How to Organize Your Copywriting Research

Presented live on Tuesday, February 16, 2021

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After this tutorial you’ll know how to organize your copywriting research.

Why do you need to know this?

Because the writing part of copywriting isn’t hard to teach or learn…

But the thinking part IS.

And so much of what we do is just thinking…

The messy middle.

AKA that messy 90% of the work that happens between A) the second you start analysing any data for a task… and Z) the point at which you drop that last bit of VOC into your framework, finishing your outline.

In this Tutorial Tuesdays, Jo walks you through a fraction of the messy middle in the copywriting process.

The part you’re getting paid for.

The thinking part.

So if you’ve been lost in the messy middle too many times and thought, “I’m pretty sure the top copywriters in the world have a way better process than I’ve got with this clutter of notes on the backs of envelopes”…

Then you need this tutorial in your life.


Introduction [00:00]

Joanna Wiebe: Today we’re talking about the messy middle. As in, it’s the middle but it’s all of the work that we do as copywriters and people who write copy but don’t identify as copywriters, is what we do the most of so.

I wanted to share with you: One. Today, we should just talk about the fact that so much of the work we do happens when you’re sitting there. And I’m rewatching Mad Men for the 7000th time because once I find something I only watch that thing.

But I was watching it and Roger Sterling walks in to see Don Draper sitting having a drink by himself in his office and comments on how this is how you people work. And we don’t typically drink because we try to stay alert, but a lot of the work we do is just sitting there in our heads.

And I know we all know that, but I think oftentimes there’s a sense that we should be scrambling to be busy, look busy, do things and not allow ourselves to have this really messy process. It’s not as simple, as I know there’s a lot of engineering and science to it once you start breaking it down.

What to Expect in This Tutorial [01:30]

Joanna Wiebe: But then there’s this whole messy part that we’re going to try to help you clean up. I will show you how we try to clean this up a bit, but I kind of if this wasn’t called Tutorial Tuesdays this would be like, let’s just talk about our shit.

And like be okay like just having a group therapy session on the fact that there’s this whole big part of our work that happens on the backs of envelopes, on sticky notes, on whatever thing was near you that you could write something down on really quickly.

I now bought a remarkable notepad, but it has to charge and I’m like well what am I going to write on when it’s charging? I do a lot of my work when I’m going over and doing survey analysis, watching sales demo replays.

And almost everything I do, I do on my apple notepad. I have like 15 random notepad documents going at a time. I depend very heavily on bolding, on using 30 asterisks around something when it’s a big note to keep in mind. And this is not an easy thing to tutorial.

We’re going to use tutorial as a verb. It’s not an easy thing to tutorial because it’s happening in your brain. And I have tried very hard to think and talk at the same time, and it ends up not so bueno.

But what I’m going to share with you today is a portion of a talk that I gave in London, I think it was. Back when we could travel.

Organizing Your Copywriting Research [03:44]

Joanna Wiebe: We’re going to go through the normalness of chaos in the middle. Allow it to be normal. There’s nothing that you can do about it. Everybody’s like, well what’s the shortcut or the framework for copywriting research?

And I mean, I’m sure there are some. I’m sure I use them and don’t know that I’m using them. But mostly I listen and write things down then look at what I wrote down. That’s the shortcut. It’s a three-step process: listen, write things down, look at what you wrote down.

Tada! There you go. I could sell that. I could write a book about that three step process. But it’s really obvious stuff, right? So I’m going to share this with you right now.

Which Parts of Your Copywriting Research Should You Use? [5:09]

Joanna Wiebe: Question. What’s the stuff that makes it into problem, agitation and solution? We know the framework, we know what we’re aiming for, we know attention, interest, desire and action – what we’re aiming for.

We know we have to do copywriting research upfront to get there. We know that we have to do copywriting research to figure out what goes in an email sequence. What comes first, what second, what’s third, what order of messages to go in as we move people through a nurturing sequence.

A nurture to buy, or to a demo, whatever that might be, sequence. These are the questions that you just saw and other ones that we are always trying to answer with this big thinking part of the process. The thinking.

So if you’re used to looking for shortcuts, this is going to annoy you until you just get comfortable with the fact that this is the part where the thinking happens. And that’s actually the part you are being paid for, the thinking part.

You end up giving the client the final deliverable. But all it was was thinking and then using some frameworks.

How to Answer the Big Questions For Your Messaging [06:17]

Joanna Wiebe: So we answer those questions by listening. There’s surely studies and people who specialize in listening skills and active listening all of these things that we probably have heard of before. There are ways documented.

When it comes down to it, for me, I just we just listen by sitting there listening, using my brain to actively listen to it. So, for example, we talked a lot about the importance of listening to sales demo replays, if you can be present while a sales demo is happening, amazing too.

This is a screencap of You’re probably not going to use it, it’s a very expensive enterprise tool. So unless you’re at a very large company, it can be difficult to do this. Or a company that has a lot riding on getting these demos done right.

But what we want to do as copywriters, of course, is listen to these replays. Listening for all the things that we’re going to need to figure out what to say and how to say it. And so, our prospect, asking questions and listening to answers, that helps us then figure out what to say and how to say it.

So when you do when you listen to something like a sales call demo, for example, and this works for survey analysis, it’s basically everything you’re ever going to do. This is what my screen looks like. I’ve got opened in one part, just shrunken it up into one part of my monitor.

And quickly whipped up the notepad that comes with Apple. So your macbook, your iMAC, whatever it is that your tool happens to be on. I don’t like Google docs for this. I don’t know what it is. Whatever is right for you, is right for you.

All I’m saying is there’s very little formatting available in this. You can do all caps, you can do some bullet points, they’re adding more and more formatting as they go. But I don’t need it. I think what I’m looking for most is just a way to quickly document my notes.

So you’re looking at just writing things out as you go, this is a normal part of the process. It’s not clean, it only looks slightly clean because it’s not handwritten. In which case, you would never know what the hell I’d written down. Some things are in quotation marks if they’re a direct quote from the speaker.

Other things are not. Sometimes I have all caps to tell myself something, sometimes I have a bunch of asterisks, sometimes I have arrows pointing in different directions, and these are all things that may or may not be true for you. I saw Bruno said, why not processing an

Using Transcripts vs Taking Notes [09:04]

Joanna Wiebe: I am a very manual person about the copywriting research and synthesis process if I’m not actively in there typin and pressing pause and going back and replaying something, if I’m just reading through a transcript that’s more passive and I find it far more valuable to be there listening.

Because when I’m watching a demo replay, I can typically see the person who’s getting the demo. And when their face, when it flashes back to them, when they look bored, when they look interested, you’re basically reading signals outside of just the words.

And the transcript doesn’t really give you those signals unless it says, “long pause,” which would tell you to go look at that part. Why was there a long pause? And you’re like Oh, is a crappy Internet connection, dammit.

They just lost the feed. But that’s that’s one of the reasons I go in there. And it is a very good use of your time as a copywriter to do the “transcription” yourself. You’re not transcribing, you are an active conversion copywriter, actively listening because that is the job.

So, if you want to use a transcription service, hey that’s your process, this is my process. It’s messy and intentionally so, then you start pulling out things as you read through it again later.

Give yourself some time. It’s messy, you don’t have to give yourself exactly 24 hours. You might come back to it during your next coffee break or you might not come back to it for three days.

Whatever the case, give yourself a little time and then you start pulling out interesting stuff. And you still don’t necessarily know what to do with it, and that’s Okay, too. So this came to the surface, I’m not going to get into the platform that we’re talking about here.

But this guy, during a demo said oh I didn’t realize Martin, an engineer, which I knew from context and the conversation, having listened to every single word, he said before that, was spending three quarters of his time continually reworking every line of code every time this particular requirement changes.

So I’m learning something here. There’s this problem, sounds like that’s a problem, sounds like the solution is first identifying this problem, using the tool. What am I going to do with that? I don’t know yet, I have no flipping idea, yet, but I might do something with it.

And then we keep going on and looking for things like words like worry and other bigger problems that people are getting into. So I’m worried about the overhead etc, etc. There’s a lot of really good stuff and if you do use transcription services, then do.

If you’re like, Jo, I’ve got 20 minutes to go through this thing, I can’t sit here all day reading through.

Or listening to somebody documenting spending 72 hours doing something else, and then coming back to it in order to find some insights. Then know what you’re going to do a search for in that transcription, and this is a good example of looking for the word worried, for other things like that.

And then your job is to come up with those shortcuts. What are the phrases that I keep seeing that typically have good content around them.

Good messages that I can then do something with so that you get the most out of those transcriptions and stop glazing over the parts in the transcripts that you just don’t get when you’re taking notes.

When you’re taking notes, there’s no glazing over, you don’t document anything that wasn’t an important thing or notable thing, unlike a transcripts. So we’re finding all of this stuff in there we’re going to go back and look through it.

But typically by the end of this, we don’t end up with a beautiful summarized report we can use again and again. Typically, you just throw this all into something and use whatever you can from it in a copywriting framework and go.

From there you typically end up with pages and pages of organized notes, and these are actual notes that I have, just a sample of them from listening to two calls for the same client or prospect for this.

So this is what we do, this is a normal thing we read we synthesize we ask more questions and we listen more. And we surface things like confusion, we surface things about pain, we surface all sorts of stuff.

The Ultimate Message Map [13:37]

Joanna Wiebe: But, what do we do, after listening and before writing? Is there anything we can do in that process to make it cleaner, faster, easier? So, I wanted to introduce you today to something that we use at our agency that people actually buy from us, clients do.

And that is a message map, this is a thing you can sell and an asset level solution design.You don’t sell the solution design, that’s The thing that you use to take everything you’ve learned and turn it into your plan for what you’re actually going to do.

So let me walk you through The Ultimate Message Map, you don’t need to use this template, you just need to know that there are ways to clean up the mess. I still take great comfort in knowing that I’m always going to have just pages and pages of notes.

But then, when it comes time to actually do something with those notes, we use a message map and a solution design, so your message map has in it, you can create this in anything.

They’re just parts of this that are documents and parts of this that are boards like what you’re seeing here, so you can use Trello, if you’re a big Trello user, go ahead and use that.

If you’re already in Airstory you’ll see how to do this if you’re in Copy School we teach this in the new Copy School coming this April. But all this has in it is these sections, so you’ll want to come up with these yourself.

I’ll walk you through them. You want any product aka any cure to a problem that you have, you have at least one product in most cases. And that could be a service that you sell, it could be any number of different things, but we’re going to call it the product to keep it simple.

Your persona goes in here, any motivators that people have, and we’ve talked a lot about jobs to be done and that’s what we use at our agency to write copy. So we’ve got you want to have sections like this, a whole section dedicated to understanding your product.

A whole section dedicated to each persona that you’ve got so you’re typically going to have more than one and, in this case you just hit the duplicate in here and you’ll get as many as you need.

Any motivators, what are the things that you’re hearing and VOC when you went through and made all of those notes and now you’re trying to synthesize them turn them into something more usable, you’re going to put those over in here, along with all known jobs.

And if there are any past experiments that you know have been run, then you go ahead and you do that Katie was asked if this is in Airstory, it is it’s only available, though, to people in Copy School and again, it will be coming in April.

So when we’re in here for product, these are the kinds of things that we want to know, and you can watch the replay again, because this is an easy enough tool for you to make yourself inside Trello. Or if you’re using Airstory, inside Airstory it’s just a board.

You want to know who made the product. How, when and where it’s made. And this is stuff that will always come up during copywriting research but will typically be scattered all over the free world so we’re trying to bring it to a single place.

Not to remove the mess from the middle, but to clean up the later half of that messy middle.

Any interesting features, what it costs, what you get. And of course, in Copy School, we talk about minimum viable commitments, like minimum viable time and financial use cases for it.

The value proposition at the product level and then any features, so you want to know about this inside as you go through your products. Now for those who are like where is this in Copy School again? It’s the new one coming in April.

Where to Find The Ultimate Message Map

Everybody who’s already in Copy School, as long as you’re a member of Copy School or you’ve paid for it and full in the past, you’re automatically upgraded to get that so never fear you’ll get these templates as well, yes, new Copy School is coming in April.

Okay, and then we want to quickly look at personas and then I’m going to move over to the solution design because it’s a really critical step that can help a lot of folks.

Folks who are struggling with what to do between learning all this stuff about prospects about the product, everything else, and then actually turning that into great copy.

That’s typically a really challenging switch that happens there, so the solution design can help with that. So the persona though again, you want to make one persona. You want to duplicate one of these for every persona that you’ve got. If you have three personas you would just hit this duplicate button.

And the persona A, persona B, persona C, and then give them each their name to replace the curly brackets. This is the template, so it’s not filled in. I’m not going to show you it filled in, I don’t want it to be too distracting.

So we want to have any notes, we have about this persona you can just click a little add note here to pop up a note and go through it, there are other things will teach those inside Copy School.

Any problems or motivators they have we have a couple spots for those moments of highest tension is a tag we’re using there.

Failed solutions so what this persona has tried before trying solutions like yours, or in place and solutions like yours, or could be, even including past solutions of yours that weren’t quite good enough for what they were trying to get done.

Such as if you have somebody who’s taking your course. It didn’t fail them necessarily but it didn’t give them the thing that your mastermind would give them so that can also be something that goes in there.

Any desired outcomes or dream states go there. Then we get into more of the jobs to be done stuff. So switching and that’s habits of the now, worries of the new pushes of the now and pulls of the new. We’ll talk more about that and Copy School too don’t worry about it, or you can just go Google.

Jobs to be done, the switch, do a Google image search on it and you will see all sorts of great stuff. I just love image search for actually getting past all the crap. Google search results are like so optimized by SEOs but image results are typically like actually good for what you’re looking for.

So anyway go check that out beliefs and conversion precursors, Ry talks a lot about conversion precursors so you’ll hear more about that there. The list goes on. So learning a lot about your persona, you can see there’s a lot to learn here and that’s why something like a message map is so critical.

Why You Should Use The Message Map to Organize Your Copywriting Research

Because the fact is, as you’re going through your copywriting research, you’re actually thinking about all of these things you’re thinking about oh listen to all these problems, which one’s most important.

What other solutions have they tried? What are they trying to achieve here, like what outcome Are they really looking for?

We’re not talking about features we’re not talking about benefits this isn’t just about the product you this is about what that person you’re trying to convert is thinking, feeling, what they’ve done, what’s pulling them, what’s getting in their way?

Everything that you’re listening for, we just want to start documenting so that when the time comes to write for this persona anything for this persona. And you’re trying to get them to switch let’s say, but you don’t remember where in your notes.

You had that good point about switching and even if you have a report, a report doesn’t have enough room for everything, unless you put it all in the appendix.

Where you have everything, you have to depend on search again there, so this is again helping us clean up that messy middle just a bit. Any purchase criteria they have direct competition, what they like about your competition, what they don’t like.

Any constraints they have in making the decision, like they need their team to get involved and need their wife to say yes, they need more money, they need credit approval.

To make the offer irresistible, so at the persona level, optimizing offers and then other costs if they fail to take action and you need really persuasive proof for this group.

And any click triggers, so again, this is stuff that you can put in a Trello board or here starting right now again we’re going to teach them in the new Copy School.

Solution Design [21:51]

Joanna Wiebe: So I’m going to quickly walk you through just the parts of your solution design, so what you want to do is no matter what you’re creating your Ultimate Message Map is something where you keep track of all of your messages over time.

You’re always updating it, you’re always referring back to it, but when it’s time to write an email, let’s say. When you want to create a new solution design this feels like this unnecessary step can’t I just jump in and start doing it?

You could, but this is the part where, if you believe more that you should spend a bunch of your time sharpening the axe instead of just going ahead and trying to chop down the tree with brute force.

This is for people who sharpen the axe first. And this is what most people recommend doing, start by making sure everything’s perfectly ready to go, so that when you swing you’re more likely to chop that thing down faster.

So in this we have these parts: A brief, this is a really simple, just like document, you can see it below here just the core stuff about your one reader what the product is that you’re trying to sell etc. A heuristic analysis of the control.

The primary job that’s trying to be achieved. Your rule of one. PCPO, is a new one. We talk about it more now in Copy School. So the problem, the cure, the proof and the offer. These four parts that we just keep seeing come up again and again.

We haven’t taught PCPO before but it is quite useful when it comes time to actually go ahead and write something. And then your solution design itself. So we have that solution design, we can talk more about this, and another tutorial, this is really just like a quick overview of a tutorial.

And then, then and only then, are you ready to get into your framework now. In this case, it’s attention, interest, desire, action, but it could be problem, agitation, solution, the four Ps and any of the other ones as well.

So one note, we are, yes, going to be bringing this out April, early April is the launch of Copy School. You can again start putting this together if you’re like wow you went really fast, through it, I did! It’s a short tutorial.

But you can watch this post, put it together with whatever tool you’re already using or in Airstory, and then just start using it with all of the copywriting research that you’re trying to organize. I will see you guys in about two weeks. Stay safe out there and have a good one. Bye bye.

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