Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A is for "audience"

It's a standard writer's trick: when you first set out to fill a blank page with words, begin by imagining who you're writing for. Is it your mother? Your best friend? The professor in that one class you took? It doesn't matter nearly so much who that person in your head is, than it is that you don't make the fatal mistake of writing for yourself. Writing for yourself causes you to make selfish choices. You don't explain your terms. You don't take the time to consider where you might be misunderstood. You don't make any effort to be interesting, and as a result—not in every case, but most often—you will come across as a long-winded, self-indulgent, self-obsessed bore.

I keep coming back to this when I think about content marketing. We all know bad marketing: it's like the salesman in a shop who comes over with a smirk on his face, eager to sell you something and not particularly interested in what you want. Bad marketing articulates the company's position and expects you to care. Bad marketing and bad writing have a lot in common.

Marketing needs to think more about audience, and this has never been more true than today. Everyone's talking about content marketing, and I can promise with 100% confidence that you can't create good content without a clear and constant focus on your audience: what they want, what they need but maybe don't want yet. What are their questions? What do they worry about? Who are they, and what do they aspire to be?

These are audience questions, and answering them involves a choice: we will focus on him, but not her. We will delight her, but not really bother with those guys over there—at least not this year. We will do everything in our power to make this specific sort of person's nostrils flare with enthusiasm the first time he sees our blog or finds us on Twitter or clicks over to our Facebook page, because this is who we have in our head when we think about the people who (eventually) will be equally delighted with our product.

Bad marketing might make a sale if it's delivered in the right place at the right time, but it won't reliably build a relationship. Good content marketing is all about that relationship. In effect, it says: "Don't worry about our product. That's not the point right now. For now, let's just talk." If you can say that with your content marketing—and really mean it—then you can build a relationship, and the sale will come from a foundation of trust.

Every day I see fresh articles on how to form your content marketing strategy, but it's pretty simple, really, and it boils down to a two-step process:

  1. Envision your audience.
  2. Publish content that answers their questions or solves problems in their lives.