Understanding the sorrows of the people who read your stuff
Casting your mind back, my last post discussed how to identify your audience. Now, we’re adding the word “with.”
“Identifying with” your audience is one of the steps I think you need to take before you can communicate with them:
- Identify your audience
- Identify with your audience
- Connect with your audience
- Communicate with your audience
As I said last time, we want to do all of this as quickly and effectively as possible, to limit any impact on schedule and budget.
Once you identify your audience for a communication, I think it helps to encapsulate that into an audience profile—create an Audience Avatar.
Ultimately, you can refer to that little guy or gal as you’re creating and editing content, but first you have to adopt the avatar—internalize them. Ultimately, it might help to put everything you know about them into a key statement or two that helps put you in the right frame of mind.
This internalization is key to the way I’ve written step 4 above: It’s better to communicate “with” your audience rather than “to.”
You want to be able to read your writing—hear your voice—as your audience will.
That is figurative, but it can be tactical too: It’s great to actually open a channel for your audience to provide feedback on your content (like a wiki or blog), but that’s a whole other discussion… right now, let’s just talk about how you think of your audience.
Once you’ve answered the questions that helped you identify your audience, how do you identify with them? Consider these questions:
What isn’t on my mind?
Context is important. It’s easy for a content creator to write (or worse, to structure) “from the information” rather than “from the reader’s context.” When the reader arrives, all they know is where they are (context) and where they want to go. Be intentional about identifying and removing any assumptions or background details, biases, or other context you naturally have which doesn’t match with your reader.
What is on my mind?
What else is my audience thinking about? As they’re reading this, are they comparing prices on another product, or are they comparing features? Are they thinking about calling Sales, Support, or Returns? Are they thinking about a goal that’s bigger than this product, which I might want to reference to show that I share that goal? Is there a consistent top priority my audience has, which I should keep in focus throughout? What would I rather be doing, if I’m them?
What do I think of me?
As much as you want content to be friendly and accessible, you don’t want to try to be chummy if your audience hates your guts. Copywriters always need to factor in brand image and the prevailing perception of the brand when they write content. But technical writers who are creating support content may need to be ready for readers who are fed up when they arrive. This goes back to the “attitude” you identified for your audience, but it’s important to go a little farther and understand “why.” Break down any “us-and-them” you might have, and think of yourself as an audience “insider” within your organization, filtering things through that lens at the same time you think of ways to heal any frustration.
What is my baggage, and what have others done wrong?
Don’t overthink it, but consider perceptions your audience might have from other similar brands—especially what others might have done wrong. Think of what you might improve upon, or how you might address their disconnects with other brands. This is also a chance to do a little market research, find weaknesses in the competition’s communications, and avoid the same pitfalls.
To sum it up:
Don’t be overly clever, but try to write from the perspective of a shared experience—like your audience is hearing from a friend who was int heir same situation, until they just received this information they’re now sharing.
Next up: Connect with these people!