How to tailor your writing to a target audience
Does everything you write end up sounding like you? Learn how to get started defining your audience, and how to make sure you're talking their language
Even experienced writers can struggle to hit the right tone. It isn’t easy. Whatever you write, your own voice naturally creeps in, and fully erasing it can sometimes take several rounds of revision. If you work for a niche agency or business whose projects require a voice very close to your own, you’re in luck; but for most of us, working in copywriting or content marketing means learning to master a variety of styles and adjusting to new ones almost daily.
Do you know what you’re aiming for?
It’s much easier for that natural personal voice to creep in if you’re muddling through without a clear alternative in mind. So ask yourself this: how well-defined is the voice you’re trying to write in? Vague terms like ‘older consumers’ or ‘affluent consumers’ don’t give you much to go on, so when you try to write for them it’s going to end up sounding more than a little like you.
This is where detailed audience profiles come in handy. Your content strategy should include tight definitions of who you’re writing for, which of their needs you’re trying to fulfil and what kind of style and language they respond to. Get a handle on all that and you can start to ensure that all your content strikes the right chord, thereby maximising engagement and boosting the chances of it being shared.
How to define a target audience
Need to start from scratch? First up, analyse your current customers. Build a database that covers details like gender, age, location, interests and media habits (that one’s important – more of that in a moment). Then broaden it out. Who else would you like to reach? What problem does your product or service solve, and who else suffers from it? It’s harder without CRM information, but try to do the same job for your target customers as you did for your existing ones. If you have the budget, research agencies and social analysis tools can really help here.
Now you’re building up an extensive picture of your existing and prospective customers, and you’ll be able to mine it for information when you come to develop and fulfil writing briefs. It’ll help you to gauge your target audience’s lifestyle, what drives their decision-making and what their needs and motivations are. And if you’ve got good information about their media habits, it’ll also give you a steer on what kind of writing they respond to.
Tailoring your writing doesn’t just mean knowing who you’re writing for – it also means what mood you’re trying to catch them in
Before you start writing
With your audience profiles in place, break your writing jobs down by purpose, by platform and by specific target if relevant (for example: the brand as a whole might be targeting affluent food fans in the London area, but your piece might be focused on the sub-section of that group with kids). Tailoring your writing doesn’t just mean knowing who you’re writing for – it also means what mood you’re trying to catch them in, what you want them to do, and where they’re likely to be reading. Will they be tired after work and in need of light relief, or will they be looking for a long read over breakfast on a Sunday morning?
Got all that in place? Good. Now try to find out what kind of content and language your target responds to in those circumstances. By now, you might know intuitively, or from trawling reams of social posts. If not, take a close look at the kind of things they read, or try using social analysis tools to identify groups of commonly-used words. It’s difficult to do this super-scientifically without spending serious money, but you can get some useful pointers.
You should archive everything you do in this stage in a tone of voice guide. If you’re an agency, you should have one of these for each client (if they haven’t provided one, make one), and if you’re a business, you should have your own.
Weird tip: If you need to adopt a completely new style, some writers find it helps to sit down and literally copy out a piece that uses it. We don’t know why that one works – and it doesn’t for everyone – but it’s worth a try.
Maintaining the right voice while writing
Do whatever you need to do to keep the target voice front of mind. Compiled a mood board based on your target customer? Sit in front of it. Got a word cloud of the kind of language they use? Put it next to your laptop or pin it to the wall. Play the kind of music your target likes. Right before you put pen to paper, spend half an hour reading the kind of things they read. Try a load of different things and see what works. But – cardinal rule of writing – don’t sit for hours trying to fine-tune every single sentence into the perfect voice. Write as fluently as you can, and accept that some of you will probably creep in. That’s what reviews and revisions are for.
Remember to log anything you learn in the writing and revision process in the tone of voice guide, so the process will be easier next time and other members of staff will be able to pick up where you left off.