Why read this? : We share examples of how the Rossiter Percy grid influences copywriting. Learn how this advertising planning model impacts your tone of voice and how much you write. Read this to learn how to sharpen your copywriting with the Rossiter Percy grid.
We’re generally not fans of strategists.
The challenge with these mental models is sorting out the wheat from the chaff.
The most useful are usually based on behavioural science and have supporting evidence.
The worst are just banal buzzwords and bullshit dressed up to justify the agency’s fee.
One of the longer-lasting models (it’s been around since the early 1990s) is the Rossiter Percy grid. Its continued use shows that it’s a helpful tool to organise your thinking about how customers engage with different types of categories and what that means for advertising.
It makes it clear there is no one-size-fits-all approach to tackling advertising. But it also shows there can be some similarities in terms of customer motivations and their decision-making approach. We like the balance this model strikes between keeping it simple and not dumbing it down. But like any mental model, it’s only when you use it that you get true value from it.
That’s why this week we use the thinking behind Rossiter Percy to look at different sales copy scenarios. We explore how the copy needs change based on the customer’s motivation and involvement.
Type of motivation and level of decision involvement
There are 2 key drivers behind the Rossiter Percy grid.
The first is based on customers having different motivations behind what they need to find out about a brand / category.
Some categories are driven by information. They engage the more logical part of the brain. Choosing a bank, or buying a fridge, for example.
The other key driver is that customers have different levels of involvement in different buying decisions. You’re more involved in buying life insurance than in buying chewing gum, for example.
Put these different motivations and involvement levels together and you get a neat 2 x 2 way to segment categories into 4 main groups. Those driven by informational needs with either high or low involvement decision-making. And those driven by more transformational needs, with again either high or low-involvement decision-making.
When you need to write sales copy, working out where the product or service sits on the Rossiter Percy grid gives you direction on both the style and quantity of what to write. You understand how purchases are every day or irregular, low or high value, and low or high fun and this shapes your whole tone of voice.
Let’s look at some examples of each group :-
- low involvement and informational.
- low involvement and transformational.
- high involvement and informational.
- high involvement and transformational.
Low involvement and informational
These are usually everyday, regular purchases. They’re mostly low-value products you need to buy.
For example, grocery purchases like cleaning products, bread, milk, fruit and vegetables, and basic medicines like aspirin. These aren’t “fun” purchases.
Sales copy for these products has to be simple. Clear. Functional. The words have to be easy for the customer’s brain to process quickly as there’s little time between the customer seeing the message and deciding whether to buy.
So, you land the functional benefit early to help the customer make a fast decision. A headline with a clear fact works well for this type of sales copy challenge. For example :-
- Removes 50% more stains than competitor A.
- Fresh baked every day.
- Maximum strength pain relief.
The key here is simplicity. You should work with the designer to make sure the copy is progressively disclosed. This means you only show the customer what they need to know at that time and no more.
If they want to know more, you put the extra details on the back of the pack. Or add them to your website so they’re easy to find. But in most cases, the headline does the job for you. It tells the customer enough for them to make a decision. (See our design psychology article for more on progressive disclosure).
Low involvement and transformational
These products are fairly regular purchases and still relatively low value. But, they’re associated with more emotional and enjoyable actions and activities.
They’re generally less “necessary”. They have a ‘feel good’ factor. The purchase and consumption associations are seen positively. For example, snacks, alcohol, skincare and perfume fall into this group.
For these product types, your sales copy has to dial up the experience of using it.
You want to show the the product being used, and how it makes those using it feel.
There’s more opportunity to engage beyond the headline. Your copy will work in tandem with the photography or video content to bring the message to life. Your sales copy needs to fit the style and formatting of the visuals. It’s all about boosting emotional engagement.
For example, see how these famous taglines have a stronger emotional connection beyond a more typical factual headline :-
- Helps you work, rest and play.
- Good things come to those who wait.
- Because you’re worth it.
The key here is to think about how the product is experienced. What it feels like for the customer and what it means to them. You use a storytelling approach and make the customer the hero of your sales copy. The customer should recognise themselves and the situation in the words you use.
Eating a chocolate bar to give yourself an energy boost. A beer that takes time to pour properly, but tastes better to reward for your patience. And a beauty product that makes you feel more confident about yourself. These products don’t lead with facts. They lead with emotions. They tap into the customer’s need to feel something different about themselves.
High involvement and informational
These products are usually more valuable and have a bigger impact on the customer’s life. Customers consequently take longer over the decision and seek out more information.
They perceive that there’s a risk of making a bad decision. So they want to minimise this and rationalise their purchase.
However, the actual product or service itself still plays a mainly functional role in their lives. There’s no “fun” in these purchases.
These are necessary products you buy to get through life, rather than optional products you choose to make life better. Example categories include household appliances, computer equipment, insurance and banking.
There’s usually a fact-driven headline with these products :-
- 3-year guarantee.
- A 3x faster processor than its nearest rival.
- Delivers x% better return over the next 3 years.
The key here is for the sales copy to rationally detail the benefit, the reason why and the reason to believe from the positioning statement. The customer wants to feel that they’re making a logical decision. One they can justify. Because they’ll have to live with the consequences if they don’t.
That’s not to say you’d have no emotion in this sales copy, but it’d normally be as support for the lead functional benefit. For example, you’d reinforce the confidence that they’re making a good decision by choosing your brand. Or playing on their fears, that choosing a competitor would be a bad decision.
High involvement and transformational
The final group covers where there’s a high level of involvement and strong emotional associations in the purchase decision.
Cars are a great example. They’re a high-ticket purchase, that plays an important role in people’s lives. Most customers put a lot of thought into the car they buy.
They’ll say rationality and facts drive their choice. But this usually only goes as far as the type of car they choose, not the brand.
For example, you buy a smaller car for fuel efficiency. A sportier car for speed. A roomy SUV if you have a large family.
But within a car type, the brand choice usually comes down to more emotional factors. For example, style and aesthetic considerations. The brand’s identity. The customer subconsciously looks for a brand that reflects their own personality.
For example, the tone of voice in Audi sales copy is very different to that of Alfa Romeo. The customer buys depending on whether they favour German precision (Vorsprung durch Technik – Progress through Technology) or Italian passion (La meccanicia delle emozioni -The mechanics of emotions).
The key here is to use your market research to dig deep into your target audience‘s decision-making process. The sales copy should tap into deep psychological insights and deliver the brand’s emotional benefit. It should highlight the feeling that the customer will have when they buy and use this product.
Where and when would you use the Rossiter Percy grid?
You’re most likely to use the Rossiter Percy thinking as part of the advertising development process. Not every agency will use it, but it’s helpful when you’re trying to work out how to connect with customers.
Your agency can use the Rossiter Percy thinking to sharpen the core advertising idea. To make sure it’s relevant and fit for purpose. In your creative review meeting, you should be able to connect their idea back to the customer’s motivations and involvement levels. It’s a good way to sense-check if the creative team has nailed it or gone off track.
Lastly, it’s also a good reference model when doing specific copy evaluation. You’d use it to suggest that the copy needs to lean more informational or more transformational, for example. Or that it’s assuming too high or too low a level of involvement in the customer’s purchase decision.
Conclusion - Copywriting and the Rossiter Percy model
The Rossiter Percy model advertising planning model helps you categorise industries based on the customer’s motivation and level of involvement.
High-involvement categories need a deeper and richer level of sales copy. More rational and robust product benefit details for purchases that are information-driven (e.g. insurance). More emotional and engaging product benefit details for purchases that are more transformational (e.g. cars).
Low-involvement categories depend more on headlines and instant gratification. For information-driven purchases, a simple and clear product claim that tells the customer exactly what they’ll get without having to think about it. (e.g. household cleaners). And for more transformational products (e.g. wine), a more emotive headline that shows how choosing the product will make the customer feel better.