exactly what motivates him – on a subconscious level – to get up off the couch and buy what you’re selling. And nowhere in this picture is there a desire for you to tell him how to live his life. If I smoke, I don’t want you to tell me I have to stop. I’ve already heard it. If I’m fat, don’t tell me I need to lose weight. I’ve already heard it. The moment you tell me those things, you put yourself in the same category as all the other people who are “trying to help.” People I resent. A lot. And then I’m certainly not going to buy your quit-smoking or weight-loss product.

In the case of the fictitious men’s health product that I talked about earlier, you persuade your prospect to buy it by making him feel that if he takes it, he will be stronger and more energetic. He pictures himself working out. Beginning to lose weight and looking trimmer. Taking pride in his body and deciding that maybe he really doesn’t need that that extra serving of mashed potatoes. Another example. Let’s say you’re selling a financial newsletter.

One of the things the newsletter does is advise its readers on financial planning. But in your sales letter, you don’t preach to your prospect about the need to live within his means. Instead, you make him believe that when he starts taking the outstanding advice in your newsletter, he’ll soon see the financial rewards of his efforts.

When he actually subscribes and starts reading your newsletter, he will be much more receptive to the idea of careful financial planning. But if you turn him off by preaching about it in your sales copy, you won’t make that all-important sale. And he will never get that very good advice. So how do you figure out how to use The Prism with your prospect? I’ll tell you how the top direct-mail copywriters do it in my next article.

(Ed. Note: Will Newman is editor of “The Golden Thread,” AWAI’s online newsletter for its copywriting students and graduates. To learn more about AWAI’s copywriting course – and how you can use it to improve your marketing efforts or launch your own career as a copywriter – click here.)

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