Understand the Audience

The target audience is the most important part of a copywriting project. After all, these are the people you're attempting to persuade! If you don't captivate them with your carefully chosen words, your copy will fail totally — no matter how well-written you think it is.

Think you already know enough about the target audience? You might be in for a surprise. Imagine you're writing a sales training brochure targeting sales managers. It will be used for a trade show to be held in November. You decide on the following headline:

It's Not Too Late to Make This Year's Quota

You assume that this headline will touch a nerve — addressing the number one concern of these managers.

Good guess. But you're wrong. If you really researched this group thoroughly, you'd understand that by November and December sales managers already know how the year will end. Sales training isn't going to turn things around within the next few weeks. What this group is really concerned about is forecasting. Upper management is pressuring them to predict next year's sales. Knowing this, a headline like the following is likely to be more successful:

Forecast a Better Year by Factoring an Extra 9% Increase in Sales, Guaranteed

The lesson? You can never learn enough about your target audience.

Job titles can help you understand more about your target audience. With a little research, you'll discover that marketing VPs travel a lot, human resources managers don't feel appreciated by upper management, and IT managers are overworked. These may be generalizations, but they are helpful to know when crafting persuasive copy.

In the background materials you receive on the project, you might be provided with market research, demographic, psychographic, and other types of reports that will give you valuable insights into the target audience. Study these documents thoroughly.

Get Inside the Head of the Buyer

You should understand your target audience to a point where you empathize with their problems, needs, and interests. You can never truly walk a mile in someone else's moccasins. But you can come pretty close — with research.

The problem is there isn't always a lot of time available. You might be asked to write an advertisement targeting librarians — a group you know little about — and have just a couple of days to do it. How are you going to get inside their heads to understand how they make buying decisions? Here are some fast-track tips that will help.

  • Read what your prospect reads. Just about every group — accountants, seniors, even shuffleboard enthusiasts — have Web sites, newsletters, and other publications that target their interests. Find out what they are and review a few issues. This will give you insights into the target audience and what the style and tone of your copy should be, too.

  • Haunt the blogs and forums. Want to find out what the hot issues are with a target audience? Blogs, discussion boards, and forums are a great way to find out.

  • Seminar descriptions. Seminar descriptions often address the most important concerns of a target audience. If they didn't, the seminar wouldn't sell! Professional associations — such as the American Association for Certified Public Accountants — as well as magazines and other publications, often run seminars. You can also do a search for seminars on the Internet.

  • Speak to the sales reps. Salespeople are a terrific source of information on a target audience. After all, these are the folks who deal with prospects and customers every day. They can often provide you with insights you won't find anywhere else.

  • Meet your target audience. Sometimes it's possible to talk to a prospect or customer directly. If so, this is ideal. Alternatively, your company or client may have commissioned a survey of the target audience and has a summary of their thoughts and opinions. Ask if this information is available.

  • Attend trade shows. There is a trade show for just about every professional and personal interest. These are a hub of activity where sellers and buyers meet to discuss new products, services, and ideas. You can learn a lot here from hanging around the exhibits and listening to the questions asked and the issues raised. It's an education.

  • You can't always get all the answers, but try to create as clear a picture as you can of your target audience. Even little differences can be significant. A thirty-five-year-old homeowner raising kids and building a career does not have the same buying criteria as a fifty-five-year-old planning for retirement. You need to know these differences before you can write an effective brochure pitching an investment advisory service.

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