You wouldn't talk to a group of first graders the way you talk to your boss, and you certainly wouldn't crack the same jokes with your Aunt Phyllis that you do with your old college roommates. Why not? Why do we speak differently with different people? It's all about audience.
When you understand your audience you're much more likely to drive home your points and make lasting connections. But when you publish an article or blog post online--where hundreds of millions of potential readers could see it--how do you know which of those people will read your work? And is it wise to limit your writing to a select group of people?
Not only is it wise but it's essential. Trying to write for everyone ends in writing for no one at all. Your goal should be to form relationships with a targeted audience. Here are five tips for understanding that audience.
1. Consider the Age of Your Audience
If most of your customers are college students, it would be foolish to fill your writing with references to the 1960's counterculture, even if that's what was going on when you were in college. They just won't get it, and you'll quickly lose their interest. Of course, not everyone in your audience will be the same age, but if you look at your customer base, you'll probably find that age is a factor.
2. Respect Their Priorities
If you can tap into the priorities of your audience, you will fill your website or blog with the things that matter most to them, and they'll keep coming back for more. Although marketing managers have many interests, their priorities probably include increasing traffic to their websites, helping their companies' bottom lines, and preserving their jobs. Think about your audience and what matters most to them, and then build your content around those priorities.
3. Keep in Mind Your Audience's Education and Level of Experience
Let's say you're writing a piece on woodworking. If you're writing to master carpenters, you'll write it differently than you would if your piece was aimed at first-time do-it-yourselfers. The master carpenters would already know all the lingo, and they would have years of experience under their belts. They would feel insulted and bored if you explained the purpose of each basic woodworking tool. By considering your audience's education and experience, you can reach and respect them better.
4. Speak Their Language
Want to be considered part of your audience's tribe? You've got to speak their language. A dance shop owner is going to connect with her teenage audience if she mentions "selfies," "the ballet homeless look," and Yumiko leotards. If she tries to insert the language of her own youth or include references to Maria Tallchief (who?), she'll lose that audience, and quick. How can you include your audience's lingo? Develop an ear for jargon and slang, and use it appropriately.
5. Give Them What They Need
Humans are generally not opaque enough that it's difficult to find out what they need. Once you have identified your audience, it takes just a little bit of work to find out exactly what they need. Visit the comments section of industry blogs to see what they're asking about. Check out social media sites and listen in on the buzz. You may find that professional home inspectors need to know about changes in local legislation. Owners of payroll processing firms need updates about tax information. Mothers of young children need teaching and organizational ideas. College professors need ideas for keeping classroom discussion fresh and lively. Once you find out what they need, you can have them feeding out of your hand. They'll keep coming back for more because you'll be the one who makes their lives easier.
Understanding your audience is key to providing content that engages and reaching the right people. If you're unsure that you're meeting your audience's needs, find a few people that fit your audience's description and ask them if your content engages them. Ask them if anything seems "off." Are you using the right lingo? Is the subject matter relevant?
Some copywriters never consider their audience, so their writing hovers above the surface, missing all opportunities to engage with readers. Don't let this happen to your writing. Pinpoint your audience, and write directly to them. Remember that a top-level researcher doesn't appreciate baby talk any more than a two-year-old likes listening to a boring lecture on fluid dynamics. Get audience right, and your content will shine.