Content that suits your audience

Content marketing is an iterative process: We learn and improve by analyzing the success of the things we produce. That doesn’t mean, though, that we shouldn’t set ourselves up for that success in the first place, and the best way to do that is by knowing what our audiences want before we actually go through the effort to create it. Knowing or anticipating who will be reading what you have written is key to effective writing. Content that suits your audience will go a long way in improving engagement.

Determine your audience

Before you start writing, ask and answer the following questions. These answers will shape the tone and style of your writing.

  • Who is your audience? What are the age, gender, education, occupation, economic status, and political, social, and religious beliefs of the audience for whom you are writing?
  • What is the level or need of knowledge of your audience? Is it a lay audience, an expert audience, a managerial audience, or some other kind of audience? Does your audience need to read a general overview, a detailed treatise, or about particular facts?
  • What is the reading context of your audience? Is the audience going to read this writing as a manuscript, as an Internet blog, or in a newspaper, published report, specialized journal, or popular magazine?

Analyze an audience

Once you have figured out who your audience is, what its level and knowledge needs are, and what the reading context is, then you need to do a careful analysis of the audience. You need to think carefully about its background knowledge, reasons for reading your writing, and potential biases. Answering these questions will help shape what you write, as well as how you present it.

  • What is the background of your audience? How much does it know about your topic? Does it have first-hand experience with the topic, or does it know only what it has read?
  • What are the audience’s reasons for reading your writing? Why do they need to know about the material you are presenting? Is it background information? Is it for making budget or policy decisions? Is the audience looking for evidence of a problem, or is it looking for solutions to a problem?
  • Does the audience have biases about your topic? Does it have strong opinions that are unlikely to change? Alternatively, has the audience recognized the need to reexamine its opinions? Is it open to change?

Writing for an audience

Once you have scoped out your audience, you need to think about the writing itself. What is your purpose? What are the audience’s expectations about the writing? What kind of appeal are you going to make? The answers to these questions will largely be the result of the nature of your audience.

Most important in any piece of writing is to be clear on its purpose. You must be clear in your own mind exactly what your purpose is. You must also clearly convey to your audience what the purpose of the writing is. If you are not clear in your own mind, you cannot convey the purpose to the audience. Even if the purpose of the writing is clear to you, if you fail to convey that purpose to the audience, they will be lost and will turn off.

You need to know your audience’s expectations about the writing. What format is it expecting? Is it expecting a technical piece with many technical terms and definitions? Is it expecting a personal reflection with anecdotes and experiences? An audience expecting technical material will turn off to personal reflections, whereas an audience looking for personal reflections will turn off to technical material.

Most writers try to convince their audience to believe the writing. Even novelists try to convince the audience that their stories are plausible. To do so, writers must appeal to logic, emotion, or some other need. Logic is straightforward, requiring a logical progression of facts that lead to an obvious conclusion. Emotional appeals are less direct and try to elicit such responses as anger, fear, sadness, happiness, love, hope, anxiety, guilt, shame, or jealousy. An audience looking for logic will turn off to emotion; an audience more likely to respond to emotion is unlikely to respond to logic.

In the end, a writer needs to be keenly aware of the audience — of its nature, its context, and its expectations. Misjudging any of these things can result in even technically good writing missing its mark. Writing that misses its mark is not just wasted effort; it is poor writing.