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Early on in my copywriting career, before I had cemented the confidence to consistently charge big fees up-front, I did a number of pay-for-performance deals.
I would only get paid if a salesletter I wrote made money.
One of these deals was for a 9% gross royalty -- I'd get 9% of everything we made once the cost of the promotion was paid for.
The client had a great product, was in a hot market, and I was quietly confident the project was going to be a big winner.
So we shook on the deal and I sent him my copywriting questionnaire -- which covers all the essential research questions you need to answer to write a winning salesletter.
A couple of days later he sends me back the completed form, and unlike most clients, he has done an awesome job. Every question is answered thoroughly.
I'm thinking this will make my job of writing the letter a piece of cake.
So I go away for two or three weeks and write the letter.
It's some of my best work so far.
We launch the campaign...
And it BOMBS!
I'm expecting a flood of sales and there's barely a trickle.
In the end he only made a few sales -- not enough to cover the cost of the promotion -- and so for my weeks of hard work I made nothing. Zilch. Zero.
I'm a big believer that you learn more from your failures than your successes. So I do a deep-dive campaign analysis trying to figure out what went wrong. And what I discover changes my marketing forever.
It's what I call:
The Illusion of Knowledge.
You see, the client thought he knew his market inside and out.
He confidently filled out my research questionnaire without a doubt in his mind.
(And me being naive didn't think to question his answers.)
But it turns out he didn't know his market at all!
He was waaaay off about who the ideal buyer was, about what their pain points where, and about the real reasons for them buying.
The project was dead in the water before I even wrote a word.
As it turns out, it's a very common tendency for us to mistake surface knowledge for deep understanding.
We hear an objection from one person and think everyone has the same thought.
We speak to a couple of people in a market and believe they represent everyone.
We project our own thoughts and feelings onto our potential clients.
And so, because we assume we already know the answers, rather than doing the work to get real knowledge, we simply fill in the blanks with our surface level understanding.
And the results can be devastating.
Fight the temptation to answer hard questions with easy answers.
Put the research time in.
Don't assume. Don't guess. Do the work.