Title Illustrated by Fahren Feingold
“If you want to make an audience laugh, you dress a man up like an old lady and push her down the stairs. If you want to make comedy writers laugh, you push an actual old lady down the stairs.” – Tina Fey
From the moment we can string sentences together, we learn to keep in mind the people who will read them. Do you remember when your sixth-grade science teacher would tell you to write your paper on kingdoms, phyla, and classes for “someone who has never heard of the subject,” or when you lined up the thesis, body, and conclusion of your college essays with the precision of a watchmaker for that shadowy admissions panel who could set the course of your entire adult life?
The same, of course, goes for your blog today – except that targeting your audience is even more important. But breathe easy: As a business leader, you actually have a leg up on your younger self. After all, you can cut through all of the noise and get straight to the heart of communication by keeping in mind the following:
You know what you need to do every single time, with every single piece of content.
Your scope may shrink or expand; your angle might be direct or indirect; your blog voice can vary. If you’re a start-up, you’ll be doing a lot of experimenting; if you’ve been around a while, you might want to mix things up periodically. It doesn’t matter, as long as all of the elements of your branded content coalesce to build your narrative.
Now, you just need to nail down who’s following that narrative. Depending on the nature of your product or service, your audience might be B2C or B2B. It might be monolithic, diverse, or something in between. Fortunately, advances in technology and ethical marketing give you a distinct edge in determining its make-up. For instance, if you run an efficient and ambitious email program, your data collection will take you to another level of intuitive engagement.
The demographics and preferences of your visitors – read: potential customers – are all at your fingertips. What are the implications of this? Chiefly, that planning out your original content with care is important. And it’s easier to optimize than ever before. But you already knew that.
Another realization you’ve probably had: Engaging and retaining customers never ends. The best start-ups and small businesses never rest. As you continue innovating your product, you must also readjust to the changing needs of the people who are supporting your company.
Where do many of them come from? Your blog. So, build that blog around, about, and for them. No more blasts; no more spraying and praying. Today, targeting your audience is almost an exact science. But knowing how to reach people? Not so much. It’s a rare talent that’s always in demand.
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10 Touchstones for Targeting Your Audience
Would your audience be more receptive to an authoritative tone, or to a conversational one, for instance? Should you play it straight, or is humor appropriate? If so, how far should you push it? Should you get personal or maintain complete objectivity? Your subject matter will play a large part in answering these questions.
It’s a skill to be able to write in the voice of someone else; your CEO, for example. Otherwise, you might write in the first person, and/or direct address. Stay consistent within a blog post, or, put another way, never break character.
Nobody likes a showoff, but your readers don’t want a monosyllabic, Urban Dictionary Super-Gold User writing for them, either. More important than the words themselves is your ability to vary your language. Avoid being repetitive and relying on the same terms and phrases. Having said that, if you have a command of the language, it will show; straining to use big words, on the other hand, will come across as unnatural.
We could also call this technospeak, but either way, it has a bad rap that’s often – but not always – justified. For instance, if you’re writing for marketers, you probably know how much they love buzz words and, well, straight-up made-up ones. Engineers, too, like to feel that they’re among their own kind – and, more importantly, that the writer can handle big concepts with the correct terminology. Niche audiences have their own shorthand, code words, and secret handshakes. Learn them.
Earlier, I mentioned how our teachers wanted us to write for an audience unfamiliar with the subject matter. On your blog, you might not need to spell everything out to the same extent. You don’t want to ever sound pedantic, but you also don’t want to alienate your readers by making them feel like they’re out of the loop or behind the times. It’s up to you to gauge the how far into the weeds you want to go with the topic at hand.
If some people had their way, every communication in the world would take the form of an infographic. Don’t get me wrong: Infographics are great. But they’re even better when judiciously deployed. Ideas, concepts, and issues are often too nuanced to be condensed into a graphic; alternately, some are so simple that it’s completely unnecessary to craft one around them.
What do your readers want to get out of the blog entry or article? Do they want information and guidance they can use? A few laughs? Product updates? To feel part of a community? The latest industry trends? Lessons, cautionary tales, examples?
Some audiences want easter eggs throughout a piece: links, videos, memes, photos, and more. Some subjects call for this, and others don’t. Again, don’t force it. You’ll find that a little goes a long way.
Format choices can close the gap between you and your audience. One of my first editors told me that people like familiarity; when they pick up the paper, they want to see the weather here and the box scores there. But people also like to see websites try new things and maximize the technology. Try a Q&A once a week. Or guest columns. Live chats. But even the simplest features – length and paragraph breaks, for instance – can make or break your chances of maintaining a reader’s interest.
This one’s self-evident: You have to adjust depending on where you’re writing, because it likely comes with a different audience: Your company blog, your Twitter account, a press release, a response to a bad Yelp review.
Targeting your audience is a crucial – and perhaps the most important – step as you prepare to write for publication.
We take it seriously here: Developing customer personas is a big, early part of the BuzzAudit process. Our client work has included producing original content campaigns aimed at restaurant operators, dental patients, academics, publishers, investors, psychotherapists, manufacturers, and more. Send us an email or give us a call if you’ve got a niche product or service you could use a little help with!