Think you're reaching the right audience, in the right way? If you find yourself answering the same questions over and over, you might not know your audience as well as you thought. Here are 5 questions to ask yourself along with real-life examples of why the answers are important.
1. Where are they located?
A lot of people forget about this simple question when planning their writing. I get it. The easier it is to meet people thousands of miles away, the faster you realize that we're all pretty similar. After all, everyone wants to live a good life, and we all hate jerks. But when it comes to putting your ideas into words, suddenly idioms, cultural references, and even cliches become very important. (Even for writers of ransom notes!)
Real-Life Example: "Check out the video below."
Last year, I wrote an e-learning course for medical device sales reps based in the United States. To increase engagement, we needed the narrator to sound like sales reps: friendly, yet professional. So, it was common for the narrator to say things like, "To learn more, check out the video below." When the course went worldwide, however, some students outside the U.S. told us they were expecting to have to check out and download the file, like you would from a library. To remedy this misunderstanding, we changed "check out" to "click play."
2. What do they know?
Be careful not to insult your audience by assuming they know less than they do. Humans are problem solvers by nature, so give them credit and avoid being overly simplistic. Likewise, it's equally important to avoid frustrating them by getting too technical too fast. Don't be afraid to ask questions, or send out a survey, if you're unsure what level of knowledge your target audience has.
Real-Life Example: Acronyms
One of our clients writes books and articles about the information technology (IT) industry. Most of their work is directed at fellow IT professionals who recognize computer engineering acronyms even more than the spelled-out versions. So, the style sheet I created for them mandates that we will only spell out uncommon acronyms (instead of all of them) on first mention. That way, readers aren't unnecessarily distracted from the content.
3. What do they want?
This is where a lot of folks start identifying their audience. The answer is usually, "My audience wants what I'm selling, of course!" If it was that easy, you wouldn't have to write anything because your audience would already be knocking on your door. Think beyond what your audience says they want. Think beyond products. Instead, consider why they want a particular thing. How does it make them feel? What does it help them do? What are their ultimate goals?
4. How old are they?
Like geographic location, age is a great cultural unifier. It also can tell you a lot about the likely level of knowledge your audience may have, what their goals are, and how they communicate. The words and authorial voice that appeal to readers in their 60s will likely seem dated or out-of-touch to 20-year-olds.
5. Are they the right fit for you?
This is important, yet it's something many never consider. You do not have to appeal to everyone. Let me repeat that: You do NOT have to appeal to everyone. In fact, doing so would be a disservice to your readers. You'll end up watering down your message and neutralizing your voice until your work doesn't really appeal to anyone. Then, the people you really need to reach don't notice you.
Real-World Example: "Got words? Call me."
When I started Dream Write Creative, I used to tell people, "If it has words, I can help you." It was true, and I did get a good amount of work; however, it wasn't the type of work I loved (or that was always the most profitable). It also confused a lot of potentially awesome clients. Basically, I realized that by attempting to appeal to everyone, I ended up sounding vague and wishy-washy. So, I started being more direct, making it clear that DWC provides writing and editorial services for marketing and training materials. That simple change actually increased the amount and quality of our projects because we were finally working with the right audience.
Get the "Who's Your Audience?" cheat sheet to keep these questions handy!