The truth about why it’s important to focus on your reader

Meet Arthur

Arthur has retired. He has enough money to get everything he needs but not much more. Even though his house is small, he’s finding it difficult to keep his home as clean and tidy as he’d like. He also knows sometimes he forgets to do things like putting the bins out. Two flyers have come through his letter-box this week causing Arthur to believe he may have the answer to his problem. But who will get his business?

Service with Sparkles? A nationwide business providing thoroughly security-checked and efficient cleaning staff. A number of local cleaners means someone will always be available to visit, but keeping an assigned cleaner can’t be guaranteed. You can sign up now for a reputable service, with easy payment and contact options available.

Barbara Smith? A reliable and local cleaning lady with years of experience and personal references available on request. She’ll come at a time to suit you, no job is too small, and she’s confident she can accommodate flexible appointments. Call Barbara to talk through your needs, she’ll be happy to pop round and chat about what she can do.

Now, Service with Sparkles is an attractive proposition. Having the staff checked, and cleaners available at short notice, may be essential for a busy household not often at home at cleaning time. But not for Arthur.

Different payment and contact options may be helpful for a harried executive who’s managing work and home. But not for Arthur.

Arthur values reliability and appreciates being able to get feedback from people he knows. He’d like to get to know the person coming to his house and be confident of a friendly face. This is a small job with short visits which may not happen every week; that won’t be enough for Service with Sparkles, will it? But Arthur likes the sound of Barbara.

Each flyer is effective in their own way, speaking to the client they want to attract.

So how do you do that? I’ll give you some steps to take you through the process of identifying your audience so you can engage the readers you want.

Why are you reading this?

First, I need to think about You… What are you trying to write that is making you seek advice?

Maybe you read my previous blog Top Tips for Better Business Writing and are interested in how understanding your audience will help you improve your writing.

I expect you have a wish to produce writing which will motivate your readers. You’ll do this by making the reader your focus, and by using language to which they’ll respond.

You may be writing a letter to a customer, the words for your new website, or a report to send to internal business contacts. Whatever the text, it’s important to remember that the audience will determine both your aim and the language you use.

Don’t forget Arthur… He wasn’t wowed by words like efficient or reputable, he wanted to see friendly and reliable.

The Known Reader

When you know your reader, the recipient of an email or the project team reviewing your documentation, it is relatively easy to keep them in mind while you write.

Even so, it is worth taking time to consider what their priorities are and ensure that your writing will provide them with that.

If your communication is intended to deliver information, your focus must be on why the audience is interested. Then make sure the material is covered in a way that satisfies the readers’ requirements.

Although you have an existing knowledge of your reader, the following section will still be helpful. It will guide you to consider your readers’ aims and priorities, putting these at the forefront of your writing.

The Unknown Reader

Sometimes we need to communicate with a broader audience. You may be writing:
– Flyers
– Blogs
– Web pages
– Company reports

These pieces will go out to a readership who, possibly didn’t ask for them, and may have no reason to engage with what’s in front of them.

The way to hook your reader is to convince them you’ve written this for them; your communication is relevant and it will benefit them to read further.

This only works if you understand your reader’s interests.

Again, let’s go back to Arthur. If he’d only had one flyer that week – from Service with Sparkles – would he have contacted them? I’m not sure he would. The suggestion of regular help around the house might resonate with his concerns, but the rest of the offering might put him off rather than pulling him in.

To understand what your reader wants, make sure you know who your reader is. Or who you want them to be!

You don’t have to write to appeal to everyone.  You need to appeal to the readers who you want to act on the communication.

Whether it’s an internal customer or potential client, identify the person you would like to follow up and write for them.

How to build a simple profile

Whether your reader is known or unknown, a simple task to focus your thinking is to create a reader profile.

Consider what makes your reader tick, and this will allow you to direct your attention to their concerns.

Things to consider:

  1. Are there common characteristics of your ideal clients?
    Age? Gender? Location? Employment or Role?
  2. What does your reader want more of in their lives?
    Money? Time? Fun?
  3. What does your reader want less of?
    Pressures on time? Financial worries?
  4. What are your reader’s characteristics?
    Thoughtful? Careful? Proactive? Shy? Confident?
  5. Is your client a ‘head’ person or a ‘heart’ person?
    Will it be logic or emotion which engages them?

Try to answer as many of these questions as you can, and maybe think of more.

The act of putting yourself in your audience mindset will provide you with the best insight into how to engage with them.

Maybe you’ve been through the questions above and, having considered your customer’s profile, you choose not to put anything in writing. That’s ok, but many people find that creating something physical helps to concentrate their work.

If these are notes you’re likely to come back to (often our communications speak to the same audience) then you could keep them in a notebook.

When writers are spending a significant period writing for one specific audience they might create a profile, including a name and a picture, which is visible at their desk as they work.

blog reader profile

Remember why we’re doing this

There are two specific advantages of the work we’ve done here.

One advantage of this understanding of our reader is being able to use their priorities to focus our message. We can ensure the benefits we communicate relate directly to the desires of our audience. I’ll spend more time looking at how we identify these benefits in my next blog.

The last thing I want to look at here is how our new knowledge can guide the language we use in our communication.

Back in my first blog Welcome to my Blog I mentioned the skill of translating English to English.

Writing must be in the language of the reader if it is to engage.

As a specialist in your area, it would be easy to fill pages with information or ideas which you – and people whose interests are like yours – can understand and connect with. But, often, those who are reading your words don’t have the same level of understanding as you and might be put off when they feel their lack of understanding puts them out of reach of your offering.

Have you seen documents, websites, or marketing literature, written by technical experts which make you feel inferior when reading them?  Maybe this is because you weren’t part of the audience the communication was intended for. But, probably, this is because the author hadn’t considered who the text was going to be read by, and instead they wrote for themselves.

Use what you now know of your readership to influence your writing.

Arthur wanted to know local customers would recommend Barbara, not that she had been security-checked by a nationwide organisation. He was swayed because she was happy to take on small jobs, not because he could pay over the telephone.

By knowing which customers she wanted to work with, and what was important to them, Barbara created a flyer which appealed to members of a community who wanted support as much as cleaning and who would value her relationship as much as her skills.

Over to You

Now you can build a better understanding of your audience, your communication will capture their interest and draw them in.

I hope this has shown you why understanding your reader is so important.

Let me know how you get on with this. I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on what’s written here.