Pause for applause – Thinking about your audience

‘Think about your audience.’ It’s a top tip for all writers. One of the best.

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Recently, though, I was teaching a small group of people who wanted to improve their websites. ‘Think about your audience’ I said, and they nodded because they were lovely people, and I realised I wasn’t really being very helpful.

What do we mean when we talk about the audience for a website (or a marketing leaflet, or a handbook)? Are they all sitting out there waiting for our show to begin, all excited and hopeful? Will they clap if we tell the right jokes or make them cry?

Probably not.

What do we mean by audience?

Our audience is made up of the people we want to communicate with. It doesn’t include people who stray onto our websites and leave straight away. You don’t have to think about them. Phew.

We do have to think about our audience though: Who they are? Why are they interested in us? How can we attract their attention so they want to talk to us and maybe even spend money with us?

We’re back to the beginning: how do we think about our audience?

What does our audience want?

When someone visits your website they’re looking for something. So you want to know what they’re looking for, and why.

This isn’t about what you want to tell them. It’s about what they want to hear.

But it’s easy. If you pay attention to your customers and clients you probably know who they are and what they want already – and what worries them, and what excites them.

If you run a physiotherapy clinic, what brings people to you? Are they in pain? Do they want to be able to run again on that dodgy knee? Use the stairs without wincing? Are they worried they’ll be spending lots of money for no result? I don’t know, I’m not a physio – but you do.

If you make fruit pies, what do your customers at the street market say when they taste them? What actual words do they use just before they hand over the cash? ‘Ooh, you can taste the spices!’ ‘Mary Berry would be proud of these bottoms!’ ‘That’s dinner sorted!’ Use what you hear to open up a conversation with them on your website, just as you do on the stall.

Why do people want what you offer?

And above all focus on why people want what you offer.

It can be functional: I want a wheelbarrow that won’t tip over.

Or it can go a bit deeper: I want to carry on gardening even though I’m no longer very strong. I don’t want to sit indoors and watch someone else dig my garden.

But what do they really want?

Think hard about what underlies people’s desire or need for what you offer. For example, lots of clients for copywriting want to hire me because they can write but they have no time. Or they need to be sure the words will be right. Or they find writing really scary.

The key words here are ‘no time’, ‘I need to be sure’, and ‘scary’. So in essence what they want from me is reassurance that they can depend on me to give them the right words, and that I’m calm and friendly to deal with.

Tell your audience you can help with what they really want

Here are two companies offering a very similar service. One tells you what it offers. The other talks straight to its audience.


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That second one is a splendid opener. The company goes on to list the services it offers, and its impeccable credentials, but with those 16 words they’ve talked directly to the harassed business owners who love what they do and hate the books. They’ve shown they understood what makes their clients tick, so there’s a good chance they’ll be decent people to work with. If I ran a business in Essex, I’d click on to find out more.