Sharpen your focus and connect with your reader

What’s the difference between this headline:
Clampdown on benefit fraudsters to net £2.5bn
and this one?
Poorest hit hardest by swingeing welfare cuts
The answer? Nothing. Nothing but the point of view, that is. Pick up a selection of newspapers any day of the week and you’ll see the same story told in a dozen different ways. The facts are the same; it’s the slant that differs, making the story seem bold, revolutionary, shameful, wonderful, terrible and amazing. All at the same time. And what has this to do with marketing? Everything. Pull up a chair and get comfortable. When you write anything, there’s always a danger that you’re doing it in a vacuum. You pile up all the facts (just like Mr Gradgrind) and assume that people will pick out the important bits – the stuff that’s ‘obvious’. Except it isn’t. Not to them, at least. And why? Because you wrote for everybody – and ended up writing for nobody. And it’s not just you. It’s lots of people out there, who write as if the people they were writing for weren’t humans but machines. As if they didn’t love, hate, desire, dream and feel. So how do you get around that? Can you?

Max headroom

Increasingly, clients I write for have very clear ideas of who they’re writing for (or if you must, whom). In several cases recently, I’ve been astonished at the level of detail they’ve included in briefs. And it’s very, very effective. As an example, let’s try to imagine what it’s like to write for the following people:
  • Sonia is a lawyer at a small firm in Birmingham who does a lot of family case work. She’s overworked, under-skilled and knows she has a problem when it comes to CPD (continuing professional development). She doesn’t really have the time to dedicate to finding the right training provider, and she’s on a tight budget. So how does she balance quality and value for money?
  • Max works for a magic-circle law firm in London handling international patents. He’s a top fee-earner, and nothing is too good for him, as far as his company is concerned. His time is scarce, and billed out at eye-popping rates, so he needs tailored training that gets results fast. One-to-one webinars, or even in-house sessions. Budget isn’t an issue, but quality is.
And now these:
  • Laura is a high-flying exec at a large multinational with offices in London, Geneva and New York. She heads up international marketing, but it’s a long time since she was hands-on. Instead, she wants bite-sized information – top-level management reports that give her an overview of marketing spend, customer segment breakdown, event attendees, incremental revenue and so on. She needs granular detail on ROI on all IT solutions they consider – including the one she’s reading about. Can she justify the expenditure to the top brass?
  • Brian is a one-man marketing department at a small firm in the Manchester. He knows that IT can streamline their operations, but he’s having a difficult time convincing his colleagues that it can deliver. It’s not the money – after all, they can go for the SME version of the solution, which is moderately priced. It’s the hassle, the learning curve and the resistance to change that he has to overcome.
What do Sonia and Max have in common? Well they’re lawyers, but other than that, they’re very different indeed. Ditto for Laura and Brian. Same basic job, but on vastly different scales. And what do all four have in common? They’re entirely, completely, 100% fictitious. They’re personas, invented for marketing purposes.

The real deal

And why? Well, there’s no mystery. If you know who they are, where they live, how they work, what’s important to them, it makes it easier to write for them. They’re fictitious, but they’re typical of a customer segment. So when you’re describing the training programme or software solution, you can imagine what will appeal to Sonia or Max, to Laura or Brian. It’s exactly the same trick that some authors use when they write a book. They develop detailed profiles for all of their characters, even the most peripheral ones, so they can write more convincingly about them. Incidental details (first car, favourite breakfast cereal, teenage crushes)  that never make it into the book are worked out to make the characters seem more real, and bring them to life inside the author’s head. You probably don’t need to go to that level of painstaking detail, but it certainly helps to imagine a typical reader when you’re writing. If you can take a few moments to close your eyes, and conjure them up, your writing will be fluent, focused and relevant. Point of view is crucial. It’s the difference between copy that works, and copy that doesn’t. Who’s listening to your story? And are they more of a swingeing cuts or courageous clampdowns person? Newspapers know exactly what their readers want to hear – and so should you. So get thinking about that breakfast cereal.