Who are you writing for? Do you know anything about your marketing audiences – such as the big issues in their industry, trends that might affect them, or the role they play in their own companies? Do you know the buzzwords they use every day?
Knowing who you are speaking to is a key component of any kind of effective communication. Whether you’re crafting targeted emails or direct mail letters, web banners or blog posts, webcast scripts, or tweets, you need to know who’s on the receiving end.
You want to reach across that virtual table and look them in the eye, shake their hand, and drink in who they are. This practice also helps establish trust. If the audience believes that you know and understand them, you’ve already taken a key step toward convincing them that whatever you’re going to ask them to do is a pretty good idea.
So, who do you want to reach?
Before you get started on creative brainstorming or fancy copywriting, your first step is to define your marketing audience. Pull out your notebooks and get into investigation mode, gumshoe. It’s time to get to work. Demographic data is a first stop. Maybe you have some data on who’s visiting your website and purchasing your products. Start there.
You can also pay for demographic data – especially if you are looking for private or predictive data. Your R&D department likely uses this type of info to create products specifically for individual groups. You can also use it in your marketing efforts. Outfits like Nielsen, credit-reporting companies, and even the US Census Bureau can be good starting points for market research and demographic data.
Surveys can help you, too – such as a poll to frequent customers. But don’t forget to look at the actuals. It pays to know what they’re really doing, not just what they say they are doing.
Next, put yourself in their shoes.
Creating personas at this stage can help you put yourself in your audience’s mindset. Personas are mini character sketches of various audience profiles – including things like age or age range, gender (if that matters to your product), income, likes and dislikes, emotional struggles, habits, even words they use or questions they may ask. Writers of all kinds do this – whether they be marketers or novelists or playwrights. These character sketches based on archetypes and human truisms help you form resonant, recognizable characters. Or, in your case, readers. These data-based personas can help you predict how your audience may respond to certain messages or campaigns.
In his book Killer Web Content, Gerry McGovern recommends creating three or fewer personas – and definitely no more than five, else “you and your team will find it hard to remember their names, let alone have a deep understanding of how they feel and think.” I agree. Despite what we may have been told as children, we humans are not snowflakes. Most people – like it or not – are not that unique. In fact, you can probably distill their traits into a few big buckets. This is a plus in the world of marketing, because you don’t have to create thousands of unique messages for your individualized customers. Embrace homogeneity!
What’s their need?
Now that you’ve created mini-profiles of your typical audience, it’s time to think about the challenges they’re facing. I don’t mean whether they have milk in the fridge or must indulge a nagging neighbor, but what business problems do they face? Identify those and write them down.
Next, brainstorm a few additional things that are associated with the problem – and write those down as well.
And if you really want to knock it out of the park, consider a third stage: what problems may arise next? If you can anticipate the customer’s need, by jumping to the next logical issue, you can set yourself up for more long-term sales and success.
4 Steps to Creating a Content Marketing Plan
Address the need – using the words they use
Next, it’s your time to show your audience how you can address that need. As author David Meerman Scott says in The New Rules of Marketing and PR: “Millions of people are online right now looking for answers to their problems. Will they find your organization? And if so, what will they find?”
Go back to the exercise above – the list of people and grievances. What can your product(s)/service(s) do to address those woes?
It’s also important to think about the words your customers use. Can you talk like they talk? Can you search like they search? We’ve moved beyond the Information Age and are now in something yet-to-be-named but more advanced. Maybe some day they’ll retroactively refer to it as the Search Age or the Google Age. Whatever the name, our customers are trained to go to their search engine of choice and type in their problem, with the intent of finding an answer.
Help your customers find you when they take this action. Ask yourself what words would Customer 1 use to search the internet for an answer to his business trouble. Write these words down – and build them in to your copy. Your reader will recognize them, and you are (subtly) setting the expectation that you will speak their language and be attuned to their issues.
This probably sounds a lot like the same keyword research you do for search engine marketing or search engine optimization – and it should. If you are doing your work correctly, you should find a natural overlap between the words your personas use and the keywords most commonly used to find what you’re offering.
This isn’t a task for just digital marketers, however. Print campaigns and collateral also need to use the industry-specific language your customers use. Seeing those familiar words and phrases helps draw them in to read more – and trust that you know their needs.
Now it’s time to tailor your words.
With these steps completed, you can now turn tactical. Tie together the personas, the problems, and the phrasing to plan clever, kicky – and informed – copy that illustrates how your product solves problem X.
And then it’s time to write to your audience. Create copy and stories that sound like their own, and address their problems.
By this stage in your research, you may have also gleaned enough information to know not just what they want – and need – to hear, but via what channel. Does this person like email, or do they prefer blog posts? Or tweets? Take note, and write accordingly. Here’s another quote from David Meerman Scott: “We need to think about the information that our niche audiences want to hear. Why not build content specifically for those niche audiences and tell them an online story about your product, a story that is created especially for them?”
So, what can you craft for your audience?
Whatever the channel, talk like they talk. This may mean using conjunctions and colloquialisms if it suits your audience. And jargon, while typically scoffed at, may actually work for specific audiences. You’ve done your homework – put it into action.
Create a customized call to action
Speaking of action, the call to action (aka CTA) is really important. I know I don’t have to tell you that. But, knowing what you know now about unique audience personas and needs, take a step back and reexamine your CTA strategy.
What action do you want this particular customer persona to take? It may not be the same for every single reader. If you need to, you can write a very clear CTA per role.
For example, suppose you’re doing account-based marketing. Inside a target account, you need to convince a collection of people with different titles, responsibilities, and concerns to make a coordinated decision. You could use one CTA for an IT manager (download a datasheet) and a different one for the CFO (an ROI calculator). Your goal is to use the right motivational wording for each buyer.
You may employ targeted marketing tactics like segmentation and lists here, too – for instance, create and send a different iteration of a campaign or email to each persona type. Sure, it creates more work for you. But if it helps you get your point across more clearly to your various audiences – and gets them to act/buy – then it’s probably well worth it. (Read more about segmentation and personalization on Act-On’s blog here.)
Walk a mile in their shoes
It’s an old trope, but walking a mile in someone else’s shoes should help you gain perspective – and perhaps blisters – akin to their own.
For the purposes of content writing and marketing, the goal is to understand your customer. To empathize. And to elicit a reaction that is natural for them. Interested in learning more about empathetic marketing? Listen to our Rethink Podcast episode #1, when we interviewed Brian Carroll.
I will leave you with this quote from author McGovern: “For you to succeed, you must be able to think from the gut of your customer – not your own…You must temper your gut instinct so that you can better understand the gut instincts of others.”