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Copywriting and the Rossiter Percy grid

Sales copy - advertising and sales planning grid

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Why read this? : We explore how the Rossiter Percy grid helps you focus your copywriting style. Learn how this advertising planning model tightens your tone of voice and delivery. Read this for examples of how to sharpen your copy with the Rossiter Percy grid.

We’re not big fans of strategists.

However, every so often your agency strategist will share something useful. Something interesting. Some 2 x 2 matrix you can copy into your marketing plan to make yourself look clever. 

The challenge with these mental models is distinguishing the clever from the crap.

The best ones are usually based on behavioural science and have supporting evidence. 

Marketing cartoon - presenting the marketing plan - man pointing to a screen and saying "But I have a 2 x 2 grid AND a pyramid!"

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. It has lasted because it helps you organise your thinking about how customers engage with different types of categories and what that means for your advertising.

It shows there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to advertising. But it also shows there can be some similarities in terms of customer motivations and decision-making. This model strikes a good balance between keeping it simple and not dumbing it down. That makes it interesting and practical.

That’s why this week we apply the Rossiter Percy grid to different sales copy scenarios. We explore how your copy style should change based on the customer’s needs and involvement.

Type of need and level of involvement

There are 2 key drivers behind the Rossiter Percy grid.

The first is based on customers having different needs behind how they make decisions about brands and categories.

Some categories are driven by information. They engage the more logical part of the brain. Choosing a bank or buying a fridge, for example.

But others are driven by a need to feel transformed. To feel different about yourself. They tap into the brain’s emotional centre. That could be holidays or fashion, for example.  

Sales copy - advertising and sales planning grid

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 needs and involvement levels together and you get a neat 2 x 2 matrix with 4 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.

Working out where your product or service sits on the Rossiter Percy grid shapes the style and quantity of your sales copy. You understand how purchases are everyday or irregular, low or high value, and low or high fun and this directs your whole tone of voice

Some categories need copy that appeals to rational and factual decision-making. Others have to appeal to emotions and experiences

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 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. They’re not “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 seeing the message and deciding whether to buy.

Supermarket central aisle with lots of displays and signage on view

So, you land the functional benefit early to help the customer make a fast decision. A headline with a clear fact often helps solve this sales copy challenge. For example :-

  • Removes 50% more stains than competitor X.
  • Fresh baked every day.
  • Maximum strength pain relief.

The key is simplicity. You should work with the designer to make sure the copy is progressively disclosed. This means you show the customer only 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 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 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. Buying and “using” them have positive associations. For example, snacks, alcohol, skincare and perfume are in this group.

For these product types, your sales copy has to dial up the experience of using it.

Close up of wine bottle label - reads Reserve Casillero del Diablo Carmenere 2013 Chile

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 with the photography or video content to bring the message to life. Your sales copy has to fit the visuals’ style and formatting. It’s all about boosting emotional engagement.

For example, see how these famous taglines have a more emotional connection :-

  • Helps you work, rest and play.
  • Good things come to those who wait.
  • Because you’re worth it.

The key here is to consider how the product is experienced. What it feels like for the customer and what it means to them. Use a storytelling approach to make the customer the hero of your copy. The customer should recognise themselves and the situation when they read your words.

Eating a chocolate bar to get an energy boost. A beer that takes time to pour properly, but the taste rewards 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. So customers take longer to decide 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. There’s not much “fun” in these purchases.

Close up of a hand pressing button on an ATM bank machine

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 is for the sales copy to rationally detail the benefit, the reason why and the reason to believe from the positioning. The customer wants to feel that they’re making a logical decision. One they can justify as they’ll have to live with the consequences of it. 

That’s not to say you’d have no emotion in this sales copy, but it’s normally as support for the lead functional benefit. For example, you reinforce the confidence that they’re making a good decision by choosing your brand. Or play 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 involvement and strong emotional associations in the purchase decision.

Cars are a good 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.

Front on image of the bonnet and grille of a black Audi car

For example, you buy a smaller car for fuel efficiency. A sportier car for speed. A roomy SUV if you have a large family.

However, within a car type, brand choice is usually driven by 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’s 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. 

You can use it to help shape your brand identity guidelines and consequently your briefs. In particular, it guides your tone of voice. How your brand talks to customers.

The insights it gives you can also go into your target customer profile to describe the customer’s needs and decision-making. 

The advertising development process - a guide on how to advertise successfully

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 needs 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 grid

The Rossiter Percy model advertising planning model helps you categorise industries based on the customer’s needs and level of involvement.

It helps give you direction on the style, tone of voice and amount of sales copy you need.

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)

Sales copy - advertising and sales planning grid

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.

Check out our advertising copy and sales copy guides for more on this. Or get in touch if you’ve any questions about how to use the Rossiter Percy grid in copywriting.

Photo credits

Supermarket : Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

Using an ATM :  Photo by Eduardo Soares on Unsplash

Audi Car Bonnet : Photo by Velito on Unsplash

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