What are your thoughts on customer research? Do you think it takes too long and is a dirty word? Or do you rely on it for your business?
My guest is Joel Klettke, owner of Case Study Buddy, a company that helps you to create case studies. In this episode, he explains how your research and analysis will not only produce killer copy but will inform many aspects of your business – from branding to landing pages and everything in between.
listen to this episode
- How good customer research is not just research for research sake
- The benefits of review, and testimonial mining
- The consequences of not doing effective customer research
- How changing just a few words can make your copy more vivid
- What to look for in negative competitor reviews
- How to translate all the data you collect into one page of copy
- Why focusing purely on current customers is a big mistake
- The principles and practicalities of writing good copy
- How all writers are different and there’s no one way of writing
- The questions to ask yourself as you read through your copy
Louis: Bonjour, bonjour and welcome to another episode of everyonehatesmarketers.com, the no fluff, actionable marketing podcast for marketers, marketing consultants, founders who are sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host Louis Grenier. In today’s episode, you’ll learn how to collect and how to analyze customer research so you can turn it into killer copy. My guest today is a professional copywriter for software companies, as well as B2B companies, he’s also the owner of Case Study Buddy, a company that helps you to create case studies for your companies. His best clients are quite well known, very impressive list, Hubspot, WP Engine, Scott’s Cheap Flights, Benevity, the Traffic Think Tank, which is this private community and a mastermind for SEO experts.
I’ll explain in a few seconds what is a mastermind. Deputy and many more. He spoke at many marketing conferences. So, if you are listening to this podcast and attend marketing conferences, you’ve probably have heard him speak at the events you’ve been to. Joel Klettke, I’m very happy to have you on board.
Joel: Yeah, I’m really excited to be here. We finally made it happen.
Louis: Finally. The little joke that I made about Traffic Think Tank, which is one of your clients the reason why it’s a mastermind community is because one of the recent work you’ve done for them is actually to change the wording from being a paid community that has a lot of negative connotation more into a mastermind, which seems to be a bit more worth the investment.
Joel: Yeah. We faced a big challenge in revamping their site because when they originally launched, it was still the heyday of more and more people who are investing in launching Facebook groups and launching Slack channels and whatnot. And so, it’s very invoke to do but as we came through this second round, so they’ve been quite successful with it, they’ve surpassed 700 members, which means they’re doing over I think at this point they’re past a million in annual recurring revenue. Which is not bad for a side project for those three guys. But as we look to relaunch things, originally they were the draw, Nick, Ian, Matt, they were the reason to join and it was largely their own community pulling people in. Now, they’re beyond that point where the community can stand on its own, but the word community has been poisoned by all these other alternatives.
So, we needed to find another way to talk about it, another way to position it so that it’s not getting lumped in with these flaky Facebook groups and these Slack channels that nobody actually spends any time sharing anything in. And so, it was quite the undertaking to find some different ways of positioning and some analogies we could use to make it real for people. So yeah, mastermind and academy is where we landed on and if you read the page as it is today, you’ll see we spend a lot of time trying to position it as what it’s not versus, just looking at what it is.
Louis: And you see right there, the example of what copy can be. And so, it’s I think a very, very good example of using research and right positioning to write copy that converts, as you said, for a side project one million plus in annual recurring revenue is not too bad, especially because there’s no software here, right? We’re not selling software, we’re selling access, exclusivity, knowledge, but it’s actually the value comes from other people who join. This is ultimately very, very scalable business. Yeah, and actually I wasn’t planning at all to talk about this, but I don’t know, it just came to me during the intro, had to be mentioned. To go back to the topic, customer research, which you implied as copywriting on the back of that, I mean, I interview a lot of guests in this podcast who believe in the same thing.
They believe strongly in customer research, they do that day in, day out, they apply it in their work. However, when you go outside of our bubble of marketers who understand that the power, you go into discussions with people who feel like “Customer research, what the fuck is that? It takes too long. We already know our customers, we know them, we already know what they want. Why would we need it?” From your perspective, why do businesses or some marketers still believe that it’s a dirty word and customer research is kind of useless?
Joel: Yeah, I mean, research sounds like busy work for nerds. That’s really what it sounds like is, “Oh, we’re going to go look at data. We’re going to go waste a bunch of time.” When you say research, it feels like padding on an invoice. Like, “Oh, okay, they’re going to go and research.” And there is this whole mentality as you said of, “Well, we know our customers, we’ve been in this business for decades. We know what they want, we know what they need.” But the simplest way for me to break it down, the analogy that I use is, for example, when you go shopping on an empty stomach, you buy totally different stuff than when you go shopping, when you’re full. If you go grocery shopping, when you’re hungry, you’re going to buy stuff that you never would buy if you went in there under different circumstances.
And the challenge that businesses have and Dan Kennedy really summarizes this nicely in the Ultimate Sales Letter. The challenge that businesses have is experience creates bias because you get so familiar, you get so stuck in your way, in your customer’s way that you forget what it’s like not to know your customer. You forget what it’s like to be that customer in that situation of hunger, in the situation where they’re looking for a solution, they’re experiencing a pain. You get way too entrenched in the idea that you know things and you’ve seen the patterns and so on. And so, you need to almost take steps back and what customer research allows you to do is to almost meet your customer for the first time again and to meet them in a space where, okay, we need to throw out some of our biases.
We need to throw out some of our assumptions because if your business hasn’t evolved over the past few years that’s a bad sign. If your customers haven’t evolved over the past few years, that’s probably just not the case. So much is changing all the time, that even if you did have a great beat on your customers and their desires of where they’re at in the past, things shift, things change. Getting outside of your own bias, escaping your own assumptions is what research is all about. And I think it needs some branding work. It needs a better name. Like when I sell it to clients, I always call it analysis and strategy versus just research because like I say, research sounds like busy work for nerds.
Analysis sounds like something value added. And I think the other big thing is a lot of people selling on research, they do a terrible job of communicating what’s in it for the company. Research sounds like something, “Oh, I’m going to go do this. I’m going to get a lot of benefit. I’m going to walk away with understanding.” I think there needs to be more of an effort to break down. Whether or not we proceed with the project that comes after this research, this research is valuable in and of itself. And I spend a lot of time educating clients with the fact that you’re going to be able to take what we learned from this, you’re going to be able to use it to inform your ad campaigns.
You’re going to be able to use it to inform your landing pages. You’ll be able to use it to inform your branding. There’s so much that comes out of this process, but it’s got a branding problem and I think the big reflexes to say, “Well, we don’t need that. We know our space,” but you just get too familiar.
Louis: That’s a great way to explain all of this. And yeah, we probably have a positioning problem, the way research is explained, and I guess it’s comes from the perspective of research as I said in and of itself, doesn’t carry any value. It’s the research to do what, right? Which is why I started this episode by using your own words, because I can’t write for you, so I just using your own words, and you say it. You say, “How to collect and analyze customer research and turn it into killer copy.” We need to turn your page into killer copy or write killer copy. Therefore, we need research to do that. But there is always an angle and it’s true that sometimes I think in our bubble, right? I see a lot of people, I have a few people at least just talking about research for the sake of research, which is not good enough, right?
It’s always about, it’s research so that you can build a strategy that helps you stand out. It’s research so that you can write better copy. It’s research so that you understand the customer better and write better ad campaigns. There’s always an angle. So, let’s dive a bit more into the problems that arise. One, when you don’t do research, when you make assumptions, right? So, from your experience working with clients who haven’t done this analysis and the strategy part, right? What are the consequences of not doing it?
Joel: Yeah, one of the biggest ones is you can wind up putting a lot of time and money and energy into promoting aspects of your product or service that your customers just don’t care about. And so, as an example, in working with one of my clients, they thought that the biggest value add of their solution was the fact that it was free. It was HubSpot looking at their free CRM, they said, “Well, it’s free. It’s free. That’s the big flag we’re going plant it.” Yes, that was a factor. But when we really dug into the research, we very quickly learned that’s quickly becoming table stakes. Like, yeah, we can wave the flag of free, hooray. But I mean, free garbage is still garbage. Who cares?
And so, when we talked to people, we quickly realized, “Okay, it’s not just about the price tag on this thing, it’s what can it actually do for them.” One of the biggest challenges for the CRM space is adoption. In being able to speak to how we help on adoption or how we help actually get salespeople to use the damn thing, that’s a much more valuable conversation to a lead than just saying free, free, free. I think another thing that quickly happens is the things you think are your differentiators shift over time. Companies that once were unique in a particular way lose track of the fact that actually that’s not how you’re perceived in the market today. That has become something that X competitor or Y competitor does as well.
And so, you can put a lot of effort into messaging and ads trying to position yourself as this unique thing when your customer see you as something totally different. Another big risk is when you’re actually structuring up the copy of the page. If you don’t have a good sense… let’s just hold for example, let’s say that you’re better than most companies and you actually do have a good understanding of your customer’s pain points, your customer’s desired outcomes, the anxieties they have, the hesitations they have. Well, good for you. That’s all wonderful intel to have, but all of that can be thrown out the window if you don’t have a good sense of how aware your typical lead is. A lot of the time if you’re making assumptions about knowledge that your lead has that they actually don’t, then the conversation you’re having with them on the page or the way that the page is structured or the point that you’re arguing from is going to completely miss the mark.
The easiest way to break that down is like, let’s say that I give you a coupon for a product you’ve never heard of before in your life, you’re not going to care about the cost savings on that because you can’t possibly understand what this is or how it can help you. And companies do that all the time. I just finished an audit for a company in the UK where all of their pages are like, “Oh, we’re the top platform for this. We’re the number one platform for this. Our data is so deep and rich and what have you.” Meanwhile, over on the customer side, they’re like, “Yeah, we’re still using Excel to do this manually. And it takes us 40 hours to build a prospect list.”
They’re speaking a completely different language coming at it from a completely different spot. And meanwhile the company is like, “Yeah, this is why we’re better than Crunchbase. And this is why… customers aren’t ready for that. If you whiff on the awareness level, it doesn’t matter how much else you know, it doesn’t matter how compelling the copy itself is. You’re giving them a message they’re not ready for. You can lose sight of who your customer is. You can lose sight of how you’re perceived in the market. You can lose sight of how aware your customers are. You can lose sight of what your customers actually care about and the benefits they’re actually looking for now. Basically, when you start making assumptions, when you huddle around a boardroom table, mad men style and wait for inspiration strike, you run this massive risk of sending out a message that nobody cares about or isn’t ready to care about.
Louis: And to go back to your point about awareness, it’s sometimes about are they aware of their product? Yes or no, and there’s like some steps in between, but also as you mentioned, what alternatives are they using right now? Is it to [inaudible 00:12:15], is it to solve, is it to match your space with competitors filling every single spot possible. I don’t know, like commodities, like electricity. It’s very likely that a customer already using an electricity provider so you can already make the assumption that you’re competing against the right competitors. But for new product into the market, it’s a different situation. You might have to say something that hasn’t existed before and therefore it’s really about not comparing with this other stuff that just arise, it’s more of comparing with exactly as you mentioned.
The alternative they’re using to do the same job in this case, Excel, which is by the way a very, very common, I will say alternative to most software products out there. Excel is pretty much out there for everything, CRM, [crosstalk 00:12:57].
Joel: It’s like the all purpose Swiss army knife of before you have a software solution you’re probably using Excel and that really is the big danger. I mean, when we talk about awareness level too to break it down a little bit more there’s pain aware where someone – problem aware, they only really understand the problem and that’s where that client that I was doing the audit for. These customers, they understand doing this with Excel sucks but they don’t know anything else. They’ve never heard of solutions like this platform. They don’t understand how it works. There’s pain aware, then there’s solution aware or so these people understand there are solutions like it on the market. They’re beyond just understanding their pain. They realize there are alternatives out there, but they don’t understand how these alternatives work.
If I’m writing a sales page to them, I’ll spend less time showing them, “Oh, we empathize with your pain.” Unless I’m educating them on their pain and more time breaking down. This is how the solution solves those things. And then there’s after solution where there’s product aware. People who know about you specifically. These are people who were in that phase where they know about their pain, they understand the solution, they’re trying to sort out which one is right for them. The conversation with them is different too because now they’re establishing preferences. You need to invest more time in saying why you’re the right fit for them specifically. The analogy that I use when I’m explaining this to customers or people new to the whole concept of awareness level is, “Okay, let’s say I want to take you on a trip with me and you’ve got a suitcase. I need to know what’s in your suitcase today so that I can help you pack to help me come along with me.”
Like if we’re going to Antarctica and you’ve got nothing in your bag, I’m going to need to help you pack a jacket and yada, yada, yada. So, understanding where they’re at, meeting them where they’re at, now changes the conversation that you have with them. The less they know, the harder you have to work to educate them and so on.
Louis: Yeah, that’s a very nice visual analogy, which is by the way, something I know you’re a big fan of when writing copy using visual copy to make people imagine things in their heads. I think in the Traffic Think Tank landing page is a good example of that. I would welcome everyone to just Google it and look at the copy and the way it’s written because it’s a lot of imagery there, it’s pretty impressive. Actually, let’s teach folks listening to this right now how to write good copy, as you say it, killer copy. And let’s start from step zero, step one. You start with a new client. They just hired you, as you said that you’re doing an audit maybe that’s the first step. How do you approach it from your perspective, but also how would you teach it to someone I don’t know, joins you as an intern and you have to teach them how to do it within two months. What would be step one?
Joel: The first step because… And you mentioned this earlier and you said it perfectly, we don’t want to do research for the sake of doing research. The first thing we want to do is assess the situation and understand, okay, what stage is the company at first of all, like if they’ve never had a website before, if they don’t have clients, then there’s certain things we can’t do at this point it’s going to change the battery of research we’ll prescribe. The first thing you want to do is take a look at your situation. Do you have a customer base? How large is that customer base? Do you have competitors in terms of competitors that are just like you, everyone’s got competitors. Are you competing against the status quo, which is like the Excels of the world or other solutions, other ways of getting it done today or who else is in your space you want to take stock of, “Ok Where are we at right now”?
Based on that, I would work with an intern to say, “All right, this company is brand new. They don’t have any customers. There’s certain things we can’t do. We can’t survey customers, if there’s no customers to survey. We can’t look at their reviews because they have no reviews. They’re new to the market. We can’t look at heat maps and recorded user sessions because they don’t have a website yet. We’ll take stock of the situation. Whereas someone who’s further down, let’s say like a HubSpot or a Scott’s Cheap Flights, they’ve got massive user bases, they’ve got lots of traffic to the site, they’ve got statistically significant numbers of conversions. We’ll define the battery of research that we’re going to do based on the situation. But let’s talk about what that research actually looks like? How you actually do it? Why you do it in the first place?
One of my favorite things that can be done, no matter what stage your company is at, is doing review and testimonial mining. Even if they don’t have their own reviews and testimonials, we can look at someone else’s. What this means is we’re going to go look at reviews and testimonials for either our own product or product similar, similar solutions. And keeping in mind that a similar solution could be, again, the status quo, a completely different way of doing it. It could be a competitor, but we’re going to go look at these and these are the things that we’re hunting for. We want to see some criteria, what pain points get mentioned frequently. We’re going to document as we go through, it’s a lot of copying and pasting. We find a review, we copy and paste it into Excel. We gather these altogether and then we’re looking for, okay, what pain points are frequently mentioned?
What solutions? What benefits are realized as part of the solution? How frequently are they mentioned? And how are they spoken about? We’re going to look at if they disclose. This one’s much harder to get out of reviews. It’s pretty rare. But if anyone talks about hesitations or anxieties, there’s better sources for this that we’ll talk about in a second. But we’ll document that and then we’ll talk about outcomes. How do people talk about what they’ve actually achieved with the platform? A lot of copying and pasting into an Excel doc. Maybe as part of the podcast show notes, I can share my template for doing this so people can actually go ahead and get started with it. But we’re going to pull it all together and once we’ve got it, these are the things we’re looking for. We’ve flagged, okay, these are the pain points, these are the benefits, these are the outcomes, these are the anxieties.
We’re looking for a couple of things. The first is recurring themes. What themes come up over and over again? Frequency. There’s a free tool, just Google Text Analyzer and that can really help here, take your column, drop it into text analyzer, look for what specific words and phrases come up. Dead simple to do. Saves you a lot of time on manual tabulation. So, looking for recurring themes. We’re looking at the language. How do they talk about it? What language do they use? If your leads use acronyms, if they use jargon, you’re probably safe to use their jargon. If they don’t, don’t use that jargon because they don’t understand it yet. We’ll look at the language, we’ll look at the themes. You’re also looking for it, and I don’t say this as a cop out, but you’re looking for sticky copy and what sticky copy is, is something that punches you in the gut.
It’s something that you read it and go, “Oh, that’s sort of an interesting way of saying that. Or that’s a new way of describing that.” A lot of the imagery that I’ll pull into pages like Traffic Think Tank actually comes from looking at reviews and testimonials where they say it’s like having X or it’s like being able to Y. Looking for that imagery or new or novel ways of putting it together. If you are a company that doesn’t have any of your own reviews and testimonials and what you’re looking for in competitor reviews and testimonials are weaknesses you can position against. You’re looking for the negative reviews. What don’t people like about this particular solution?
Louis: Let me stop you right there because it’s already a ton of very, very interesting stuff. So, let me just unpack it. You said you want to look at pain points, you want to look at the outcomes, you want to look at the benefits and potentially anxiety hesitations as you said, it’s rare to find those. But you also want to look at sticky copy. And I don’t want to promote my own stuff, but I mean, it’s a podcast I’m just going to give you an example. I actually have a board of copy from reviews of the podcast to use for other stuff. One example that I picked recently was pull your car off the side of the road, we’ll see content. The adjective is pull your car off the side of the road and I just wrote it down. I was like, “This is good.”
This is the type of copy that makes you feel like, “Yeah, there’s a visual there. You can visualize the person missing step or gets in the car having to fucking stop by the side of the road.” Just want you to give these quick example. Might not be the best, but this is it, right? It’s this type of stuff you want.
Joel: Yeah. I mean, other examples to ground this a bit too. When I was working with a company called Clockspot they do a time sheet software, pretty unsexy space. People hate time sheets, everyone hates time sheets. It’s probably the most dreaded part of most people’s job. But in some of the reviews and testimonials, what we saw were people saying things like, “This makes time sheets the easiest part of my job or the most fun part of my job.” I’m like that’s super counterintuitive. It’s unexpected. It punches a little bit harder. When I was working on Traffic Think Tank one of the things that came out of the reviews there was someone saying, it’s like having a lifeline on who wants to be a millionaire for any SEO challenge. That’s an interesting way of describing it versus just saying, “Oh, there’s really smart people in there that I can turn to for help”.
You know what you see, but there’s elements of it’s unexpected or maybe there’s imagery there or there’s some clever wordplay. Just those things that sort of grab you and they stick with you and after you leave the spreadsheet, you’ve looked at you kind of… and the ones that stick in your head, if they have stuck in your head, it’s probably a good sign that that copy is going to play well for people in your space.
Louis: I know we are talking to people who might be selling any type of stuff, right? It’s difficult maybe to answer with one answer to say, where to find those reviews when it’s like from not competitors, but companies that sell similar products or your own reviews. Where do you typically like to find them?
Joel: Yep. The three sources I find myself going to quite often, because I work a lot in software G2, Capterra, Google, though Google reviews almost any company you can find will have some sort of reviews there. Pretty rare these days. But you can find on Yelp sometimes if there’s a particular company, but again, that mostly turns out to be restaurants and that sort of thing. I’ll go to the actual competitor sites. Often they’ll have a resources section or an our customer section. And I’ll call them through those. One big caveat is that you want to avoid professional reviewers so they can be illuminating in some ways. But people who specialize in writing blog reviews of platforms, they have the curse of knowledge. They’ve seen so much that in the same way a company can forget what it’s like to be a customer for the first time.
Often those people have forgotten what it’s like to not know all of these other alternatives exist and all of the different things out there. You want to look for industry type platforms. But a lot of my work starts just by Googling company name plus reviews or plus testimonials. And then a sneaky source to get some really rich insights can be customer success stories or case studies. If you can really dig into those, that’s often where you’ll find more detailed accounts of their journey towards your solution or the other solution. And that can be tremendously valuable as well because that gives you the backstory and some history on that particular customer as well. And then you won’t find them online but similarly, let’s say you’re just coming up dry, you’re coming up empty, if you have even a small handful of customers or people who are happy with your product, get on the phone one of the best things you can do is run an interview.
A tip for those listening, the way to structure those calls so you don’t make an ass out of yourself and waste everyone’s time, is a BDA interview. Before, during, after you start the interview by asking questions about how they solved the problem before, what led them to a solution like yours, what frustrations they’re experiencing. In the crux, in the middle of the call you kind of discuss, okay, what were the criteria you’re using to evaluate? Why did you ultimately choose us? What surprised you about working with us? What frustrated you about working with us? And then the after, what results have you been able to achieve and so on? I like interviews because you can go much deeper and you’ll typically get much richer insights in a shorter period of time then you can go say with surveys or just looking at testimonials out in the wild because on a call you have the ability to ask why or to dig a little deeper.
And it’s a medium where it’s easy to talk a lot as people listening are hearing me do. You can get some richer insights that way as well.
Louis: Yeah. Big fan of interviews. I mean, I talk about it almost in every episode. Mostly because if you talk to what happens is usually quite interesting after two to three interviews, you start hearing the same thing happening and the same thing being said. And it feels so powerful because those people never talk to each other or very rarely and yet they say the same thing, the same way for certain moments. And so you know, you’re onto something, you know you can vouch for that and focus on that. Even though you might have seen the same 100 answers on the survey, just listening to three people saying the same thing is for some reason more powerful. I want to go back to one thing you said before, which is looking at negative reviews as well from competitors.
Having a different lens and seeing what is not working from a competitive perspective or alternative perspective. What do you look into for this?
Joel: Yeah, so where you can, again, this relies on having a public source of reviews. Often for me, that’s G2 Cloud, Capterra and those types of platforms. I’ll look for the frustrations that come up very frequently though. And we’re not just looking for frustrations for the sake of saying, “Oh they suck at this.” I mean, if it’s not something that you are objectively better at, just pointing out a competitor’s flaws does nothing for you. I’m looking for, “Okay, let’s say I’ll use a SAS example, one of the common ones that I will come across is frustrations with integrations. And if we have an integration that lots of people are clamoring for or saying that they wish the other product had, that’s something that we can then tout. I’ll look for, especially on the side of customer service, if I see a lot of poor communication or that they don’t get one-to-one service and if that’s something that my client has and does a good job of, then we know this is a sore spot.
People might be thrilled with the product, but hate the support. And so, that might be something we emphasize a little bit more heavily on our site to let them know. Not just saying, “This comes back to that sticky copy.” Not just saying, “Oh, we have world class support.” Who’s not going to say they have world class support? Who’s not going to say we care about our customers? Everybody can make that claim. But we can look for ways to quantify it. For example, if we can talk about what that looks like in practice or the fact that they have one number to call for any frustration, any time or in doing work for a cloud security solution, not just saying world-class support. But for example, in that space support is more than just, “Oh, something is broken, we need a hand. Support for them means, “Okay, we’re experiencing a breach. We need an answer now.
We can use language like, I believe the phrase I use was, “When it’s all hands on deck, we give you more hands.” And open up with that as opposed to saying 24/7 support because that’s something that’s going to resonate more with that market. It’s not just looking for flaws and nitpicking, it’s saying, “Okay, if there’s a weakness in your competitor that you have a comparative strength in.” Now, especially as a company new to the market, you have an opportunity to put that front and center and make sure people know, “Hey, this is a sore spot for you, but we’ve got it taken care of.”
Louis: And once again, this is the power of powerful copy in a sense. It’s funny how just changing those few words make it much more vivid in your head. It’s more powerful to hear, much more convincing. Just by swiping a few words together. Thanks for this example. We are looking at reviews online. We’re looking at competitors review online. We are also talking to customers like the before, during and after. Is that enough?
Joel: It’s a good start. I mean, you want to understand that that gives you a lens into self-reported what people say. What they say about their pains, what they say about the benefits they want. But you don’t want to stop there. Two other sources of intel that I’ll usually try to go to. The first is internal interviews. I want to talk to people on the front lines of sales. I want to talk to the people who are dealing with customer support and customer success because as you mentioned, it’s interesting and external reviews often you hear the same things from customers who had never talked to each other. What’s interesting in internal interviews is sometimes these departments don’t talk to each other and they have frustrations that another department doesn’t even realize they’re creating.
Like customer support will say, “Yeah, marketing keeps over promising on this thing, but our feature set sucks and we wind up having to apologize and cancel a lot of plans and those types of things.” Internal interviews, I’ll try to talk to someone in sales. I’ll try to talk to someone in marketing. I’ll try to talk to someone in customer success. Those are the three that I want to understand. And then normally also try to talk to someone in leadership as well. Mostly because you need their buy in to get anything done, but also they have a beat on where the company might be headed. But the other piece of the pie, the other big thing that I’ll look at are heat maps and recorded user sessions. Actually looking at if my client has a site, how do people actually behave? How do they engage with the content? What do they pay attention to?
What do they rip right past? And this gives you some sense. This is always a nebulous thing. I find that everybody wants to talk about using heat maps or talk about using recorded user sessions. Few people have a good process for actually making that work. This is mine. Number one, never use heat maps by themselves. They don’t tell enough of a story to be useful. They give you some insight into some basics, but without looking at what your customers say and also looking how at more live interactive sessions, you can make some really dumb conclusions. Like one of the big ones for example, and this happens in software all the time, is people call me and they say, “Oh, our homepage isn’t doing its job.” And I say, “What do you mean?” We’ll look at the scroll depth is terrible, and then sure enough it’s like, “Well, yeah, because 80% of the people who visit this page aren’t logging in like they’re never going to read the page.”
You lose that context. Recorded user sessions, what I’m looking for, the way that I break it down is I’ll give each chunk. Let’s say we’re talking about a sales page. I’ll give each chunk of the page, like the hero section, maybe we’ve got some benefit boxes. I give them all kind of their own little names. And then I document how the people engage with those sections. Do they rip right past them? Do they stop and read? Where does their mouse go? Do they read from the bottom to the top? One thing that surprises a lot of companies is that clients actually read their pages in reverse. They don’t start at the top, they actually go to the bottom and go start from the call to action and then work their way backwards.
By looking at how people actually engage with the content, you can get a good idea of, “Okay, what are they looking for? What are they hunting for? What actually in terms of social proof gets them to take notice?” You might have a whole bunch of great testimonials if no one ever reads them. Who cares? You might want to try different treatment. This is the other one to give a really specific example because I’ve seen this on the past two or three customers. Video, we know based on… Every time I do a survey and we ask how do you prefer to learn about a software solution or a solution in general? Most one self-reports are saying, we love watching video, video, video, video, every time number one, when you watch people actually engage with pages, it’s rare that video is actually viewed.
In the first place, people say they want to watch video but then often they skip right past it. And so, one of the big problems with this is so many companies, they put their videos in their hero sections and they give them zero context. It’s like, “Here’s a video, watch it if you feel like.” But you have no concept of what this video is all about. Whereas I’ve seen just by moving a video further down the page and giving it a headline, like everything you need to know about X company in 30 seconds, viewership goes through the roof. It’s one thing, if all we heard, if we stopped at just surveying customers and saying, “How do you prefer to learn about a solution?” We saw video, then you can make dumb mistakes like chucking a video all over the place and assuming people are watching it. But when you actually watch them engage, then you get clues as to is it in the wrong spot? Is it doing the job we need it to and that sort of thing?
Louis: Two things to deconstruct. I mean, two main thing to deconstruct from what you said, is first when you’re asking the wrong question, you get the wrong answer, right? Asking people, how do you typically consume content it’s usually a bad question to ask because people are quite bad at not only predicting future behavior but also making themselves look good by answering a question. A better question to ask is actually not to as a question at all. And as you said, to use actual behavior of people to see what they actually do on the page. And the second point I want to deconstruct, which is interesting saying that you don’t want to use website heat maps on their own. And I completely agree because a heat map report gives you an average aggregated view of behavior of users and exactly as you said, you are going to miss part of the story if you just look at a summary.
80% of people come to the homepage to login, you’re going to see the fall to be very high. But so what? It’s the 20% that you want to watch out for? That makes a lot of sense. Then for session recordings in particular, you said you look at each section and each kind of books and you look at not only whether people are looking into it, spending time, but also are they ignoring it, right? Which is as valuable, if not more. What else do you look into? What people pay attention to, what they ignore. Is there anything else that you’d like to look at apart from maybe the, as you said, reading from the bottom up?
Joel: Yeah. Because not everything happens on one page, one of the things that I’ll document is what paths do they take? The power in recorded user sessions is in the filters because you can sort of sort through. You can watch certain types of sessions. For example, I can isolate, okay, only people who hit the thank you page and I can look at what do they do differently than people who don’t. I can isolate a certain particular page and see, okay, if they visited this or if they landed here, where do they typically go next? Often I’ll use a filter that shows, okay, maybe it’s a landing page driven from an ad and they’ve still got the navigation on the page. Where do they go next? I can get those reports from Google Analytics for example, using second page report, but there are two, I don’t get the whole story because I see in Google Analytics, oh they land on this page, then they go here.
That’s one part of the clue. But then when I watch in recorded user sessions, what do they look at on that second page? That helps fill in, in terms of, “Okay, what information were they missing on the landing page they just came from that they wanted to know?” I’ll look at the paths that they take. I will look at as I mentioned like where they stop, where they look, what they ignore, what they don’t. And then I’m also looking for just any obvious frustrations that they might have. What behavior are they taking that indicates to me that they aren’t finding what they’re looking for. Do they have a really frenetic path through the site? Are they bouncing all over the place, they rage clicking on different elements? Are they trying to enlarge things that can’t be enlarged?
Those are all clues into are they getting the insight they need, the intel they need and that sort of thing. And then one last thing is we all create pages with an intention of how people will engage. To give a practical example, this audit that I just conducted, they have this great use cases page and they have this grid of different use cases. The problem is those are clickable and nobody knows it and all of the meat and potatoes of the sale are behind the click and nobody knows they can actually click them. Look for what elements are we presenting visually or what clues are we not giving people that are preventing them from getting answers? Those types of things are things that I’ll document and people don’t want to hear this. But the best way to do it is have the recorded session on one screen and type.
Louis: And to using what tool and Excel, right?
Joel: Yep. That and Excel. Until there’s some sort of super AI kit that can do that for me, I do a hell of a lot of typing as I work.
Louis: Do you know what, I’m willing to bet. I’m willing to bet that even if an AI solution comes in and does the job, I’m not going to trust it 100%, you’re going to have to go through it yourself.
Joel: You’re still going to have to look.
Louis: I think there is power as humans, to look into the stuff ourselves, to truly empathize with our users and our readers and our customer so that we can create the right experience for them. Even a one page report that tells you everything. Sometimes you’re missing the empathy side. Sorry, I cut you.
Joel: No, no, no. That’s the thing that’s so frustrating to me. Oftentimes is people want the summary, they just want the bullet points. But part of the value of research is the act of getting in the weeds and being forced to see a new your product or your solution or your team or your market through the eyes of someone who isn’t you. And that’s why, for example, the new startup Blinkist where they just send you a summary of the core points of a book. I mean, maybe that works for some people, but for me, I retain and value so much more when I go through the process of reading and getting the analogies and hearing it communicated multiple times. Everybody wants the bullets, the summary and the action points. But getting in the weeds is good. That’s how you understand the meaning behind those things and the urgency behind them or the rationale behind them as opposed to just this nice little summary.
Louis: How do we translate all of this data, all of this research, this analysis into a page to simplify things, that converts killer copy page as you mentioned, what is your process?
Joel: Yeah, so this is where, and we’ll cite back some of the things we’ve already talked about. This is where it all comes together. You’ve gone through this process of gathering all this intel and now it’s a matter of bringing it together in an intelligent way. What I do is I’ll start with the qualitative. You start with the customer and we look at, “Okay, based on our research, what pain points are most prominent?” What awareness… Well, I guess before even that I should say what awareness level are they at? Based on what we’ve learned, how much do they know right now? Because that will inform before you write a word, it will inform where you start.
Joel: It’ll inform how you structure things. It’ll inform how you choose to have that conversation. Let’s, for the sake of this example, just assume that we’re dealing with someone who’s pain aware. We’re going to start the conversation by empathizing with that pain. Then move on to these other pieces for the sake of this. We know, okay, we’ve got the awareness level down that’s the first thing we want to approach this with. We’ve got that squared away. Now, what we’re going to do is we’re going to go back to our qualitative copy and the things we’ve learned from surveys, interviews, whatever, and we’re going to go, “Okay, what were the most common pain points that came up? And what sticky copy did we isolate talking about those?” And we’re going to use that sticky copy to inform our crossheads, our headlines in a form the way we talk about that.
And then we’re going to go, “Okay, I should take a step back to with awareness level too, will inform the structure of the page. What questions do we know that they’re asking? And that way we can structure the page to systematically answer those questions. So, we can say, if we know, for example, that one of the big hesitation someone has is extra wires that we can make sure we address it early. We’re going to say, “Okay, we’ve collected the sticky copy, we’re going to use that in the pains.” What were our most common benefits in the way that they were talked about? And then we’ll do the same thing there as well. When we get to the call to action, this is an important one. What step do we know they’re willing to take or they want to take that?
How does that align with where they’re at now? And we’ll use that as the button copy or we’ll use that as the objection buster. For example, if we know, we’ve learned about the hesitations that they have, let’s say, they’re nervous about, I don’t know pricing. Everyone’s nervous about pricing for some reason. But let’s say we’re building our call to action. We know that they’re nervous about pricing. Then we might use an objection buster based on what we’ve learned from the research. We might say, cancel any time or no credit card required or that of thing. We borrow from the research to inform the ways that we try to bust up objections and that sort of thing. It’s this process of understanding, we know how they talk about these things. That’s the language we’re going to use, that’s the organization we’re going to use for the page.
We know the way that they behave on a page. So, for example, they stop and pay a lot of attention to this type of social proof. That will be the type of social proof that we bring across or emphasize or we know historically they’re not going to watch the video if it’s in the header so we might move that lower down into the page. But it’s bringing all these different factors together, borrowing from them, using the priority and language, and then putting things together that way. I don’t know if that’s a good explanation, but that’s the one I’ll start with.
Louis: Yeah, it’s great and it’s simple. I think it is simpler when you have a page to look into. That is already there and as you said, you mentioned you look at your reviews, you have your data, you look at the recordings, you probably have a better idea on how to improve it because you already have something. Now, let’s talk about someone who wants to, let’s say write a landing page for a new product or something. They don’t have anything. So, they have this dreaded white page, blank page in front of them. Can you talk to me about principles and I’m going to just give one and then maybe you may disagree with it or maybe you mentioned others. Principles to make sure to remind yourself of when writing copy, when you have the right data in front of you.
And the first one I would mention is that you write a sentence and then you write a second one and your objective is the first sentence. This is the second one and the third one, the fourth one. Meaning it makes sense when you read it, and I know it’s sounds stupid, but I would for example, say, “Do not use a landing page template trying to plunk block of texts to fit nicely into the template because sometimes it makes zero sense and the structure if you have to read it out loud, makes zero sense.” I mean, that’s my principle. Please disagree with it if you disagree, but if you don’t, do you have any other.
Joel: Yeah, so some principles and some practical things begin with the end in mind. I always tell people trying to do this for the first time. Start with the objective. What is it that you’re trying to get people do? Where are the goalposts? What is the big argument that you’re building towards? What’s the action that you want to take? Because it can be paralyzing to try to start with the headline, the most important part of the page. Begin with defining, okay, what is my call to action? What is the action I’m trying to get people to take? And start there. Once that’s defined, now you have, okay, this is the argument that I’m building towards. An analogy that Johanna Weeb uses that’s very good. And it’s tied to what you just said is the idea of a conveyor belt.
When you’re writing sort of sentence to sentence, as you were saying. Every part of your copy has just one job. It’s less intimidating to think about it this way than to just get paralyzed by like, “Oh, I’ve got to write everything killer all the time.” Every part of the copy has just one job. Your headlines job, the only job your headline has is to hook the reader, grab their attention and get them to keep reading. The only job that your sub-headline has is to expand and provide context for that headline and again, keep them reading, moving down into the body copy. As you continue into the page, your crossheads, their one and only job is to provide context for somebody scanning down the page.
If you can read as you write, if your crossheads and a cross head is like a headline just in the middle of the page for those who’ve never heard that word before. Your cross head is if you can read them, in the way that I think about it is like, if I only read the crossheads of the page, would I walk away with kind of the gist of what’s on offer here? Because that is literally the way people are going to interact with the page. They’ll probably whip through it first, looking at all the crossheads and then go back and look at what appeals to them. Do your crossheads, set the context and speak to either the pain or the benefit that you’re trying to communicate.
And then line to line, it’s about the analogy that I use is writing like your lead has to pee their pants. We’ve all been there where, let’s say this before the age of Netflix and being able to pause everything. When I was younger, you’d be watching a show right and you’re not recording it and you’ve got to go to the bathroom. But it’s so engrossing. It’s so compelling that you’d choose to sit there and hold it because it’s got your attention and you don’t want to leave. And that’s the same principle to apply to your copy. As you write, every line needs to have a good reason to be there, if it doesn’t, you should kill it. As you evaluate and so much comes on the editing, but as you read your copy that you’ve written or as you go, ask yourself the question, does this need to be here?
If I got rid of this, would I lose anything? The other thing that’s really valuable to keep in mind is to do what Johanna Weeb calls a specificity sweep. One of the big plagues for people who maybe don’t write copy all the time is, we mentioned some of this earlier, the boiler plate copy of things like, “Oh, we care about our customers and we take the time to get to know your business or save time and money.” All these things that are very generic. And part of the power of sticky copy, part of the power of persuasive copy is that you’ll often find the things that hit you the hardest are very specific. A specific image, a specific benefit. To give you a practical example of this it wouldn’t necessarily, let’s say it’s not enough to say, “Oh, it saves our office admin time every month.” That’s okay. What’s better to say is, “Finally, our secretary doesn’t have to chase around 20 different people for an update.” Things like that.
As you go back through your copy, ask yourself the question, could I be more specific? Is there a better example? Is there a better way of bringing this in? Start with the end in mind and then every piece has a job, right? Write your user has to pee their pants and then as you review, ask yourself the question, could I be more specific? Have I been too high level? Have I been too generic?
Louis: Yeah, I mean, excellent stuff all around. I think you’ve covered it all to be honest. What do you think of writing copy like this shitty first draft type of process where you just write copy in one go. Doesn’t make any sense, but that’s fine. You leave it and then you come back to it the day after. Do you tend to do that or do you have another way?
Joel: No. Different writers are different and that’s why I have a hard time with people who try to enforce just one way of writing. Everybody talks about the shitty first draft. I have a hard time with that because I’m just wired up where if I write something and it makes no sense, I have a hard time leaving it as is. The one principle I will say holds true pretty much universally, you should always come back to it after some time. You should always try to give yourself, I don’t know, this is an arbitrary number, but for me, I try to give it a day where I’ll come back and review what I’ve written because when you’re in the thick of writing, when you’re in the thick of those emotions, frustrations, when you’re trying to put it together, it’s way too easy to think you’ve really solved something or to think something is awful. Then you come back the next day, you go, “Actually, you know what? That’s pretty good.”
Or actually, you know what? I could do this better. The one thing I will say is you should, no matter how your initial running cell is, you should give it time to breathe and come back after. That being said, I mean, some people start with the call to action. I find that it’s most useful for people who are new to writing because it’s less intimidating. Some people start with the headlines, some people start with the body. I think the best way for me to think about it and what people might find useful is I treat it a bit like Legos. Instead of just writing free, starting from the top and just like blasting out this awful first draft, I’ll define my call to action and then I’ll write blocks of copy. I might not know where it’s going to live in the end. Because I’ve done the research, I know, okay, it’s tied to this benefit or it’s tied to this problem.
But I’ll go write blocks of copy that I am happy with or confident in and then I’ll assemble them. I’ll take what I’ve done, put them together, review and say, “Let’s make this cohesive and flow.” But for some people, myself included, it’s really hard to just blast out like an awful draft. It doesn’t feel fulfilling. I find it counterproductive because I can’t keep myself from self editing as I go. Do what works for you, but do give it time to breathe.
Louis: Yeah. For some reason I’m not surprised in your answer I knew you had something to say about this. Because you come across, I mean, I’ve been following you for a long time now. You come across as someone who’s really like expert in their field but also very, very peculiar not peculiar, very particular, very, very scientific, very thorough in everything you do. Your answer doesn’t surprise me there at all. Is there something I’m missing here in the process? Like again, we are talking to someone who, I don’t know, joins you in your company as an intern and you want to teach everything you know, is there something that I’ve missed that I haven’t asked you about this entire process?
Joel: I think there’s a few little things and a lot of them are just mentality things. The one that I wind up talking with a lot of people is they get frustrated because they are at an earlier stage and they say, “Well, we don’t have access to this. We don’t have access to that. We can’t do this. We can’t do that.” They focus on what they can’t do or what they can’t accomplish or what they don’t have data for. And it’s the mentality you have to take as a company is your job is never done and it’s a snowball effect. You start with what little you have. You deploy it, you learn from it. One of the things that I think makes people uncomfortable about this field is it doesn’t matter how good you are at it, you are going to fail at some point.
You’ll deploy something that doesn’t work. You’ll write something that doesn’t land and that is inevitable. With human communication, there’s always the risk of something not hitting or you misinterpreting something. And so, you have to go into copywriting with the mindset of we’re going to build on this. We’re going to learn from this. We’re going to continue to iterate. Our job is never finished. And that is something that when I do bring on new people or subcontractors, what I spend some time talking with them about is, we’re not shooting for yes, perfection would be nice, but there’s no such thing that the goalposts are always shifting and it’s better to do something with the information that you’ve got. And the learning that you do have with the intent to grow and build and learn from it than to do nothing because you’re paralyzed by the fear of failure.
Louis: [inaudible 00:52:18]
Joel: Yeah, completely. I think on the process side, something else that is really critically important is I think there’s a lot of discussion about customer research today that pretty much exclusively focuses on your existing customers. And I think that’s a big mistake. A lot of it is customer surveys and interviews of existing customers. The problem with that is those are all people that have chosen you. I usually want to try to talk to three different groups or get feedback from three different types of groups. We want to get feedback from leads, people who haven’t made the decision yet because they’re in the supermarket hungry. They’re are the people who are in that state of mind where this is all fresh for them.
And so, we’ll use things like chat logs to see what conversations they have. We’ll use things like actually just interviewing people who might be prospective buyers. Then of course, yes, we do want to talk to existing customers, but then don’t make the mistake of not talking to or looking at people who have turned out. Don’t make the mistake of not looking at people that wound up not being a great fit for you. And you do that to understand where your current messaging might be over promising where it might not be specific enough. For example in this company that I was just doing this audit with, one of the things that smacked me in the face is we were looking at their landing pages and saw, “Oh, hey, all the landing pages that deal with database and the word database seem to do really well.”
And so, in analytics here I was writing my report going, “Oh, we should really add these up.” And then of course I don’t have insight to this. But in talking to them like while the lead quality of those is awful, and all of those people churn out, they go through a demo, they waste our time. You want to look at not only your success stories and the people that chose you and rolled with you, you also want to look at those who did the demo and bounced out. Why didn’t they stick with you? What promises weren’t fulfilled? Three groups leads, current customers, people who’ve churned and didn’t choose you. That makes for a more robust, holistic understanding of the landscape than if you just look at your customers.
Louis: 100% but do not spend too much time on, not necessarily leads but visitors only. People who you don’t really know who they are, whether they fit the persona, where they’re just the students researching about your company, need to be aware of whether they are a fit before asking them more questions. Because sometimes you get bad answer from people. You don’t want to try it anyway. But I completely agree with everything you said. Leads customers and then churned customers. Joel, you’ve been very thorough as I expected. It’s been almost an hour talking and I didn’t see it at all. It just went by very fast so thank you very much for taking the time. As always, I just have two or three questions to ask you before that you go.
Louis: The first one, what do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?
Joel: Aside from copywriting, because I think that’s a timeless craft, I really, truly believe one of the best investments marketers can make in understanding right now is how to design a customer experience. And I’m not talking about UX, how to design a customer experience that is memorable and sets them apart from the competition. I believe that especially in software, as we get more and more spaces that are getting saturated, as feature parody becomes a bigger and bigger challenge and problem, one of the things that nobody can steal from you is how you treat your customers, how you make them feel, how you engage with them. I think studying up on customer experience is something that is worthwhile and it’s certainly that I’m trying to do.
Louis: Maybe on the back of that, what are the top three resources you recommend our listeners? It could be anything, podcast, book, conferences, masterminds, communities, whatever.
Joel: On the book side of things for people who are new to copy or even people who have been at it for a long time, it gets cited a lot, but Made To Stick is a fantastic look at how to make your ideas more memorable. How to make your messaging more memorable and it’s very approachable for anyone. The book Never Lose a Customer Again by Joey Coleman is a fantastic blueprint for building a customer experience that delights people and gets people coming back and sharing. It’s the most well thought out book on the subject I’ve encountered and it was my favorite business book of last year. And then I would say in terms of the copywriting itself The Ultimate Sales Letter by Dan Kennedy. It’s got some old school stuff in there in terms of like, there’s a whole chapter that just talks about the on envelope choice of what you send.
Joel: And so, I mean, if you’re not sending direct mail that might not be as relevant, but the principles that he walks through in terms of headlines and understanding your customer. The process that he walks through in terms of putting the words themselves together is very valuable. And again, very approachable for people. Like veterans will still find one or two tools to add to their toolkit. People totally new to copywriting will get just a great crash course in terms of writing copy that sells. Those are three books that I love for our approachable they are and how much utility they have.
Louis: Fantastic. Yeah, I agree. Three excellent books and yeah, the last one by Dan Kennedy, there’s a lot of Dan Kennedy type of content, but it’s worth it. Because sometimes you can get idea out of old channels and transpose them into a new one. I wouldn’t discount it a 100%, but it’s true. There’s a lot of stuff there that is not super relevant. Again, Joel, I really appreciate your time. I know you were a bit under the weather just like me, so we made it after an hour.
Joel: We did it.
Louis: Where can listeners connect with you, learn more from you?
Joel: Yeah, so Twitter is where I’m quite active at Joel Klettke, K-L-E-T-T-K-E. You can always send up for my newsletter on businesscasualcopywriting.com. And I guess, I guess LinkedIn too. I don’t always respond quickly, but I do always respond.
Louis: Thank you.