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Voice of the customer to copy that converts with Nikki Elbaz

Episode #

22

Nikki Elbaz is a persuasive copywriter and email specialist at CopyHackers who’s written revenue generating content for brands including Shopify Plus, Doodle and Resident Home.  She’s an expert in using research to understand why customers buy (and writing emails that make them do just that) and has shared her research knowledge for Product Led Institute, Bossitude Academy and CXL.  Here are just a few of the topics we’ll discuss on this episode of Customer Conversations:

  • How to be a persuasive copywriter
  • What it means to be data driven in copy
  • How to get emotional Voice of the Customer (VoC) data
  • How to know if you VoC data is representative of your customer base
  • Strategies to get customers to speak with you

Resources

Connecting with Nikki

Stuart Balcombe
Hello, and welcome to the Customer Conversations podcast. Today I'm excited to be joined by Nikki Elbaz. Nikki is a persuasive copywriter and email specialist at Copyhackers, has written revenue generating content for brands, including Shopify Plus, Doodle, and Resident Home. She is an expert in using research to understand why customers buy, and writing emails that makes them do just that, and shared her research knowledge for Product-Led Institute, Bossitude Academy, and CXL. Nikki, welcome to the show.

Nikki Elbaz
Thank you for having me. Excited to be here.

Stuart Balcombe
Of course.

Nikki Elbaz
Excited to get nerdy about data and research.

Stuart Balcombe
I know. We're going to dive really deep into all things research. Really excited to get very in the weeds, which is not always something that's easy to do. But for those who don't know you, what does it mean to be a persuasive copywriter, and what does your work look like, so the day-to-day?

Nikki Elbaz
Good question. Okay. So it's kind of broken up in two phases, so there's the research and then there's the... This is not really a phase, it's more just kind of feeds into the writing, but making sure that whatever you're doing is following frameworks and persuasion principles and stuff that gets people to buy and to think and to do. And then there's writing and then there's testing and optimizing. So everything that I write and strategize and anything is based on both qualitative, quantitative research, and just consumer behavior, persuasion, all that kind of good stuff. And then sprinkled in underneath, on top, is kind of some creative, big idea, fluffy kind of stuff that's very hard to teach and talk about, but just kind of gives your writing that pizazz that just hooks people in more. Does that make any sense?

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah, absolutely. So I'm really curious. Obviously if persuasion is the goal, getting people to take action and ultimately, I guess, convert by sign up, whatever the business goal is, who are the clients or the customers who you're typically writing for? Do you have a distinct niche in a particular industry, or particular sort of subset of companies that you're you're writing for most of the time?

Nikki Elbaz
I think the underlying feature that they all share is typically, not always, but typically monthly revenue models. Subscription models. So either software, software as a service, SaaS, or D2C brands that have these subscription packages. Just because when you have that kind of life cycle, there's so many emails that you could be writing. So I've seen that common thread, but it's really just everyone can use email, so I have solo service providers and course launches and all sorts of stuff. Yeah, I've decided just to go in with email versus to go in with an industry because it can solve so many problems, and there is enough foundational stuff that it can branch out to so many different industries.

Stuart Balcombe
Right. I think it's really interesting that that's sort of the area that you've decided to focus on. So I guess before we get into the really deep research-focused part of this conversation, what made you choose email as that thing? So what first brought you to email? Were you writing copy for other mediums as well? What was sort of the path into being an email-focused copywriter for you?

Nikki Elbaz
Yeah, so I originally started as a creative copywriter. So I was doing brand names and taglines and missions and all that kind of stuff. And I started getting really sick of clients saying like, "Well, I don't like that name," or, "We like the sound of this one," and just it not being data-driven. It was so subjective. It really frustrated me a lot. So I started learning more about conversion copy. So I started just generalist conversion copy, and I wrote an email to Joanna Wiebe at Copyhackers and she got sold in that one email. And she said, "Okay, you're going to spend 2019 writing emails." I'm like, "I am?" And she's like, "Yes, you are." I'm like, "Okay." So I kind of didn't take her seriously, and I was like, "Yeah, yeah. I'll just continue being a generalist," because I was so new to conversion copy. And then like three months later, she's like, "Okay, you're going to write emails for my agency." And I'm like, "Okay." So once that happened, there was no going back.

Stuart Balcombe
Right. Yeah. So I guess that was one... Was that a cold email that you sent?

Nikki Elbaz
It was, but it wasn't. Basically, I was in a mastermind with her and she was telling us that one of the things we should be doing as freelancers is to be pitching people in our network. Oh, she ran this 15K in 30 days challenge, and none of us hit that mark in that month, 15 extra K. And she said, "Okay, here's everything you did wrong and what you should have done." And she was saying like, "You should be pitching the people in your network, the influencers and all the people who like... Why did none of you pitch me? Not a single one of you pitched me?" And I was like, "What? We can't pitch you." She's like, "Yes, you can." And I was like, "Okay, I guess I got to pitch her."

Nikki Elbaz
So at that time, I have... Nikki is a nickname and I was going by a different name, by my full name. And I sent the email from Nikki instead of how she usually knew me, my full name. So she thought it was a cold email. She was like, "I don't know who this person is, and I am bought and sold," and she got touch with me. And then she realized who I was. So it wasn't a cold email, but it was a cold email. So I kind of play it like a cold email because she thought it was a cold email, but it wasn't actually a cold email. All the mindset stuff on my side of sending cold emails, I didn't have to deal with any of that.

Stuart Balcombe
Got it. But from her perspective, she had all the context in that email, didn't need to know who you were in order to be sold on taking action, I guess.

Nikki Elbaz
Yeah.

Stuart Balcombe
So let's sort of transition from there. You mentioned that you sort of were getting frustrated with creative copywriting and not being data-driven and clients just saying, "Oh, I don't like that one," sort of seemingly unaware, right? What does it mean to be data-driven in copy? Obviously there's, if you're doing finance or any number of other... I guess conversion rate optimization on site where you're maybe looking at quantitative data number of conversions versus number of visitors. That's obviously very high level, but that's maybe where people are more familiar with data-driven practices being used as a performance marketing practice. So what does it mean to be data-driven in copy?

Nikki Elbaz
That's a really good question because even in my head, I don't really think of customer interviews and reviews and all these things as data. In my head, they're kind of... Like the numbers, that's the data. Whereas this stuff, this is just like the fun stuff that hopefully gives the meat. So yeah, I think that's a really important distinction that there is a difference, but there's not a difference and they're both equally important. So yeah, it's really just about understanding your customer. So it's getting qualitative data that can help you understand them so that you can sell better to them.

Stuart Balcombe
Gotcha. And where do you start? I know we've been talking about that, we're in a Slack channel together, we've been talking about sort of how to use voice of the customer data or examples of good uses of voice of the customer data. So in order to be able to use voice of the customer data in your writing, you need to go get it, right? Typically, by its nature, you can't just come up with it yourself. You have to go and find it, whether talking to customers or some other means. So how do you typically go about sort of starting out that process of understanding your customers?

Nikki Elbaz
So it's interesting that you mentioned the Slack channel because I posted a comment there and I was like, "Hey, I didn't realize that I do that, but I do that." Basically, what I've come to realize, and I'll try to do both for all companies, but it kind of skews this way, that newer, like less established brands that don't have a lot of customers, I find that I get the best data from customer interviews. And then companies that's not necessarily newer, but just have a lot of customers, so they have a lot of reviews, and also skewing more towards D2C brands for reviews. Just because software reviews are not as... People get a little more technical versus more emotional. So for more established brands, for brands with a lot of customers, I get a lot of value from customer reviews. And that's a recent shift that I've noticed. I used to be diehard customer interviews, that's where you get your best, best, best stuff. And then, I don't know, I just started getting really into customer reviews too.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah. It's interesting there, sort of that split. And I think like a lot of things, it's all of one and none of another is probably not the best approach, right? Whichever way round you do that. And that everything is contextual and most appropriate depending on the situation. Which it's interesting that you mentioned for earlier companies that don't have a lot of user generated content, whether that's reviews, whether that's social comments, whether it's other people talking or competitors talking about their product, then interviews is sort of the fastest way to get to enough data. Which I'm always curious about this.

Stuart Balcombe
You mentioned qualitative data, not thinking of that necessarily as data, but one of the questions that I always get is, okay, so if it's not data, like when we're looking at numbers, we can say, "This is statistically significant enough," or, "We looked at this sample size." One of the questions I get a lot is, well, how do you do that with qualitative data if you're only doing five interviews, 10 interviews, 20? Whatever number of interviews it is, how do you know that that's representative of your whole customer base if you have... D2C brand's case, they often have thousands or tens of thousands of customers. And I guess sort of a secondary question, does it matter?

Nikki Elbaz
That is a good question. I think because you're not talking to every single customer, you can't talk to every customer, there will be people that are buying your product that aren't your perfect fit, but they're still customers and they're still repeating customers. So really, you can't talk to everyone. What's the purpose of interviewing? You're not just interviewing just get data, you're interviewing to get data to then write copy, or define your marketing strategy, or whatever goal it is you have. So if you're writing a landing page for X type of avatar, then you only need to talk to 10 different people from X type of avatar. So you might have made that decision wrong and you should be talking to Y type of people, but you don't need everything and everyone always. Also, one thing I didn't mention was surveys, which that's kind of my gut check. So are we going in the right direction of, "Yeah, no, we should be talking to Y, not to X"? So that's kind of like my big numbers game kind of thing. And then you get just more granular, more sticky details when you run the interviews.

Stuart Balcombe
Right. Yeah. I have been amazed actually running surveys, sort of how the depth of answer can vary a lot. Some people, even if it's open response... I mean, if you're running surveys with no open response questions, please go and change that because you're missing so much. But even an open response question, some people will write essays just in a text box, and some people will respond with one word. I have been amazed how much depth and how much you can learn from surveys where you didn't actually have to spend any time talking to that person. I mean, I don't know if you do. Sorry, say that again.

Nikki Elbaz
No, I've just noticed something really interesting where the Copyhackers surveys for... I typically work for the agency side of Copyhackers, so just their clients, but occasionally I'll do a project for Copyhackers itself. And because they teach about data and running surveys to get data, any of the responses, all the survey responses you see the people trying to write these essays and these funny, long answers. And you're like, "That's fake." Not fake, but people were trying too hard, or like, "That's really interesting," or, "Oh, wow. You told me your whole life story. Cool." So it's just interesting, that comparison. But yeah, it's fascinating to see. And it's not industry driven. Like it's not like SaaS people don't talk, D2C people do, it's the consumers that talk, B2B people that don't. It's really just all the different customers, which ones do, which ones don't. It's so interesting.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah, absolutely. I'm really curious. I know I would do this. When I run a survey is we talk about sort of the difference between surveys being a gut check and interviews typically a way you get the deepest details. But one trick that I've used a lot is sort of using surveys to qualify people into interviews or just an automated recruiting tool for the interviews that you ultimately want to run. So I guess that's something that I certainly want to ask you about is. So if we know that interviews, let's say that it's a company where we think interviews is a good fit to learn more about their customers, what's the first step to actually start doing those interviews? Where do you start? How do you get people on the phone? Or how do you get people interested in doing an interview with you?

Nikki Elbaz
Yeah, that's always the tricky part, right? Like, okay, how are we going to have someone spend 20 to 60 minutes on the phone with me about a company? So the easiest, easiest answer is incentives. It's not foolproof, by the way, which is really interesting because that's everyone's default is like, "Just pay them or give them a gift card and they'll come running." And it's totally not true. Especially if you're talking to very busy people, that kind of thing. But it does typically tend to work well, so that's always an option.

Nikki Elbaz
And then also, when you pre-qualify people through a survey, they're just kind of a little more committed to giving you the data. Especially if you include a question like, can we follow up with you? Because then they kind of already gave that micro-commitment of like, "Yeah, okay, I'll tell you more." So that's always helpful. But yeah, it really just comes down to what's the benefit for your customer? Why should they care? Why should they want to help you? What can you offer them? That's not necessarily an incentive, but do they just really like your brand and they want to talk to you? Do they want to give you feedback? Do they want to help you? Do they want to feel good? What are you giving them? And just kind of framing it like that.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah. Where do you start in terms of... I guess we talked earlier a little bit about persona X versus persona Y, and depending on the question that we're trying to answer or the sort of gaps that we feel we have may sort of determine where to go. But operationally, how are you sending those emails? Are you sort of just randomly picking people off the list and sending personal emails? Are you segmenting in an email tool? What's typically the first step to actually send those emails to get people scheduled?

Nikki Elbaz
So best results that I've seen are when they come from someone high up in the company. So it's a personal email, it's not sent through an ESP, it's just one-to-one and it's personal. Which I could be writing the emails, but it feels like it's personal from them. And then usually we'll tweak it to make it sound a little bit more like them. So that's like another thing. Like, oh, now they feel like they're really making a difference to the company because it's the CEO reaching out or the CMO or someone high up. Even if it's a third party doing the interviews, which in my case it always is, it's always that, "I'm going to hand you off to this person and it would mean so much to me," et cetera, et cetera. So yeah, just finding the people is, it's about the avatar. So if it's people that were in this kind of category, then finding that information from the ESP or the CRM. Whatever way they have of tracking how their customers, who they are, what they do, that's typically how we will find them.

Stuart Balcombe
Right. Are there particular segments that you sort of go to first? Like if you're starting working with a new company or a customer comes in saying, "I need to know more about my customers," what would be the first sort of group of people that you would want to talk to you?

Nikki Elbaz
I don't think I have a default. I think it depends so much on the project. Do you have a default?

Stuart Balcombe
I typically go one of two places. I typically go most successful customers, however you define that, whether that's most active, if it's a SaaS product or highest LTV or highest value. Or people who just signed up. So sort of the recency people. And the people who just signed up, not always a purchase, it could be maybe it's just an email signup, but people who are... One is the most successful people, hopefully they're the people that you want to replicate. So if you can figure out what works for them and sort of understand that journey. And the most recent people, just the highest likelihood of having engaged people who will actually talk to you versus somebody who-

Nikki Elbaz
And actually remember why they signed up.

Stuart Balcombe
Exactly. Right. Yeah, asking somebody why they chose to purchase this product in their busy day six months ago is probably not going to give you reliable data.

Nikki Elbaz
Yes. That's always fun.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah. So let's talk a little about the operational side of this. So once you've run some surveys, you've looked at some reviews, you've done some interviews, how do you translate that into actual copy? What are the steps? What are the things in those... Let's assume that you've transcribed the interview. So you have everything in your text that you've collected. How do you pull out the things that are most meaningful, the things that are actually useful versus everything else? And then how does that actually make its way into your copy?

Nikki Elbaz
I actually have this giant spreadsheet that has all the different persuasion levers and consumer behavior triggers and all the different pieces that play into the sales copy. It's a manual process and I'll just go through the transcripts and, "Okay, here's an objection they were just talking about. Here's a benefit they were just talking about," and just copy it into the piece. And I'll do one for each customer that I interview, and then I'll pull it all together into one sheet. And then as I'm going through the copy, I need it an objection at this point in time in the email, so that's when I'll start pulling pieces.

Nikki Elbaz
And it's so hard when you're doing all this manual work of pulling things. Which, by the way, it sounds very [inaudible] and very tedious, but it's a great review because after you do a lot of interviews, especially if they're back-to-back, it just kind of all blurs together. So it's a great, reimmersing into all the information and culling it out. It's totally valuable. But it's really hard to have that break when you're pulling things in and organizing it and not just like, "Can I please just dump this on the page?" And like, "Wow, that's an email right there. I want to write it, like now. I don't want to keep doing this, I want to go for the copy." Because you'll get stuff that's so solid gold that you can't help yourself, you just have to write something about it.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah. I'm going to put you on the spot here. I know we talked about this in Slack. What is your all-time favorite quote that came out of... And obviously don't need to mention brands or anything like that, but all-time favorite quote that came out of either an interview or a customer response in a review or something like that?

Nikki Elbaz
I liked when they were comparing their competitor to a toy. And they were basically saying like, "I still use it, but it's a toy. It's not something that I..." And this was something that was very, it was an enterprise level solution and security was a big deal. So it was kind of like, "Wow, that was crushing to call the competitor a toy. You can't do that. Security is a huge deal, and you just call them a toy." It was like, "That's good. That's a good piece of [crosstalk 002240]."

Stuart Balcombe
Yep. "We should use that."

Nikki Elbaz
Yeah, it was so good. But I could go on and on. They were talking about how adoption across the company was so easy, and they looked at it and they're like, "It was black magic." They thought it was black magic, and they're like, "How did you do that?" I could just go on and on. There's so many good... And you don't think of that kind of language. You could think like, "Okay, they were wowed by it." You don't think they thought it was black magic. That's just not how your brain works unless there experiencing it and you see that yourself. So it's incredible stuff. I love-

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah, it is amazing how much easier once you've sort of trying to write from scratch versus trying to write from... Like you say, you just want to go write, you already have all the content. So you pull everything from the individual interviews into a single sheet. Does that become a resource that you sort keep referring back to? Does that get shared? Because one thing that I talk to a lot of people about when they're doing these interviews is that it's not just a point in time. It's not just like, yes, interviews were done in July 2020, or whatever, but it's going to become an asset which you can build on over time. So I'm curious, from your perspective, do you refer back to that? We talk a lot about swipe files in copy, is that the way that you view all that data? Or you typically keep swipe files from other companies or other examples separate from your voice of the customer stuff?

Nikki Elbaz
100%. I do think it's separate, but it's a totally resource completely. And I think they say that the data is valid for a year or until you make significant changes to your product. And I find that it's still valid even longer if it's emotional, like intangible type of stuff, like talking about the competitor as a toy. That's not something that's going to change five years from now, unless something really drastically changes in the market. So yeah, whenever I'm stuck for a hook or just like, I'm like, "Okay, we just ran Earth Day and Memorial Day and Mother's Day and Father's Day, and I'm done. I just have no more ideas. What am I writing for Independence Day?", I open up that spreadsheet and I just...

Nikki Elbaz
And from the Copyhackers side, when I'm doing Copyhackers work, we have head of research and a research team and they'll pull... They're way fancier than my spreadsheets. They'll do like a whole deck of research. And it's a huge resource. Like we are always referencing it and reminding yourself about stuff. And also just like, "Oh, I didn't see that quote." One of my favorite customer quotes, I didn't see until like six months in writing for this company. I had never noticed it because they had so many reviews and I hadn't read all the customer reviews. And I saw it like six months in and I'm like, "Where was this gem hiding?" So yeah, definitely using it all the time. All the time.

Stuart Balcombe
Amazing. Amazing. So to wrap this up and sort of tie a bow on things, what the specific tool... You mentioned the spreadsheet and you mentioned surveys and, I guess, personal email. What are some of your favorite tools for actually doing this research? And for somebody who's just getting started, these are two totally separate questions, but for somebody who was just getting started, what's the one piece of advice or sort of the starting point which you would give them? If they they want to get started with understanding their customers, what's the very first thing they should do?

Nikki Elbaz
That's a good question. I think the very first thing they should do is look at what their competitor's customers are saying. That will just give them a good framework. But I think if they're ready to start talking to their own customers, I think there's a big fear of like, "Oh, talking to my customers, that's really scary. What if I'm going to alienate them or bother them, or they're going to tell me scary stuff that I don't want to hear?" So I think just calming down a little bit and leading with curiosity. Like really treating them like people because they are people, and just being curious about... You probably are naturally curious about your customers anyway, so just sharing that. Because people like to open up when they don't feel like there's judgment or any of that kind of stuff. So when you lead with curiosity, it calms you down and it also helps the customer open up too. So just being curious, I think, is your biggest way to calmly begin.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah. I think that's great advice, that it's sort of humanizing the whole process. It doesn't have to feel like a big ordeal, a big project. It's just another conversation, right? Like if you're a founder of a company or if... You're probably talking to people all day, every day in some capacity. It's not going to be too different than to talk to your customers.

Nikki Elbaz
Yeah. Which reminds me that HelpDocs is another place you could look for information and sticky language. There's no end.

Stuart Balcombe
Right. Yeah. I mean, and content created both by competitors, but I guess more importantly, customers of either your own customers or your competitor's customers. Anytime that they're talking about the challenges that they're facing, their goals really, and what's sort of getting in the way of achieving them. I guess, to wrap up, I'm not going to ask you the tools question again, but where should people go-

Nikki Elbaz
Oh, I could answer.

Stuart Balcombe
Okay, well, let's do it. What are your top tools, if you had to... I hate to call it your research stack, but what are the tools that you're using today to understand customers and sort of keep track of everything they're saying?

Nikki Elbaz
Yeah. It's embarrassingly low tech. I like Paperform for surveys. I find that it's similar in function to Typeform where you could integrate and it's kind of more, not conversational because I know Typeform is more conversational, but I find that it gets more responses because you could see everything on one page. And I know that a lot of customers get frustrated that they can't see how long it is and they can't see the next question and all that kind of stuff. So it has great functionality, but it's just a little more user-friendly.

Nikki Elbaz
That one line, oh, I can't handle that in Typeform. That's my personal... Everyone always sets it to a one line thing instead of to a multi-line, and then you're writing this long answer and you want people to write long answers, and then they don't because they think it's supposed to be short. So Typeform is great. Everyone loves Typeform, but I personally find more success with Paperform.

Nikki Elbaz
And yeah, for interviews it's just Zoom. You want to be on video so that you can see them and their gestures, and you want to be able to record. In terms of transcriptions it's very tempting to just use Otter or some other AI transcription because it's so cheap and it's so fast, it's just integrated directly. But when you're doing interviews, you really want real solid transcription that's no mistakes. And you also even want the stuff like pauses and laughter and that kind of stuff to give you periods of like, "Oh, this is important. This is not important. This is they're sad, they're happy." Just those cues with your transcripts. So yeah, I think that's my stack.

Stuart Balcombe
Great. Yeah.

Nikki Elbaz
And Google Sheets for spreadsheets.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah. It is amazing the barrier to getting in and doing this is really low, and that sort of taking that first step, getting over that fear of talking to customers and maybe hearing things that you don't want to hear is the big hurdle to get over. So where should people go to follow you, to find out more about... I know you have [inaudible 003129], which we didn't talk about at all in this and this interview, which we could definitely talk about. I know you have [inaudible 003136], so of course there's some templates and that kind of stuff. Where should people go to find you and connect with you online?

Nikki Elbaz
Nikkielbaz.com. That's where you could, I don't know, sign up for my email list, get that template packet, all that kind of stuff. And then where I hang out, LinkedIn and Twitter, kind of different audiences, so different stuff. I have more traction on these. I'm a newbie to Twitter, so you're welcome to follow me so that I could feel good about myself. So yeah, that's where you could find me.

Stuart Balcombe
Great. Well, we'll link all those things up and some of the other things that we've mentioned in the show notes, but thanks so much for doing this. Thanks so much for joining me.

Nikki Elbaz
Sure. Thank you. It's a pleasure.

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