There’s been a trend over recent years, a sales and marketing research trend that has worked hard at trying to identify exactly what it is that your customers really want. What are their true desires and unfulfilled needs? What is is that you aren’t offering that they truly crave? Where are the commercial holes in your product range and how can you fix them? Focus groups, quizzes, questionnaires, crowd sourcing, interviews, you name it. No expense has been spared in the pursuit of identifying and then meeting, as yet, unfulfilled customer needs.

A bridge over troubled spaghetti

Malcolm Gladwell,  the famous author, futurologist and Simon & Garfunkel mashup offers a famous analysis of the ‘giving the public what the public wants’ take on things in his famous  TED Talk In the name of research, if you get the time, do try to check it out, it’s brilliant. It might also help inspire you as a copywriter.

In his lecture Gladwell makes the compelling argument that the food industry undermines itself by asking people to share their preferences through focus groups and questionnaires. That the industry is asking an unanswerable question. That people don’t really know or simply don’t have the ability to define an optimum product. In other words – People don’t know what they want.

According to Gladwell,  if you ask people what kind of coffee they like the consensus is – Dark, rich, hearty roast! And that’s true for somewhere between 25 and 27 percent. However… in reality, most people like milky, weak coffee. Who puts their hand up and admits that when asked though? As Gladwell says: “The mind knows not what the tongue wants.” The mind doesn’t know what the mind wants either.

Tell me something I don’t know

So what’s this got to do with being a copywriter? Simple. Of course you need to understand your audience – to do your research, to get inside the head of your reader, to be able to relate to and empathise with the pain they feel, their hopes and their motivations. Knowing your reader goes without saying. But knowing what moves them isn’t the same as letting them dictate what you write for them. Why not?

Because they don’t know what they want to read.

Copywriter, take charge

Don’t try and second guess perfection. Use your experience and your abilities to be a better copywriter, and deliver the sort of copy content that delights and surprises people. You might even delight and surprise yourself in the process.

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