Issue 2: The Great Set-Up

Did you miss Issue 1? Titled: How to Create Powerful Headlines — In Just 10 Minutes
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3 steps for making all your marketing more effective

by Bob Serling

Today I’m going to let you in on one of my biggest secrets for making any direct marketing campaign far more effective. I can tell you this secret in one simple word:


What, no magic bullet? Maybe you were expecting some obscure technique for creating a powerful subliminal message no sane person can resist — or some other arcane, mystical information. If so, sorry to disappoint you. But stick with me, I promise that what I’m about to show you will dramatically increase the response to all your marketing.

In the next few minutes, I’ll show you a 3—step formula that sets you up for success before you ever develop your strategy or tactics, or write a single word of copy.

The boring secret to success

When it comes to formal education, I confess that I barely made it out of high school. And I have less than one-quarter’s worth of college credits — which means I finished only two classes of the four I enrolled in. Why? Because I hated doing homework. And if you’re anything like me, the very thought of doing homework makes you want to run in the other direction. It sounds like nothing but drudgery.

But the kind of homework I’m talking about here is quite different from what you endured in various educational institutions. Because this kind of homework — or market research, if you prefer that term — starts to get very exciting when you begin to realize how substantial the payoff can be.

I’ve been around direct marketing for over 20 years and I’ve met or talked with many of the highest-paid copywriters and marketing consultants in the business. And I can guarantee you that the single factor that separates the top paid marketing minds from the rest of the pack is their superior skills at gathering information about their market and customers.

Want a riveting headline? Then you’d better know precisely what factor motivates your customer more than anything else. And the only way to gain that knowledge is to dig deep to find out everything there is to know about your customer.

Need to create a compelling offer… or offer the best guarantee in your industry… or create bullet points that vividly portray the exact benefits your customers want most? You can’t expect to achieve any of this with out a deep understanding of who your customer is.

Here’s another little secret that’s paid tremendous dividends for me over the years. Whenever I’m stuck writing a piece of copy or creating a marketing strategy, I go back to my research notes. Reading them again nearly always gives me a deeper level of understanding of my market and triggers just the idea I need to solve my problem.

3 steps for making all your marketing more effective

The only real reason to do your homework is to gain a deeper level of knowledge that will give you a tremendous advantage over all your competition. You need to understand every nuance of what drives your customer to buy far better than your competition does. This is the ammunition you’ll use to outsmart your competition at every turn. In order to achieve this, here’s an overview of my 3-step formula:

  1. Create a deadly accurate customer profile
  2. Create a simple statement describing what your customer wants
  3. Create a statement of the single most important action you want your customer to take

Let’s take a look at each step in detail and find out how they work together to improve all of your marketing.

Step 1: Create a deadly accurate customer profile

Research the web. Read trade journals for your industry. Subscribe to every newspaper and magazine relevant to your customer. Collect your competitors’ marketing promotions. Read the testimonials your customers send you.

Read and re-read the complaint letters or requests for refunds you get. What didn’t customers like about your product or your company? What suggestions did they give you for improving your product, rational or not?

Talk to your customers on the phone. Call them up and thank them for doing business with you, then ask them, “If there was one thing we could do to improve our whamblasters, what would that be?” You’ll get a wealth of great ideas. And you’ll start to see recurring ideas or themes that indicate room for improvement or identify features and benefits neither you or your competitors are offering.

Talk to some of your prospects who didn’t buy from you. What did they prefer about your competitors’ product (or service)? How could you improve on this to make your own product or service superior to the competitions’?

Use a mystery shopper to purchase your product, particularly from third parties. What do the sales people for those third parties say about your product? If they’re telling customers that your competition has a better product, or that your product would really be great if it only had a certain feature, pay close attention. The lack of a particular feature, or your competitors’ ability to deliver that feature in a superior way, could be killing your business.

Now, take all the information you’ve gathered and boil it down to a short, concise profile of who your customer is. I prefer to limit this to no more than three sentences. Also, this should be a living, breathing profile that represents your ideal target customer.

For example, let’s say you sell DVDs on safety standards for manufacturing plants that must adhere to OSHA standards. Your homework might produce a profile that looks like this:

Our target customer is the safety officer for a manufacturing firm with revenue of $50 million to $100 million annually. The main problem they face is finding time to train workers who are putting in 10 to 12 hour shifts, six days a week. The repercussions of failing to meet OSHA safety standards are significant fines to the company and possible injuries to their employees.

At first look, this might not appear to be all that glamorous, but let me assure you, this profile will prove to be worth its weight in gold.

Ready to move on to Step 2? We’ll do that in just a moment, but first…

Would you like to match or even beat these results?

    • A lead generation letter I created for a client increased his response from 5% or so to a perfect 100%
    • A letter I wrote for Book Marketing Update was so profitable, nothing tested against it could beat it for over 9 years
  • A simple copy change I made for a client immediately increased his profits by 38%

I can help you get similar or better results with all your marketing. I offer consulting and copy services to fit just about any budget. To get all the details, just click the “Services” tab above.

Step 2: Create a simple statement describing what your customer wants

Once you have your customer profile nailed down to three tight sentences, the next step is to give your target customer a name. Stick with me here, I’m not getting touchy-feely on you. I’m giving you a powerful tool you can use to measure all your marketing against, make sure it’s firing on all cylinders, and leave your competitors wondering what hit them.

For this particular profile, let’s say your research has determined that 80% of all safety officers are female, in their 30s to 40s, and have been working with OSHA standards for seven years or more. Based on this information, let’s give your profile the name, “Patricia Johnson”.

Next, use this personalized profile to determine, “What does Patricia Johnson want most from our training DVDs?”

Let me caution you, here’s where you have to be very careful in your analysis. It would be very easy for your statement to merely parrot your profile, but if you do this, you’ll sell yourself short. The purpose of the profile is to help you dig deep and uncover critical issues you wouldn’t find without it.

So based on in-depth evaluation of all the research we’ve gathered, here’s the statement that was developed to answer the question, “What does Patricia Johnson want most from our training DVDs?”

“Patricia has limited time to train staff members who must comply with safety standards. She must find a way to train them without taking time away from their daily work.”

Whew, that’s a tough bill to fill! But at the same time, this is where having done your homework really begins to pay major dividends. Because without it, you never would have known that this time crunch is the single most critical factor your training programs have to overcome.

Can you see how many sales you would lose if you continued to ignore this critical factor? And how you can absolutely cream your competition if you understand this driving factor while they don’t?

Because this profile is actually based on a composite from a number of clients I’ve worked with in the past year or so, I can tell you from real-world experience that what the research uncovered was something no one else saw — not my client or their competitors. And once it was recognized and built into their marketing, their results shot up significantly.

Let’s move on to the next step to find out how this information was used to produce exceptional response.

Step 3: Create a statement of the single most important action
you want your customer to take

What is the one action — and one action only — you want your customer to take? Answering, “Buy my product”, is not enough. What step or steps will it take to get your customer to the point of actually buying?

Having worked with dozens of training companies, I know that one of the most successful ways to begin the buying process is to have your customer demo the product. So your statement would look something like this:

“I would like Patricia Johnson to take the demo of our new OSHA safety standards compliance DVD”.

Sounds straightforward enough, right? But because most training products are usually a few hours in length, we run into a problem here. Once you’ve determined that you’d like Patricia Johnson to demo your training DVD, you have to ask the question, “Will Patricia be willing to do this?”

The answer is that it isn’t likely. Why? Because as much as Patricia knows she has to get her staff members trained in order to avoid injuries and potential fines, she will never have two to three hours of an employee’s time to devote to this. So getting her to preview a one, two, or three hour training video is a lost cause.

However, your competitors didn’t do their homework and they don’t know this. In fact, they’re probably still mailing a catalog filled with hundreds of choices rather than targeting Patricia with a demo of just the DVD that would best help her accomplish her goal.

But let’s say for the sake of this example that while most of your competitors are still mailing catalogs filled with options and hoping one will stick, at least one or more of your competitors have moved up to sending a DVD to demo.

They’re still dead in the water.

And you’re at the helm of a streamlined yacht, swiftly motoring past them. Because you understand, and take full advantage of, the power of…

Customer-driven solutions

In the real-world example when I worked with a client faced with a situation very similar to this, we were able to solve the problem due to the detailed research we had performed. Because we recognized that the greatest obstacle to getting Patricia to take the demo, let alone use the DVD to conduct company-wide training, was the lack of time, we broke the long DVD out into a series of shorter “10 Minute Safety Success” videos.

Now when the client sent all the Patricia Johnsons of the manufacturing world a 10 minute demo, their chance of getting a viewing increased exponentially. In fact, the client reported that viewings increased by over 400%. And since viewings determine sales, my client captured significant market share from their competition.


To get the best results from your homework, I advise you to put your customer profile, statement of what your customer wants, and the single most important action you want your customer to take on a single sheet of paper and tape it over your desk. Whenever you create a marketing campaign or write copy, review these three elements.

If you have a question about a concept, a headline, a block of copy — or any other element of your marketing — simply ask the question, “Would this appeal to Patricia Johnson?” That will help you make sure your marketing is focused on what your customer really wants, which is bound to make all your marketing much more effective.

Copyright © 2005 by Bob Serling All rights reserve