A Guide to Targeted Writing for Business Audiences

Writing for Your Target Audience

After performing market research and reviewing your customer trends, you’ve finally identified your target audience. So now what? How do you use that information to engage with your company’s target audience in writing?

Writing for an audience is usually as simple as maintaining awareness of them while you write. We tend to communicate differently depending on who we’re talking to; you wouldn’t speak to your grandmother the same way you would a close friend, business partner, or romantic interest.

In the same way, don’t underestimate the importance of knowing your audience and adapting your business writing to fit the people you expect to read it.

Cultural/societal background

Part of your target audience’s identity involves their basic social and cultural circumstances, including:

  • Age
  • Location
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Income level
  • Education level
  • Marital or family status
  • Occupation
  • Ethnic background
  • Religion
  • Political affiliation
  • Native language

Keep in mind that not all of these factors will necessarily apply when writing for business audiences. Some of them may be particularly relevant; an ad for feminine hygiene products will obviously target women exclusively. Those same products, however, probably wouldn’t be marketed specifically on the basis of religion (even if a majority of their consumers are Christian).

For those elements that are relevant to your business, it’s a good idea to keep them in mind as you write. Your target’s location, for example, will affect the type of language and colloquialisms that they use and are used to hearing day-to-day. Different areas might have entirely different terms for things, places and people that you make reference to. For example, depending on which region of the country you happen to be in, soft drinks might be referred to as “pop,” “soda,” or “coke.”

Pop vs Soda vs Coke Chart

This chart shows how the various common terms used to describe soft drinks are distributed across the country: yellow for “pop,” cyan for “soda,” and magenta for “coke.” Photo Credit: AlanMcConchie, PopVsSoda.com

If you use a term or a phrase that your target can’t relate to (whether it’s referencing “pop” on the East Coast or a musical group that broke up before your audience was born), you’re likely to turn them right off.

Conversely, you may find that your target’s societal/cultural background allows you to write in a way that’s likely to resonate with them. In examining how men and women respond differently to ads, for example, women tend to prefer rich detail and emotional appeals while men respond more to simplicity and functionality.

Female Emotional Marketing Example

Advertising targeted towards women often uses emotional language and imagery to appeal to its audience.
Photo Credit: Travis Ulmer

Be careful, however, not to resort to overgeneralized stereotypes. Your Texas-based audience might not appreciate you writing with a thick Southern drawl and making frequent references to country music, guns and cowboy boots; that’s a characterization that doesn’t apply to many Texans, who will likely find this sort of writing quite offensive. Make sure your copywriting is informed by true market research and not just your own preconceptions.

Knowledge and education level

How much education has your target received, and how much do they know about the product, service or business you’re writing about? This is one of the most important things to keep in mind because it directly informs the type of information your ad or document should include.

There are three main types of audiences in writing when dealing with knowledge and education:

  • Lay
    Lay audiences have zero or very little experience with your subject matter. They may require a more basic definition or description of the concepts you introduce to them, explained in simple terms that they can easily understand.
  • Managerial
    These types of business audiences have moderate knowledge, but may need more details to make an educated decision. You can usually assume that they already know the basic terms related to your subject, but providing supporting facts and statistics whenever possible will help to clarify your message.
  • Expert
    Experts are highly educated or have a great deal of knowledge about your product, service or industry. To get them respond, you’ll need to demonstrate that you have as much knowledge of the subject as they do by using a specialized vocabulary and current, up-to-date references that support your claims.
Knowledge Level Audience Writing Examples

These three examples are all related to the same subject matter but tailored to different types of audiences: lay (consumers), managerial (executives) and expert (programmers). Notice how writing for more knowledgeable audiences calls for the use of more advanced terms and details.

A big part of writing for business audiences based on their knowledge is maintaining an appropriate reading level. A more expert-level audience will respond more to technical jargon or complicated references that prove you share their knowledge. A less educated or less knowledgeable lay audience, on the other hand, will feel alienated if the reading level of your marketing is too high.

Values

Your audience has goals and principles—things they want, things they need, and things that are important to them. They might be big, fundamental values, like the health and well-being of their loved ones or financial self-sufficiency. They could also be smaller, more incidental values, such as leisure time or their personal appearance. When you know what these values are, it’s a good idea to try to appeal to them whenever possible.

Say, for example, your audience analysis suggests that the majority of your bicycle shop customers care a lot about finding a bike that’s safe, durable and reliable, and don’t care very much at all if it’s visually attractive or can move at very high speeds.

In this case, instead of focusing on your bicycles’ “cool, sleek appearance” or “thrilling high speeds,” your business writing should emphasize safety and stability—the things your audience values most.

Writing for an Audience That Values Safety

Pain points

In the same way that your audience has things that they want, there are also things that they specifically don’t want. Pain points act as obstacles that might prevent your target from taking action. They could be anxieties, fears, or just something your target audience has a personal distaste for.

When conducting market research, you might discover that the target audience for your gym has a concern about the environment and culture usually associated with gyms–a hot, sweaty room full of intimidating muscleheads. To overcome this pain point, your marketing materials might emphasize luxury and a clean, positive atmosphere by using specific details, imagery and words such as “comfort.”

Writing Example of Addressing Pain Point to Reach Audience

This brochure highlights comfort, elegance and sophistication to overcome the audience’s pain points. Photo Credit: Steve Williams

Similarly to a friendly debate, your business writing should refute your audience’s objections using evidence and emotional appeals that support your argument.

Keeping your purpose in mind

Appealing to your audience in writing is all well and good, but only as far as it supports your business objective. Say you’ve created a print ad that resonates with your age/gender demographic, uses language and terms they can relate to, supports their values and refutes their pain points. Perfect, right?

Well, no. Not if the ad doesn’t also promote the product or service you’re selling. You are in the business of selling, after all, not just making your audience happy. Without an effective call to action and an identification of what it is you’re actually offering, even the most appealing marketing won’t do you much good.

Writing for Audience with No Purpose

This example of business writing is designed to fully appeal to the target audience, but what is it actually selling?

What’s more, not every target audience factor will necessarily be applicable to your company’s marketing. Perhaps your audience values saving money and finding bargains very highly, but if you can’t afford to sell your product at a competitive price, appealing to that value won’t do you much good. In this case, you’d do better to focus on other audience factors that are more appropriate for your business.

Conclusion

Simply knowing your audience isn’t helpful unless you put that knowledge to use. Finding a beneficial balance between your purpose and audience in writing can be challenging, but you’ll need to keep both in mind if you want your message to be persuasive.

Can you think of more tips related to business writing for an audience? Any outstanding examples you can share? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!





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