When you write are you sometimes surprised your audience misunderstands your meaning? In many cases, the misunderstanding is easily resolved. You can talk to your audience or write again to clarify your meaning.
If you’re writing for business purposes, however, being misunderstood can sometimes cause serious and costly problems. Especially if you’re writing procedures or writing for marketing purposes. Those have direct impacts on business costs and revenue.
In the article, Four Characteristics Needed for Resonant Writing, I introduced the idea of resonance between a writer’s words and the audience. I talked about how creating resonance helps readers understand written information, and I listed four characteristics of writing (catches interest, satisfies needs, doesn’t confuse, keeps interest) that resonates with audiences.
When what is written must resonate with its audience, professional writers know they need a detailed picture of the audience. They get that picture by combining three views of the audience.
Three Views of the Audience
When writing for business purposes, the more clearly you can see your audience, the easier it is to write something that creates a strong resonance with that audience. Here are three views that together form a clear picture of your audience:
- Identify your audience(s)
- Understand your audience(s)
- Identify needs of each audience
Every basic writing course talks about picturing your audience. What those courses don’t talk about is that to truly picture your audience, you need to stop and notice the details in each view. This article was written to help you find those details.
Identify Your Audience(s)
Notice views one and two indicate you may have multiple audiences. There is always a primary audience in writing, the person or people you’re writing to. If you’re writing for business, the primary audience is usually one or more co-workers, vendors, prospects, or clients.
Your primary audience should never be everyone–at least not if you want what you write to resonate well with a specific person or group of people. If you want to quickly and accurately convey your meaning, your writing must resonate with your primary audience.
In business writing, especially if the audience is quite large or includes people outside a company, there is often one or more secondary audiences who will also read your writing.
Bosses who must approve the writing are certainly secondary audiences. Legal and marketing departments and sometimes outside auditors are also secondary audiences. If you’re doing online advertising copywriting, or writing marketing copy that will be published online, search engines are another secondary audience you need to consider.
For example, many people writing online marketing assume keywords and “long-tail” phrases (such as “writing marketing copy for online audiences”) will somehow automatically come out of their minds as they write. Even worse, they may forget or not understand that in order for Google and other search engines to show their content in the search results list, the words people use to search must be in the content.
Knowing who your primary audience is and whether and what specific secondary audiences you have are critical to the next two views.
Understand Your Audience(s)
Learn how your primary audience thinks and processes information. Having this knowledge is key to writing that resonates with that audience. The more your writing’s wavelength matches your audience’s, the more your audience takes in your message.
Understanding your secondary audiences and writing in a way that speaks to them is helpful. Just remember to keep your primary audience foremost in your mind. They’re the ones you most want to connect with.
How do you tune your writing to your audience’s wavelength? By identifying their demographic and psychographic characteristics.
The demographic characteristics include geographic location, age, gender, income, education, and language proficiency. These are relatively easy characteristics to identify and give a general sense of how your audience thinks and processes information. They give clues to your audience’s perspective and some of their needs.
For example, if your audience is in a specific regional area, such as the San Francisco Bay Area where I’m located, referring to “the City” tells your audience you mean “San Francisco” and helps establish a common kinship. Your reader subconsciously feels you understand and know them. Knowing your audience’s language proficiency is important if your audience includes readers whose proficiency level is lower than yours. In this case, you know you need to simplify your writing to avoid confusing your readers.
To create real resonance with your audiences, however, you need to understand their psychographic characteristics. These characteristics include belief and value systems, lifestyle, and life stage. Psychographics are important because people who share the same demographic characteristics may process information in very different ways if their psychographic differ.
Belief and value systems include religion, politics, and culture. Belief and value systems instill subconscious assumptions and views that can greatly affect how certain words are understood. For example, conservatives and liberals have very different definitions of the word “entitlement.”
Lifestyle include health, hobbies, entertainment, and non-work pursuits. Someone in good health has different “pain points” than someone suffering from physical pain.
Life stage refers not to age, but to whether your audience members have children, are single or partnered, are working or retired. A 40-year-old divorced woman with children who depend on her income has a different perspective than a 40-year-old, dual-income wife without kids.
Identify Needs of Each Audience
The last view to consider is the set of needs that causes each audience to read what you’ve written. This view includes four details and each audience will have different details:
- Why is the audience reading your writing? Is it to make a decision, learn how to do something, or learn about something? Knowing the answer to this questions helps you identify what information to present and how it should be organized.
- How familiar is the audience with the subject matter? Someone who knows a lot about the subject will feel you’re wasting their time or insulting their intelligence if you explain everything in detail. On the other hand, someone with little knowledge of the subject needs explanations in non-technical language to understand the material.
- How interested is the audience in your subject. Someone whose employment depends on absorbing your information will make time to ready your user guide. Attracting the attention of someone who doesn’t care about your company’s newsletter and getting them to read it will require someone with copywriting skills—a skill set not every business writer has.
- Finally, how will your audience consume your writing? Will they read it from beginning to end or refer to one or two sections for additional information? Will they be able to read the information at their leisure, in an emergency, in repeated sessions a few minutes long? Will the information be published online or in print? Your answers to all these questions influence how the information is organized and formatted.
Think Before You Write to Increase Resonance and Save Editing Time
Thinking about all three views can help you plan your writing and save you considerable editing time. More importantly, all this work to deeply understand your audience will greatly improve your writing’s chances to successfully convey the information you want your audience to understand and often take action on.
As Writing Jim, Jim Driggers provides freelance copywriting and business process writing to owners of small and medium-sized businesses. His clients gain sales through marketing text that better resonates with their customers, and they save money when their employees follow guides rather than impulses. His clients give themselves the time to focus on what they do well when they leave their writing to Writing Jim.
For copywriting help with your print or online content or for help systematizing your business processes, contact Writing Jim at [email protected] or 925-231-5825. Visit www.writingjim.com for more information.If you care, share.