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Research Is Key to Creating Promotions That Sell Find out what makes your existing and potential customers tick.

By Craig Simpson

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Seb Oliver | Getty Images

Nobody becomes a phenomenon in any field without putting in the time and discipline. This is especially true today when it comes to writing promotions in a field that is more competitive than ever. We've gone from three TV channels to hundreds, there are more magazines than ever, and of course, there's the Internet, Facebook, and Google. These days, anyone with access to the Internet can be an advertiser. So, to be a successful at promoting anything, you must learn what makes your product unique or you'll never be able to make it rise above the noise. The trick is to find the story in the product, and that takes skill. Maybe you're selling something like a fish oil supplement. You can turn it into something special by explaining, for example, that your fish oil comes from a unique kind of fish living deep in Icelandic waters, providing better Omega-3s.

Researching your product has always been important, but it's even more important today. With more competition, and a more skeptical audience, you need great arguments to back every claim you make. But here's the beauty of putting in the effort, and what makes it all worthwhile: if you do the research, you'll find that the product itself and the facts about it provide you with all the "creative" ideas you need. So you don't have to be a creative genius. You just have to apply yourself. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

Related: How to Use Social Media for Research and Development

The most famous headline in advertising history.

David Ogilvy – one of the advertising legends from the mid-twentieth century – wrote many famous ads during his career, but the one that is said to have been the most famous headline in advertising history was the one he created for Rolls-Royce. The headline read: "At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock."

This groundbreaking ad illustrates all the principles that made Ogilvy's work stand out. The headline itself was a wonderful example of what he called the "big idea." No one had ever seen a headline like that before. It intrigued people and pulled them in to read the rest of the ad. The body of the ad was made up of 13 interesting facts that clearly explained why the Rolls-Royce was so unique, and why it was worth its sky-high price. But this is the critical point: Ogilvy didn't just sit around waiting for inspiration to come. In describing the process he used to write the Rolls-Royce ad, Ogilvy said he started out, as he always did, by doing his homework. Ogilvy said that as a marketer you had to study the product and find out as much about it as you can. The more you know about a product, the more likely you are to be able to come up with the big idea.

When he got the Rolls-Royce account, Ogilvy spent three weeks reading about the car. In the process he came upon this statement from a Rolls-Royce engineer: "At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise comes from the electric clock." That became the headline, which was followed by 607 words of factual copy. In a sense, Ogilvy didn't even write the world's most famous headline; he took it from a company report. But his genius was in recognizing the power of the statement to work as the lead-in to the rest of the ad.

Related: How to Do Market Research--The Basics

Lessons for today's promoters on researching your product.

Many of the copywriters I work with today do just as Ogilvy said to do: They spend as much time as necessary researching before they ever start writing. Very often the facts themselves give rise to the big idea that will really sell the product. It's the research that gives rise to the creative inspiration. Smart advertisers put this into practice. My colleague Brian Kurtz told me about a company he works with that hires entry level copywriters who spend the first year or two only doing research. They don't write one stitch of copy until after they master researching the subject area they're going to be working on. We should also remember to always deal in facts. Especially today, consumers are wary of empty claims that seem to have nothing to back them up. In promoting your product or service, or yourself, be sure to provide fact after fact that explains why you're the best.

Research Your Audience, Too.

Eugene Schwartz is another legend who provided us with insight into creative salesmanship. He expanded on the value of research by explaining we should not only do research into our product, but we need to research our prospects as well. Schwartz originated from Butte, Montana. Even though he ended up in Manhattan, living a sophisticated life and amassing an extensive collection of modern American art, he considered his small town upbringing to be fortunate and invaluable to his success in the business. It was because of his early experience that he understood the desires and interests of the vast majority of Americans, and he never stopped learning as much as he could about them. He said: "You cannot lose touch with the people of this country, no matter how successful or how potent you are. If you don't spend at least two hours a week finding out where your market is today, you are finished!"

For the same reason he read the National Enquirer every week, and went to popular films – the blockbusters that all of America was watching. In order to write effective ad copy he learned to "Talk little, listen much." He would listen to cab drivers, waitresses, shopkeepers – everyone he met, so he could become familiar with the language they used and the kind of images that appealed to them.

Related: Promote Your Product Quickly by Tapping the Internet's Influencers

Today you don't have to read the rags in the supermarket. Just go on to one of the popular Internet news sites and you'll get all the information you need. Your best research on the hidden desires of your prospects is truly a mouse click away. So, spend time thinking about your target audience and how your product will help them. Even better, get in touch with members of your target audience and learn directly from them what they're looking for and what they like (and don't like) about your product.

Research is the key to creativity.

Just to make the point one more time, don't think you have to be a great creative genius to write great promotions. Everything you need is in the facts about your product and your audience. Do the research, get the facts and all the pieces will fall into place. They really will.

Craig Simpson

Author and Owner of Simpson Direct, Inc.

Craig Simpson has managed thousands of direct mail campaigns and grossed hundreds of millions in revenue for his clients over the past 15 years. Simpson is the owner of Simpson Direct Inc., a Grants Pass, Oregon-based direct marketing firm, and a respected speaker/presenter on the topic of direct mail. He is the co-author with Dan S. Kennedy of The Direct Mail Solution. He blogs at

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