Copywriter and expert researcher, Hannah Shamji, joins us in the ultra-plush Copywriter Club studio for our 154th episode. Hannah has been making a name for her self doing research for Copyhackers Agency and we wanted to learn more about how she does it. We asked Hannah about:
• how she went from boring public policy to copywriter and research specialist
• The catalyst for making her career change
• how her previous experience helped her make the jump more quickly
• the first steps she took as a new copywriter (and started looking for clients)
• what it feels like to find clients when you don’t know everything yet
• Hannah’s research process… goals, questions, hypothesis
• how to define the goals for research so you know what’s most important
• the kinds of data she looks for as she does her research
• the one thing she always does when asking questions
• two things you can do immediately that will help you do research better
• the mistakes most copywriters make when conducting research
• the bad questions you probably shouldn’t ask
• how to get clients excited about research
• what you don’t know (that you should know) about interviews
Want to improve your research chops. Then add this one to your favorite podcast app. Or click the play button below. If you prefer reading, scroll down for a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:The copywriter therapist post
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground
Intro: Content (for now)
Kira: What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Rob and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Rob: You’re invited to join the club for episode 154 as we chat with conversion copywriter Hannah Shamji about how she became a copywriter, the best way to get good voice of customer data, how to conduct a great interview, her role at Copy Hackers, and how psychology makes her a better copywriter.
Kira: Hey, Hannah. Welcome.
Rob: Hey, Hannah.
Hannah: Thank you. Hey, guys.
Kira: All right, Hannah. This conversation has been a long time coming. We’ve had to reschedule a couple times, but we’re really excited to chat with you and really dig into some of your processes around research and experiences. But before we do that, let’s kick it off with your story, how did you become a copywriter and researcher?
Hannah: Yeah, for sure. Well, I’m super excited to be here thanks for having me on. My story is kind of meandering as I feel a lot of folks are. I have a bachelor’s in psychology, a master’s in public health and jumped into public health policy and research. So pretty heavy in the academic side of research, and kind of government policy development, pretty boring words to most folks, myself included.
And I think it was about like five-ish years ago that I… Maybe four years ago, and I just kind of pump the brakes, looked up the clock. It was 10:08, I remember the time exactly and decided I was just going to quit. So I handed in my resignation the next day and had zero idea of what I was going to do, and I didn’t even really think about clearly planning that before. So it was a few hops before I found copywriting. I had my own jewelry business, I did affiliate marketing, a t-shirt business, and kind of just hopped around.
And I started a counseling training program which was a three year program. I just graduated from that last year. And it was on that path that I’ve always liked writing, enjoyed writing, and came across one of Copy Hackers‘ blogs. I think it’s written by Sam Woods, and it’s talking about the theory of copywriters towards therapists, and that blend which was exactly the line I was interested in. So that kind of pulled me into the copywriting moment very quickly afterwards I joined the mastermind, Joanna’s copywriter mastermind.
So that was maybe like a month turn around there from well, copywriting exists to signing up for that program. And that was like a year long stint. So I just kind of was like eyeballs deep in learning copywriting, and had awesome experience interacting with Joanna and kind of learning from her, from the get-go. So that was kind of the first foray there. And more recently into research that is something that I would say is maybe even like six to eight months old in terms of conversion research.
I’ve kind of been hopping around with copywriting trying to find my niche and listening a bunch to your guys podcast, just sort of figuring out what clicked. And a few copywriters asked me if I would do research for them, and that kind of stemmed out of them knowing my counseling and psychology background. And it kind of just happened organically that I fell into the research side and the customer interview specifically. It just seem like a really natural fit, and here we are.
Rob: Wow. There’s a ton of things that we can ask about based out of your story, but first of all I’m amazed at how quickly you went from finding out about copywriting to jumping right into it, and investing in that way. I mean, the mastermind was not an inexpensive program. So why do you think that you were able to make that jump so quickly? Was it because of all of the things that you’ve tried and your background in psychology or something else?
Hannah: I would have to say… I mean, this is probably more of a testament to sales copy, and Joanna as a copywriter than anything else. I think the marriage of this psychology with copywriting was just so appealing to me, and I thought why not out of the gate start with a training and a course that I knew would equip me well. Why tinker around with something I was less sure about or smaller potatoes. I had done by that point a lot of like reading books and combing through blog posts. I’m pretty quick to act and absorb a lot of information if I’m really into something.
So for me it just made good business sense to try and invest in one thing that I felt confident in from the get-go, and just get that ongoing support so that I had something and it wasn’t just like diving in and then pulling out and kind of having to sink or swim, I had that continuity. So that for me was really powerful. Mind you, it was not a small investment, but an investment nonetheless.
Kira: Hannah, can you take us back five years to that night at 10:08 p.m. when you’re sitting at your computer and you resigned from your job. I just want to know what led up to that and that’s quite a big change. So what was going on through your mind? Was it just like you were done and you were ready or what what happens in that moment at 10:08?
Hannah: Yeah. It was a very visceral memory there. I had just moved downtown with my husband and we were talking a lot about starting our own business, and kind of getting out of the nine to five grind. And the more we talked about it, the more clarity I had into the way I was spending my hours, just on any given day, and it was so excruciating. Just the kind of share meaninglessness of what I felt the work I was doing was especially in a government organization there’s a lot of hierarchy, a lot of politics, and you tend to have a giant gap between what you do and the actual output and results, which after a while depending on where you are on that ladder is challenged.
And I just wanted this kind of ownership of my own thing. I didn’t really know what that would be at the time. I tend to fly by the seat of my pants when I am inspired. So it kind of just… And it wasn’t something like my parents still bugged me about the fact that this was like not communicated. It was like I just made this decision executed and it was one of those ask for permission or ask for forgiveness, not permission type thing. So they were definitely having grown up in an environment where education was super important and kind of thoughtful, release mindful decisions getting a secure job. This definitely went against the grain. So it’s one of those like thrills, exciting and then a bit of panic mixed in there all at once.
Kira: From that experience and looking back, what advice would you give to someone who’s making a big career change potentially like that overnight? Would you do anything differently or is there anything that you wish you would have had after 10:09 after when you resigned?
Hannah: I think my biggest takeaway from that is that it’s okay to question assumptions. And by assumptions, I mean sort of the mainstream that even if you have been raised with a particular mindset or people around you are operating in a certain norm that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be okay for you. And I think that that can feel kind of scary. There could be a lot of instances than there was for myself of normalizing something or trying to justify a scenario that I just didn’t like.
And so questioning assumptions and not being okay, and that there are alternatives that I think it’s more about seeing things as I’ve come to learn as a challenge, and less of a problem, less of feeling stuck. I mean, granted that’s like a work in progress, but those are the two bigger takeaways that I would offer.
Rob: So Hannah, as you stepped away from that and then stepped into copywriting, what did you do, what were the first steps to get your business going to find clients and to really step into your new role?
Hannah: So by the time… When I joined the Copy Hackers mastermind, copywriter mastermind, I didn’t… I mean, I just had very little clue. And so my goal there was why figure this out on my own when I have the resources to have someone kind of help me steer the ship. So for me that felt like the better use of my time and that meant really kind of even interpreting this as, ‘Oh, I can have a business around this. What does it mean to have a business?’ That was a learning that was all part of joining the mastermind and kind of a bit of piecemeal like there was definitely a lot of folks at different levels in that mastermind, which was great for me to learn from.
And also put me on the rope to ask the right questions, ask more questions, and just kind of really keep digging to figure out what gaps I had so that I could fill them and kind of get up to speed on like what the heck do I do now type thing.
Kira: Yeah. I’d love to dig even deeper into that year because Rob and I were in Joanna’s first mastermind, second mastermind, and we’ve benefited from being in the mastermind experience especially with Joanna. What were some of the big lessons you learned from working with Joanna over that year. I mean, potentially from your peers too but really from being in the trenches with Joanna in a mastermind, what stood out for you?
Hannah: It’s a good question. I think that one of the bigger pieces that I took away was just kind of the way to think about business and even copywriting. This idea of it doesn’t need to be perfect or complete or solid that testing is more important than perfecting and that was something that I really struggled with in the beginning, and it took me a while to kind of ramp up, and I wanted that the full-blown clarity and this great looking website and the experience already in copywriting to know exactly how to say it.
And so testing that and kind of stepping outside of trying to get clients without that backing felt like sinking. And so the piece that I learned from her was that or one of the bigger ones was that it’s that it is supposed to feel scary, and like you’re an imposter. And that kind of means you’re doing it right. You’re heading in the right direction, and just sort of focus on iterating and the results, and feeding that back into your work as opposed to waiting, waiting and kind of culminating something that may or may not float.
Which I mean that’s a lesson that I think I’ve taken with me all throughout, and it’s the experience that I had there was just a lot more practical or a lot more… Not practical, but hands-on. So it wasn’t just a hypothetical, a moment of inspiration, it was in the weeds of trying to grow and create my own business that that just became very, very apparent.
Rob: So when you talk about it’s supposed to feel hard to do a lot of the stuff, I think one area where a lot of copywriters struggle and they feel like they are an impostor is when they’re doing research, they don’t know how to do it right, they don’t know the questions to ask. Can we talk a little bit about your research process? This is something that you’ve really stepped into in the last year or so and have gotten quite a name for.
Hannah: Yeah, absolutely. It’s kind of funny. Research has always been sort of like blah word in other circles. So it’s cool to see the response here being different and kind of also that the gap between research meeting copy and seeing the output is much smaller so it makes the research process a lot more fun. So my process tends to… I initially started focusing a lot more on customer interviews and surveys, and kind of collecting voice of customer data. But generally once you figure out what specific, what the goal is then you can figure out research questions and hypotheses, and then that would drive the strategy or the copy.
I know that’s like very vague with that basic premise of goals to questions to hypotheses is a huge, huge component. If you don’t have clear research goals which are separate to project goals, it’s very easy to fall off course. And the more clarity you have and the research goals and questions, the more you can start to build out an experiment as opposed to research being let’s find the answer, it’s more let’s find what are possible answers. And so you’re not pigeon holing yourself and using research to kind of push against like force something that isn’t exactly a fit. So always goals, questions, and hypotheses for sure.
Kira: How do you come up with those initial goals and questions to test because I feel like you’re right, that’s step one and oftentimes we we miss this step or we don’t get it right from the beginning, so how do you work through this initially.
Hannah: Yeah. So a lot of it will stem from that conversation with the client or if it’s your own business, what’s your end goal or goals. That’s really going to help you A, prioritize, figure out what point of conversion is most important, what output. Do you want more leads? Do you want more sales? Do you want more show ups at a webinar? Whatever that goal is that’s a project goal is going to help you determine the research goal. What is the information gap that’s missing or that I need more of in order to better convert leads or have more signups and so it really starts with that initial kind of business goal that would then inform the research goal.
And it can feel a little nebulous, but if you think of it more in a chronological. So what is my end goal in the business, moving to what do I need to get there, what data is missing or what data do I need more of. That kind of framework tends to help really prioritize your research efforts, so you’re not flailing, so that it doesn’t feel like, ‘Oh, I have to do interviews and mining product reviews, and user tests.’ You have a bit more of a strategy and a plan and you can start to plot things more sequentially because you understand what research will be relevant for what output. I don’t know if that was just like a lot of mumbo-jumbo. I hope that made sense.
Rob: Not mumbo-jumbo, but you’re right it does sound a little nebulous when you talk about it. Can we maybe walk through an example of how you would do this with either a real-life client or maybe a pretend-life client?
Hannah: Yeah, for sure. So let’s take an instance of a client who wants to have more folks sign up for a live demo say and that’s the main call to action on their home page, on their website and they’re just not having folks sign up. And they want more of that. So we would take a look at… There’s a bit of… This would be an audit of what do we know. Do we have information about how many folks are like what kind of traffic levels they have, right? So we’re looking at kind of a quantitative side.
Do we have a sense of what the level of conversion they would actually like? So that’s all kind of more of a client conversation. But in order to figure that out, in order to figure out how to increase that number of signups for a demo, would then need to think, ‘Okay, well these are folks who are coming on to the home page.’ So based on where they’re coming from, whether it’s an ad, a Google ad, or a Facebook ad, what information do they know when they land on the site.
And then we’re looking at suddenly we’ve drilled down into the sales funnel that, hey, what is being said on the home page. That’s now our actual focus. And so when you are looking at, let’s say product reviews or you decide, ‘Hey, I want to talk to customers, you can identify that actually there’s more importance to talk to leads than customers,’ because you want to identify that point of decision-making that happens or doesn’t happen. You’d be more interested in running live user session recordings on your website to see like what messages are people resonating with when they’re… Are they scrolling down the whole page? Are they skipping through certain messages?
Something like that would be really helpful to help you identify what’s working on the page and what isn’t. So something like a survey might also be helpful, but it wouldn’t be a customer survey so much as like a lead survey. Maybe you start to implement something where you can have people sign up to demonstrate an interest but they might not necessarily sign up for a demo right away. So you’ve captured their email but they haven’t actually signed up. So what’s happening here is instead of it just being like I just have to interview customers or I just have to interview users, you can have more granularity on what you’re asking and at what point you’re asking that person for information.
I don’t know if that was too granular, but hopefully it gives a sense of like you want to figure out what you’re looking at and what your data points could be, what would be useful to know at that juncture, and that’s really going to give you an insight into what that next research step would be.
Kira: What type of research would you recommend if you have a client who doesn’t have a big list, you can survey or maybe they don’t have a ton of traffic going to their website, where do you start with, I guess, you could say a newer client who doesn’t have this huge platform, you can pull data from.
Hannah: There’s always data hiding somewhere it just might not be tied to your client yet. So one would be looking at competitors. Sometimes even competitor testimonials are really helpful. They give you a sense of what potential leads or customers care about. So I would definitely comb through those discussion forums. It might be Reddit, it might be a Facebook group, even kind of general topic Facebook group. It doesn’t necessarily have to be tied to the client yet, but those pains and understanding the problems of that audience all of those sources will be helpful.
It could be Amazon reviews. And there is also just kind of setting up opportunities that while you’re doing this parallel research, setting up spots that you can collect research as their customer base grows. So that might be a survey when leads opt-in. It could be a survey on the Thank You page like a one-question survey, but just having these areas that in tandem of you doing this kind of more market research and competitor research, you’re still creating points to capture clients specific insight. If that makes sense.
Rob: Yeah. Do you have favorite interview questions or survey questions that are just always on the survey that you’re always asking?
Hannah: So I do have… The actual question no, but my rule is to always follow up, that whatever question I ask I will always ask a secondary question because typically people will give a short-ish answer to the first one, something that they think they can sort of get away with almost, and it’s in the follow-up that you tend to green a lot more insight. And I will always add in… Before I ask a follow-up question, I’ll repeat back what I’ve heard to check with them. And that gives them something to respond to and a chance for them to correct me.
So it’s less specific questions per se and more of those always reflect and always ask a follow-up. You’ll be surprised at… It might feel redundant, and I definitely have felt that myself that you’re kind of summarizing almost what you’re hearing, but 99% of the time they will use that as a segue to keep unpacking that idea which is always, always great.
Rob: So I want to ask my own follow-up to that then. Can we have an example of how that works?
Hannah: Yeah, absolutely. So I was actually doing an interview yesterday and we were trying to unpack the decision in terms of becoming a customer. And I asked a question of have you looked for other products in the past or in kind of this decision-making process. Were you looking at a bunch of competitors? And he responded and the answer was fairly brief like a bit of a yes, and we found X, Y, and Z. And so I followed up with what exactly were you looking for in that search, and what was the criteria that you were looking for or you were kind of comparing against?
And it’s sort of this like… It became this unraveling process. So the more I kind of inched towards understanding the way he was making that decision, the more he would share. One of the things that I find really, really helpful is to actually cultivate this sense of curiosity. So when I ask a follow-up, I’m not just kind of bluntly asking. Sometimes I might ask a follow up with like can you say more about that? Can you tell me a bit more about this idea? But it is the sense of like really helping them unravel this giant sweater, and keep going until you find this nugget that you’re looking for.
Kira: How long are your interviews typically?
Hannah: No more than 30 minutes. Probably closer to like 20, 25 minutes.
Kira: Okay. And what else do you think you’re doing or do you know what you’re doing from chatting with other copywriters in your customer interviews that most copywriters aren’t doing? And you mentioned the follow-up is huge, so that’s part of it, but what else are you doing in those customer interviews that really helps you and it gives you an advantage that we could all pull from you?
Hannah: So one of the things I would say too is not powering through questions. I’ll definitely have a question list, but I won’t necessarily stick to it. It might be something I’ll use as a pass to make sure kind of final check, did I cross off all the things that I wanted to ask, but be okay to let go of the script and actually step into the conversation. So that would be one. And alongside with that is this notion of letting go of your agenda.
I find that with copywriting and copywriters, and even with my own business if I’m looking for something specific I tend not to find it. And in the process I miss a lot of other insights that would be really, really useful. So putting aside your agenda kind of taking off that copywriting hat and actually having a conversation with the person, with the kind of permission that they might actually not say something that you consider, quote-unquote, ‘useful.’
If you’re able to step into the conversation and just really kind of let go of that agenda, most of the time you will not come out empty. But if you are trying to steer it and you’re looking for something specific, the danger is that, A, you’re not going to get it. You’re going to be disappointed. B, the person is going to feel kind of pushed in a particular direction and doesn’t have the insight that you’re looking for, and what would have actually been really useful will have been kind of missed or swept under. So really kind of checking your own assumptions and two cents at the door when you’re stepping into that conversation is huge. It really does work wonders.
Rob: So this is probably the opposite of that question, what are the mistakes that we’re making as copywriters when we step into an interview or when we put together a survey? What are the things we’re doing that are really hurting the responses that we’re getting?
Hannah: I would say in an interview not asking, quote-unquote, ‘scary’ questions. And by scary I mean I’m definitely someone who has kind of thrived on people-pleasing for the majority of my life. So asking appropriate questions or questions that people are excited to answer has always been something I would pride myself on. But the risk here is that folks say something, maybe they use an acronym or they use a term, or a turn a phrase that you aren’t really clear on. And it can feel like I know myself and other copywriters I’ve talked to have this kind of like clenching of I want to ask, but I don’t want to come across as stupid, or I feel like I should know this because this is going to make me look really bad, but asking is really, really key.
And the way that you can do that, the way that you can make it easier for yourself to ask ‘what you would otherwise consider stupid’, and I put that in quotes question, is at the outset of the conversation start by saying something like this, I intentionally know very little about your role and your company, so that I can ask more objective nitty, gritty, possibly like outlandish questions.
It for one, sets the tone and really relaxes things, makes them feel like a casual conversation. And two, it is your permission slip. People tend to laugh and nod, and get it, and it gives you license to dig deeper, probe a little bit more and really follow your curiosity, which is another thing I don’t see folks do is to actually reflect on what the person is saying in that moment. It can be a bit of a balance when you’re looking at the clock and you have all of these questions that you want to go through, but train that curiosity response, your gut response there.
And reflecting back what you’re hearing is really helpful because it gives them a chance to check what they said is accurate, and it gives you a chance to actually digest in the interview what information you received. And as a result of that you give yourself pause and time to sort of think through and kind of rotate the message in your mind and process it in a way that you would be more inclined to come back with a follow-up, because you’ve taken that step, rotated the Rubik’s Cube and like, ‘Oh, okay. So I get that now, but what what about this piece?’ And so that that curiosity pieces are definitely like it’s more of a loose skill or it can feel that way, but it is a powerful one to develop even in your day-to-day.
Rob: Is there such a thing as a bad question, something that you would never, ever ask?
Hannah: I tend to steer clear of why, questions that start with why. But the caveat here is… And so the reason that I do that is because ‘why’ tends to put people on the spot. It implies that there’s one particular answer, and it can create a bit of defensiveness in people. Especially with a stranger or someone that you haven’t met, you want to be more mindful of opening out your questions, so you’re asking less of, ‘Hey, what’s this one thing.’ Figure it out in your head and then spit it out to me is more of a, ‘Hey, let’s actually look at this together. What do you think this could be or what would be the result of that?’
So I steer clear of why questions, but if you have a tone that is like if you’re coming across in a good way, if someone is clearly comfortable with you, you have much more liberty to ask kind of daring questions, the smile on your face, the tone in your voice, the follow-up that, ‘I hope it’s okay to ask that,’ or ‘I’d like to ask something more probing, would that be okay?’ All of these are permission slips.
So I wouldn’t necessarily say there’s such a thing as a bad question. Maybe an ill-prepared or not effective question. And of course there’s like the completely inappropriate like not relevant for and not professional. But otherwise as long as you’re staying on topic, in focus, and this within the realm of what would make sense given your goal with the right tone and intention and giving attention to that person, you have pretty good license to stretch your questions out.
Kira: Do you find that you try to match the energy level or the tone or even like just the vibe that the other person is sending across video if you’re on video. Does that help with the effectiveness of the interview questions and their comfort level?
Hannah: It’s funny. I was just reading something the other day that was talking about that kind of mirroring. I myself haven’t practiced it. It’s not something I feel comfortable doing and it shifts, to me shifts my attention to the wrong thing. The tool that I use is that everybody responds to attention. Everybody wants attention. Attention feels really good, and it gives off a particular intention. It makes someone feel like you are actually present in the conversation and not reading a script and following this business process.
So more than mirroring I would have this stepping into the conversation, being really attune, asking about particular words that they used, following up on those. All of those give someone a sense of security, of safety, that you’re actually interested in what they’re saying and as a result they’re more likely to open up. Even something as small as asking if they have a hard stop at the end of the interview can be really helpful because it lets them know that you are safeguarding their time.
And when you get kind of five minutes too, mentioning. ‘I know we’re coming close to the end of the hour, and I want to be mindful of your time,’ but it creates a space where they can trust you and so as a result they’re less distracted with what do I have to get to, I need to hop off this call, et cetera. You can kind of hone their attention in by placing a focus on them, and appreciating the fact that they’re giving you their time to chat about something that they probably don’t… I mean, definitely don’t care as much about as you do.
Rob: So, Hannah, one of the things that we hear from copywriters a lot, in fact I’ve experienced this in my own businesses is that a lot of clients don’t want to pay for research. How do you talk about research in a way that clients get excited about giving you money to conduct it?
Hannah: Good question. I think it has definitely been sort of a tug of war in certain scenarios and I’ve talked to other copywriters who felt the same. I think part of this is presenting… So part of the counseling and psychology pieces and even in copywriting talk to people in a way that they care about, less what you care about. And so that might mean or should mean presenting research in a way that this is the root of driving results.
One, I would make it like a static part of your process. If you’re negotiable on something, it comes across. And that is a piece then that clients respond to, as well. Then they identify that, ‘Hey, well, here’s a loose tooth here. So I’ll just wiggle it and kick it off.’ But if you have clarity that this actually is a really critical part of the process and instead of it compromising on the output, it would actually 10X it. If you can kind of stand behind that and communicate it in a way that is more results-driven, so maybe this is sort of presenting past examples of how research has directly impacted your copy or directly found its way into your copy.
And if that’s also something that you are genuinely excited about, not just a kind of false standing behind. So it might be being more like having maybe even a pitched deck or making sure your results are always tied to, ‘Well, here’s the result, but it rests on the principles of research or on this process.’ I think that doesn’t necessarily… Of course, it’s not foolproof, but I think that the more that you’re willing to have that conversation, and the more that you’re willing to challenge the client if they are, or the lead if they are hesitant that in itself demonstrates a level of confidence and clarity.
And I do think that does measures the confidence in your own process as a real kind of indicator that it is a worthwhile process. And that’s not as tangible as say this exact line that I do think it’s a very powerful force.
Kira: Hannah, I have two questions I’m rolling into one. How do you sort through all the research that you gather from these interviews, survey data, mining forums. I get so much and I feel like this is a part where I tend to get overwhelmed. So that’s the first part. How do you sort through that so you can do your best work, and then also just adding on to that. How do you present and package the research to clients after you’ve sold it, after you’ve done the work, what’s the best way to present this to them so they feel like wow, this was worth however much I paid for it.
Hannah: So in terms of volume of data totally hear you. It is like a mind explosion when you have a ton to go through. First, keep each research source separate. So if you’re looking at interviews, keep them on one Excel tab and surveys on another, or individual surveys on another. If you’re looking at product reviews that will be a separate tab or a separate sheet. You want to analyze them individually first before you start cross analyzing.
And the way that is best to analyze is you’re pulling out main buckets of pains, benefits, objections, purchase prompts or key decision-makers. It could be ROI or results, whatever those headings you identify are. So grabbing the quotes, popping them into those headings, but then going back and starting to summarize in like a word or two. So generally I’ll have, let’s say 15 interviews that I’ve done. And I’ve got a whole bunch of like pain quotes that I pulled out, and having gone through that I know that there’s about like five themes in there.
And so beside that pain column I will add another one that’s a summary column. And what that does is you start to build a theme catalog. So I will use that same legend for surveys, the way that I’ll, quote-unquote, ‘code’ a survey, looking for these same themes and these same pain points. When you have a lot of data, the power is not just in the qualitative, so looking for sticky copy, but it’s also in the quantitative. You actually have more bandwidth and more sample size to figure out, ‘How many times did someone talk about this particular theme?’ Which can really feed into building a strong hierarchy of your messages.
So I do that quantitative with the qualitative for each individual source, and then once I’ve done that then I can actually when I’m crossing the sources, then I’m looking at quantitative. So like, ‘Oh, five people talked about how this particular, the cost of this product in surveys, but we had 20 people talk about it in the product reviews. And now I know that you know the priority of this is 25 and I have a quantitative number I can compare up with. So this would be across all of the research sources.’
So it can definitely get a lot clearer. Excels are very important. But keeping the data together, so this one survey together, batch of interviews together, product reviews together is critical. It does something like product reviews. I tend to have a cap. If I have a bunch of other data sources, and I’m going to lean less on product reviews. So maybe I would just kind of comb through 50 or 75, but if that’s my only source then I’ll comb through 50 or 75 and evaluate if I need more.
Do I need to sift through how many other like 25 more? So it’s really juggling what you have to work with because sometimes surveys can be intense. I’ll definitely use algorithms and Excel to help with quantifying, but if you can get that message to a quantified space, if you’re able to create themes and tally them, it really offers a different level of insight than just pulling the sticky copy which can be pretty powerful.
Rob: Is there something else we should be asking about research that we just don’t even know to ask because we don’t do it well enough? Are there secrets that we just don’t know?
Hannah: I think that a lot of this is… One of the things I would say is that it can feel like you’re just talking to someone, but there is a significant amount of trust that goes into getting ready for an interview. I will not just write down questions and make sure that I’m doing this in a chronological way, but I’ll actually rehearse out loud before if I have like 10 interviews booked before the first one or whenever else I need to feel comfortable. I’ll rehearse like how am I going to intro this? I will say it out loud like a crazy person just in the room.
I will notice my intonation, and if something feels awkward in the way that I’m saying it, I’ll say it again so it feels less awkward until I feel comfortable with it. I think that coming across as casual and comfortable when you don’t feel that way if interviews are intimidating and uncomfortable takes practice. It is sort of rehearsing the relaxation into your voice. The more that you can do that, the more that energy and intention just trickles into the conversation. You’re less distracted by your nerves, and getting through all the questions, and more focused on what’s actually happening in the conversation.
So practicing is huge, rehearsing that out loud, saying it to yourself, rejigging the questions. Maybe you prioritize the questions even because you’re like, ‘Okay, well, this is going to be a half-hour conversation. This feels a little too dense.’ You can make those calls when you give yourself time to process the questions, read through them, think about the flow. Is this organic? Does this feel like a steep turn? Oh, how would I even introduce this topic if it’s completely different.
What kind of segues or transitions am I going to use? That practice doesn’t need to necessarily take place before every single interview with every single client. You will get better over time, but the more that you’re able to do that in a customer interview the more you’re able to do it in conversation with a client. When the client pushes back suddenly you have this whole host of experience dealing with like really uncomfortable conversations with a customer that you can lean on.
The other thing that I would say is that people, copywriters, and marketers, and folks that I have talked to tend to think that comfort in an interview equals a successful interview. But if I feel like, ‘Oh, hey. They were really nice, and they were really open, that means it was a successful interview.’ And that’s actually not the case. A lot of uncomfortable conversations where the person will give me, the customer will give short answers or is very curt, very blunt, very direct in a way that kicks up flares up my pupil pleasing self, those actually turn out to be really, really powerful.
I get a lot of insight from those, but you have to be able to stay the course and not bail and just kind of count the minutes down. So feeling good about the conversation is not necessarily a determinant of the quality of the interview, and hopefully that gives you permission to not dismiss an interview that felt, ugh, or just, ‘I don’t know how that went. I don’t think they liked me really,’ or ‘I don’t think they wanted to open up. Those do have a lot of opportunity in them if you can just hold, and not attach so much to that dynamic.
Kira: That’s really good advice because I have been in those conversations where it gets a little awkward and I walk away feeling like it wasn’t as successful because it wasn’t comfortable or they didn’t give me as much as I wanted. So it’s a really great way of looking at it. Hannah, before we wrap, because we’re running out of time, can you just share a little bit with us about where you are today in your business, in your career and what you’re working on right now before we wrap up this conversation?
Hannah: Most of my working hours are at Copy Hackers Agency. I’m head of research there. So eyeballs deep in all things research with the clients using research to really drive any copy strategy and decisions that we make. And on the side separate to Copy Hackers Agency, it’s definitely been on pause the past couple of months as I’m getting my feet wet in the agency, but my workshop of customer interviews. So that’s something that I had been doing prior to joining the agency, and will keep doing.
I’m actually working right now on building out a plan to move towards more of a product. I’ve been doing some coaching, some one-on-one, and I was doing more of interviews for copywriters as well. But I do like the appeal and hands-offness of a product. So that’s something I’m actually, just started recently to work on. So my time is split between client work, which is great. I definitely always want to have the client work feeding into the product. So I have that now with agency, and then my own product kind of bubbling up on the side.
Rob: Hannah, if somebody wants to connect with you or learn more about you where should they go?
Hannah: My website would be the best place right now at hannahshamji.com. That’s the best spot for me. I’ve been sort of MIA on a lot of the social media, intentionally, which may or may not change. I do have a podcast that’s been kind of pumped the brakes on for a little bit, but that’ll be kicking up again soon. But all of that is just on my website.
Kira: All right. Thank you, Hannah for sharing so many insights about customer interviews and research. There’s definitely a lot to talk about, and a lot we didn’t even cover so thank you so much.
Hannah: Thank you, guys. This was fun.
You’ve been listening to The Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from Gravity by Whitest Boy Alive available in iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard, you can help us spread the word by subscribing in iTunes and by leaving a review. For show notes, a full transcript, and links to our free Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.
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