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Defining and Writing for an Audience

It might sound obvious, but before you put pen to paper to write a piece of copy, you should know exactly who it is you're writing to...

As part of the essential research you should do before starting to write, it's a good idea to begin by defining your audience - the people who will read, see or hear the message in your content. Although often taken for granted, this process is crucial to achieving effective writing - and everything related to what you write will flow out of it. Entire advertising and marketing campaigns have failed due to a lack of understanding of the target audience, so it pays to get it right.

"Knowing your audience before you write will make the process of writing easier because it simplifies the decisions you have to make. Writing with a specific audience in mind will also give your (content) more unity of purpose and style, and will involve your reader more directly." (1). Sounds simple right? Well yes, it is actually. The difficulty comes when you ignore this important part of the writing process altogether.

In practice, defining your audience involves being specific. If you're not clear on exactly whom you are writing for, the reader will not be happy with your message. This result could actually harm your company and sales. "If you don't have a particular intended audience in mind, or if you say that your (content) is for ‘everybody' or 'society' or ‘people interested in this topic,' your writing will tend to be as general as your intention." (2). As a result, your customers will think you have not been trying, so neither will they.

It's not only important to identify your general target market, but drill down into that audience to define specific sub groups - and aim your message directly at them. For example, if you have a website selling ‘Mediterranean Cruises' - you could simply target everyone who goes on cruises, whatever age they are, or what specific needs they have. The resulting content you produced would have to be very general to appeal to all the sub-sections of this huge target audience, and your message would be diluted as a result.

Identify markets within markets

It would be far better to identify the sub-sectors within this broad market, and write specific content for each one - adjusting the style, tone and language of your copy accordingly. This could mean targeted campaigns for the youthful ‘party generation' - the 18 to 30 year olds who expect something quite different from a cruise than the ‘Saga' generation of over 50's. Equally, the sub-audience of families with children would require something different again.

This ‘laser' approach might sound labour intensive, but it definitely pays more dividends than writing generalized copy that washes over everyone. And in the age of Internet search engines with targeted ‘keywords', and sophisticated direct mailing techniques for print campaigns - there really is no excuse for the ‘hit and hope' or 'scatter gun' approach to writing content. And getting it right is actually more productive. In the equation between defining your audience and writing effective content, it seems "the more specific your choice is, the easier your decisions will be." (3).

If you respect your audience, and write highly targeted copy that really ‘talks' to your readers, you're making a commitment to forming a meaningful relationship with your customers that will pay off in future. When people believe you have taken the time to research their needs and produce high quality content specifically for them, their confidence in you and your company increases. It's a subtle psychological response where the reader says, ‘This Company has taken the time to find out what I really need, that impresses me - I feel I can trust them.'

The essential process of targeting your audience is often overlooked, but it affects everything you do in terms of content production. As high quality content is the backbone of every piece of marketing you do - it's crucial your organization reaches the right people with the right words. In this context, the results of choosing the wrong audience and the wrong words could be very expensive.


1-3 - Dr. Steven Hale, ‘Choosing and Writing for an Audience', Georgia Perimeter CollegeHealth Fitness Articles, 2006

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An English graduate from the University of Birmingham and professionally trained journalist at postgraduate level, Laurence James has been copywriting for over ten years. A Member of The Institute of Direct Marketing, he is also founder of The Copy Box.

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