Enter the centerline method…
To be able to sell to your customers, you need to understand them.
This includes not just their pains, problems, frustrations as well as their dreams, goals, and aspirations… but also what type of messaging they respond to, what don’t they respond to, what do they need to hear to believe you, and more.
The bad news?
Research is painstakingly difficult, time-consuming, and overwhelming. It’s no surprise that even pro copywriters with decades of experience still spend a good 4-6 weeks at least on just customer research before ever writing a word of copy.
But what if you could cut your research in time from a few weeks or even months to just a few days at most?
It’s called The Centerline Method and while it’s not a substitute for primary research like surveying your audience… it’s critical to use if you want to sell anything.
So lets get to it.
The Centerline Principle In Wing Chun
Legend has it that Wing Chun was a created by a Buddhist Nun named Ng Mui after watching a fight between a snake and a crane.
Whether that’s true or not, there’s no doubt that it’s one of the most popular Asian martial arts in the world.
Both famous martial artists like Bruce Lee, Ip Man, Jackie Chan, Donnie Ye as well as movie stars like Christian Bale and Robert Downey Jr. at one point practiced it.
It’s a martial art renowned for its simplicity.
And one of its core principles also happens to be one of it’s simplest and most effective. It’s called the Centerline Principle.
Imagine your body split in half with a vertical line. If you notice, most of your body’s weakest parts run along that line. This includes your eyes, nose, mouth, throat, solar plex, and groin.
In Wing Chun, the goal is to strike your opponent along their centerline while protecting your own.
In other words, you are using the strong parts of your body (feet, fists, elbows, knees), to strike the soft parts of attacker’s body. The idea is that if you own their “centerline” while protecting your own (by taking up the space with your arms and legs), then you will win.
Now, if you think about it, the centerline is literally an imaginary “map” that will lead you directly to all of your attacker’s weak spots.
This same idea can be applied to your customer research.
What Is The Centerline Method For Customer Research?
Customer research sucks.
It can take forever, it’s incredibly tedious, for most people it’s absolutely boring, and even after giving it your all, there’s a good chance you’ll need to do it all over again.
I remember when I used to be a freelance copywriter and I had to do research for both myself and all of my clients. I’m not exaggerating when I say those were some of my worst experiences as a hired gun.
You know the saying “necessity is the mother of invention”? Well, that’s exactly what happened to me.
I had to find a way to cut my research time as well as all the frustration that went along with it… in half.
That’s when the Centerline Method was born.
Normally, customer research is a wide open playground. The best direct response copywriters are known to take weeks or even months to read/watch all the books, magazines, movies, shows…etc that their target market consumes.
This is on top of “regular” stuff like researching ads from all sorts of markets, studying the product they are selling in-depth, probing their client for insights, pushing for any type of primary research if possible, and more.
That’s way too much work, particularly if you’re a business owner where speed and efficiency is just as important as effectiveness.
So what I did was the opposite. Instead of looking to immerse myself in my customers lives, I just looked for messaging that was already proven to work.
More specifically, I would figure out who were my top competitors, collected their sales materials, and do my research there… all while knowing exactly what I was looking for.
This allowed me to, easily and quickly, discover the proven psychological triggers that worked for my market and then use those same proven triggers in my ads within days or even just hours.
Why Ads From Competitors Are Some Of The Best Sources For Customer Research
It takes a lot to write good copy that converts.
Besides the initial research, there’s also A/B testing, there’s message-to-market match, there’s the writing itself, and more.
And if there’s one thing for sure, you’re probably not the first business owner to be in your market. In fact, there’s a good chance that you’re in a pretty competitive or even a hyper-competitive market.
This is called opportunity.
That’s because you have competitors spending enormous amounts of time, energy, money, man power, and more to do all the same research and testing you need to do for your products.
So if you really think about, the successful ads you see them promoting has almost ALL the data you need to sell your own.
In other words, by studying your competitors successful ads, you’ll know what type of headline work, what are some of the big emotions felt in the market, what level of market sophistication you’re dealing with and more.
The crazy part?
More than half of this data is data you can’t get from just surveying your audience. So even if you do survey your audience all the time, you still need to apply the Centerline Method if you want to write good copy.
You have to know which ads to look at and what to look for in them.
The #1 Most Important Question To Ask Yourself
So before we get into the nitty gritty details of what to look for, you need to know the birds-eye view of what you’re doing.
With that said, what you’re actually doing is trying to figure out what people need to hear from you so that they can trust you and buy the product.
In other words, “What do my customers need to hear from me to trust me and buy?”
If you keep this one question in mind, everything will become much easier. Instead spending tons of time trying to learn everything about your customer… the type of message that makes them buy will pop out to you and will be easily translated to your copy.
And just to answer this objection now… no, doing this does not lead to “copycat copy”.
Again, all you are looking for is the type of messaging that works. You’re not copying someone else ads in any way shape or form. You may use some similar words from time to time, but you’re not copying or even modeling.
In fact, you can even use the Centerline Method to come up with completely new sales hooks that can differentiate your brand and products from your competitors if you wanted to.
It’s all about how you go about it.
How To Come Up With Your “Hit List”
The Centerline Method all starts with looking for the right ads.
The qualities of a good ad for your research:
1) An ad from your market. The more similar the product being promoted is to yours, the better.
2) It should be in a similar format (So if it’s a sales page on your site, look for other sales pages on competitor sites)
3) It should be successful in terms of sales
4) While this is optional, long-form direct response ads are the best.
These ads can from anywhere. You can look at affiliate networks, infomercials, regular TV commercials, magazines, radio, competitors websites… anywhere.
You don’t just want to collect ads though, but things that promote them like banner ads and emails.
It’s also a good idea to keep track of where they create and publish content. These can also be valuable places to research as content usually answers people’s problems.
So here’s the simple way to get this done:
Step #1) Make a list of your top 10-20 competitors. Make sure to include both “influencers” and small businesses who sell stuff only online as well as market leaders who sell stuff in all channels.
Step #2) Collect their ads, sign up to their newsletters, follow them around social, and keep track of where they are offline (if applicable), and keep tabs on their regular site/blog.
Step #3) During and after step 2, eliminate the competitors that do not serve you well. For example, if you’re targeting men and a competitor only targets women, don’t bother. Same goes for anything else that’s not directly applicable to what you are selling.
This process may take you a day or two, but it’s pretty simple and just the act of coming up with your “hit list” will allow you to get a good grasp of the type of messaging you need anyway.
Talk about killing 2 birds with one stone.
What To Look For
So once you have your “hit list” done, it’s time to actually analyze what’s there.
Remember, you want to ask yourself the question, “What do my customers need to hear from me to trust me and buy?”
Doing so will make sure you’re collecting the right data.
So here’s just a couple of things you want to make sure you want to collect:
1) Market Sophistication
2) Market Awareness
3) The Hook
4) The Unique Mechanism
5) The Type of Lead
6) Market’s Biggest Problems
7) The Claims Made
8) Market’s Dominant Emotion
9) The Offer
10) The Type Of Imagery Being Used
11) The Type Of Proof Being Used
12) The Guarantee
While you can learn a lot from just 1 ad, by repeating this over and over again with as many ads as you could muster, you’ll start seeing patterns.
It’s these patterns that you want to base your copy from.
The Centerline Method In Action: Fitness
Here’s an actual example of how this would work.
For this, I’m just going to stick to a single P90X3 sales page.
So here we go:
The “hook” is 30 minute home workouts that will get you ripped
Tony is on the cover himself, ripped and “in action”
They borrow proof with Tony’s past projects (P90X and P90X2)
They put proof (case study) on the very top
The logo is up there as well
Phone number is up there
Special offer with “Beachbody on Demand” is there
The copy on the side emphasizes fun
They use a mini-infomercial-like trailer
- Demonstrates what the product looks like
- Essentially everything on the sales page, but in trailer format
- USP pushed to the edge
- People’s reaction
- Don’t have time for hour long workouts
- For busy people who have lives
- “That just ain’t gonna happen”
Promise: Results in 30min a day
Picture of Tony
- “Ideal” body
- Excited, happy, and confident
- Use of his personal brand
Testimonials (2 men, 1 woman)
Man #1: Average guy to “bodybuilder-style” ripped
Man #2: “I’m an athlete”, “has all that the things it takes to be an athlete”
Woman: Stomach getting “smaller”
30+ years of age
Emphasis on USP (30min a day)
“Results vary depending on starting point, goals, and effort”
Exaggeration of claims (Using whole group average vs single person average)
Unique Mechanism: “Muscle Acceleration”
Claim? You “peak” at 30min of exercise then dropoff from there. P90X3 maximizes those 30min.
Image to illustrate what Muscle Acceleration is
Objection: “It’s just half a workout”
– Answer: Whole workout in half the time
“She Stuck with P90X” – Just keep at it and you’ll get results
“I didn’t think it was going to work for me” – answers “But will it work for me?” objection
Feature: Customizable to your goals (Must be important if singled out)
Emphasis on home workout, but with “no cardio, no gym…etc” angle (anti-angle)
Emphasis on doing lots of cool stuff for awesome results
Image of “ideal” female physique
Another testimonial of a guy
Insane results (68lb vs 14-35lb)
Lots of specifics in the copy
Ed is an inspirational figure, while still being a regular guy
Testimonial answers the “Is this for someone like me?” objection
Product image (Represents what you actually get in the mail)
First image is “family image”
Goes through each part of the product and adds benefit to each workout
Each workout has a special name
Separated into “types of workouts” (People want variety)
“Special” introductory offer
4 packages (Compare & contrast all 4)
Price & guarantee near order buttons
Tabs focus on 1 package each
- 2 guides (Makes stuff simpler)
- Calendar (Convenience)
- Intro DVD
- Piece of necessary equipment
Family image of the bonuses
Free shirt offer for testimonials (incentivize product consumption & testimonial sharing)
Express delivery positioned as bonus (“Get it asap” copy)
Rationalizing cost of product (Emphasis on the deal… aka greed)
– Bundling “value” and lead to offer
– Comparing cost of offer to cost of substitute
BBB logo next to CTA
Offer in fine print
More proof in the form of testimonials
- Right after offer
Tony relating to audience
Solid guarantee (90 days for a 90 day product)
Huge image catches eye
Offer complete with guarantee
Family picture of what you get
Bonuses emphasized with ribbon
Results Of This Research?
1) Proof, proof, and more proof. You need lots of before/after pictures with objection-answering copy (which includes objections like, “Does this actually work?” and “Is this right for me?”)
2) People want 30min workouts. Specifically the “busy people” market which is the majority of people looking to lose weight.
3) The offer is everything. Bonus stacking is BIG. Components of the product became features and benefits. Great price (3 payments). Lots of “bang for my buck”.
4) Demonstration is key… of both the product and results.
5) A well produced trailer gives life to the sales pitch, but it should also make the sale itself.
6) Unique mechanism is important (Market sophistication lvl 3-4)
7) The USP must be repeated over and over and over again (30min workouts)
8) Dominant emotion? Excitement (Someone who’s “ready” to make that change!)
9) Market awareness is high (Product-aware… promise lead)
10) Ideal “body” AND “emotion” imagery
11) VERY strong guarantee (Goes for length of use of product)
12) Claim? Ripped in 30min a day
While the Centerline Method isn’t a substitute for surveying your audience, it should be a part of your “research arsenal”.
In fact, it’ll probably make up the majority of the research you do outside of surveying your audience.
It does take some work to do and practice to get good at it, but I promise you that it’ll cut your research time to a fraction of what it is now.
Heck, you’ll probably make more sales just from extra time you have no to produce more offers and sales messages.