Whether you are writing a brochure, a radio spot or a blog post – you are writing to a specific audience. And in reality, in most cases, multiple audiences. The more clear you can be on who you're talking to, the more clear you can be in your language, examples and tone.
Here's one of my favorite "tricks of the trade" when it comes to writing. I create my audience from a composite from bits and pieces of the real people who engage with the product or service. From those seemingly random facts, I concoct a 3-D, multi-faceted person.
I literally can picture them in my head. I know enough about their job and their lives to be able to relate to them.
Think of this as the poor man's persona.
Here's how you do it. Let's take this blog as the example. When I sit down to write every day, who am I writing for?
I know that I have several sub audiences here and have detailed personas (too long for this post) for each. But, let me introduce you to them.
CMO/Director of Marketing at a medium sized company: Ian is either on his own or has a small staff. He's inside a B-to-B company and is pretty savvy in terms of basic marketing. But he needs help creating solid strategy, staying on course and executing the marketing plan.
Odds are, branding is less familiar territory for him. He gets it but has no idea how to create it in a meaningful way that has depth, meaning and sticking power with his internal and external audiences. He needs a partner here who can walk them through the process and execution.
He also needs to be inspired some days. He has to champion everything inside his company and sometimes the CFO can be a real prig. Because Ian is so immersed in the day-to-day world of his job, he also looks to me to keep him current on trends and fresh creative.
Blogging is a some day for Ian. He knows he needs to get his company there but he doesn't feel as though he can sell it yet. It's too fringe still. He checks out my feed a couple times a week and then reads what's of interest to him. His typical comment is a question or clarification, which I love.
Small Business Owner: Poor Erin has to do it all. Her business is successful but she views marketing and advertising as a necessary evil. She's pretty savvy but still gets "sold" by a slick media sales person now and then. Everything sounds like a good idea, so how does she choose the best ones? It's not that she resents investing the time or money, but she wants to do it wisely.
She's the one that branding could actually make the most difference to, if she got it. With her limited budget and knowledge, differentiating herself from her competitors in a real, user (both internal and external) experience sort of way would generate incredible word of mouth, which will not only stretch her budget but also deepen the love Erin's customers have for her entity.
She is stretched so thin she could scream. She doesn't have time to read all the magazines, business books and keep up on the trends. So she's looking for quick reads that will teach her all the nuances she doesn't know and remind her of the ones she does.
She also needs to be reminded now and then that despite the long hours and frustrations, she worked hard to be able to have this life and there's a lot right with it.
She isn't quite brave enough to comment yet. But she shows up almost every day.
Branding/marketing Pros: Blogging or not, Patrick either works in an agency, consultancy, or at a high-level client side job. He loves marketing and branding. Loves to talk about it, loves to create it, loves to read about it and loves to surround himself with other people who share his passion.
He comes to my blog not so much to learn something new but instead, to share common experiences, poke and pull on fresh ideas and to tell war stories. He views us as kindred spirits and nods his head a fair amount as he reads what I've written. He's a frequent commenter and always adds value to the conversation.
What he hopes to find when he shows up at the blog is a topic to discuss or share ideas around. Patrick likes to talk about the industry and where it's going. He finds the blogosphere a way he can keep very current, so he can guide his clients better.
So now that I know who I am writing for – how does that influence my prose?
Whenever I have an idea for a post, I think about Ian, Erin and Patrick. I wonder if it will interest them. And I keep a mental tally. If I've written a couple pieces that week that I know are more up Patrick's alley, then I go out of my way to make sure I offer up something that Ian and Erin will particularly value.
I try to position my questions to entice them all to comment, even though I know Erin's a long shot. I figure even if she doesn't answer me on the blog, hopefully she's answering the question in her own head and that's helping her clarify her thoughts around the topic. I use my experiences with MMG clients to explore what might really be a hot button for Ian.
When I want to write something but it doesn't seem to really be something any of them would care that much about, I re-think writing it.
Understanding my audience helps me keep this blog (or a brochure, website, ad etc.) on the straight and narrow. It forces me to justify any detour that I'm thinking about taking. And, I think in the end it means I deliver my message in a way that keeps Ian, Erin and Patrick coming back for more.
Which is sort of the point.
Ease into the conversation – be a drip
Great post Drew, you hit the nail on the head.
So often when we write, (I’m a copywriter and I find this especially true for me), we try to tailor writing to a very broad and varied audience. I mean, who wouldn’t want to appeal to the largest group of people possible?
But when we want readers to come away from reading our text and do a specific action (be it leaving a comment, buying a product, or joining a mailing list) the shotgun approach to writing isn’t effective. If the reader feels like they’re being talked AT, they won’t bite. The only way to talk TO a reader is by honing in on exactly who is reading your text.
Once again, great post.
Good points. I find that when I write to the masses, I am worried about what I need/want to say (or our client) and look at it from that perspective. But when I narrow my focus to thinking about a specific person — I write about what they need/want to read.
Which of course, in the end, is what our client needs them to hear. So not only is it better/more valuable for the reader — it pays off for the client as well.
Agreed. If you’ve done a thorough enough job with the words, you can almost picture them. But having an actual picture takes it one step further.