KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE TO WRITE MORE EFFECTIVELY
Know your audience — it’s one of the first rules of copywriting. (Not to be confused with picturing your audience naked. That’s reserved for the public speaking domain…).
Why is it so important? It comes down to making connections with your intended readers. You wouldn’t walk into a university library and start singing at the top of your lungs. (At least we hope not!) And you probably wouldn’t talk to a group of primary schoolkids using a bunch of scientific jargon. You’d find a way to make your topic accessible to them, putting it into words that they’d understand.
That’s the key with good copywriting too. It isn’t about your capabilities or stylistic preferences as a writer; it’s about using language that will connect with the people who you want to read the piece.
Defining your audience
When thinking about your audience, don’t make assumptions. And don’t generalise either.
Knowing your audience means going beyond demographics such as age or gender. Dive deeper and think about values and motivations. What does your audience care about? Why would they take the time to read your copy? What will drive them to take action? What, if any, knowledge do they already have about your topic?
Consider what type of language will be appealing to readers. (This is also a key consideration for organisations when refining their brand tone of voice.) Will pop culture references make people LOL, or go right over their heads? Do people like when you write with familiar, casual terms and slang or do they expect a level of formality?
Think in terms of real people
It also helps to not just think about your audience generally. Think about actual people, individuals who will – hopefully – read and be moved by your copy. Writing an appeal for a non-profit? Think about your Aunt Maggie who’s made monthly donations to a cause she cares about for decades. What kind of language would connect with her? Writing B2B copy for busy marketing professionals? Consider what a full day looks like for someone working in that industry. What content is already landing in their inbox? And what would it take to grab their attention?
Picturing a real person can help you write more naturally (which means more effectively, too).
Ways to get deeper audience insights
Truly understanding your audience is easier said than done, but it pays off to put some time and effort into creating a holistic picture of the people who you want to read your copy.
The above tips can help copywriters get a more comprehensive view of their audience when starting an assignment. From a broader perspective, there are many different ways businesses and organisations can better understand their target market (and then pass those insights on to their freelance writers, of course…). These include:
- Running focus groups to get a variety of perspectives
- Conducting an online survey
- Asking for direct feedback on social media
- Measuring content effectiveness online
- Creating personas for different audience segments.
Want to make sure people read your copy? Whatever the medium – print, web, social – start by thinking about your audience first.
It was a summer battle – poppies instead of mud, although the trenches were flooded. About 900 people live in Fromelles today where, between the 19th and 20th July 1916, nearly 8,500 men were killed, wounded or missing – 5,533 Australians. These are as many as the total of Australian casualties in the Boer War, Korean War and Vietnam War put together, many straight from Gallipoli and 1,547 British soldiers – fighting a Bavarian division that included a 27-year-old corporal, a house painter in civilian life, called Adolf Hitler.
Brigadier General ‘Pompey’ Elliott called it a ‘tactical abortion’ and tried to have the attack cancelled, but it was only delayed. A surviving officer later wrote that he would ‘always have before my eyes the picture of ‘Pompey’… the morning after Fromelles, tears streaming down his face, shaking hands with the pitiful remnant of his brigade.’
It was a feint and a failure, concealed for years and had no impact on the Somme offensive although it was fought to stop German troops from reaching the Battle of the Somme, 50 miles to the south. The same ground had been fought over a year earlier with 11,000 British casualties.
The Germans buried the dead Australian and British soldiers behind their lines, but it was so overgrown that no one could find the burial ground after the War. However an amateur historian and art teacher from Melbourne, Lambis Englezos, was convinced he could find out what had happened there and he researched and lobbied the government until, in 2008, eight mass graves were found next to Pheasant Wood.
The bodies were exhumed the following year and in 2010 Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Cemetery, designed by Barry Edwards, was dedicated. This was the first war cemetery to be built by the War Graves Commission in 50 years. There the machine-gunned remains of 250 patriotic soldiers lie in dignity and 144 Australians now have a name.
Gerard Delannoy, now nearly 80, stops every day at the grave of 16-year-old Cecil Morgan, picturing him and imagining his own son in the slaughter. He meets and makes friends with visiting Australians and takes them home for lunch. He has just sent me the program of a concert held last night in a neighbouring village where the choir sang Advance Australia Fair, Botany Bay and By the Boab Tree.
Monsieur Delannoy has visited Australia twice himself and he told me about Martial Delebarre, OAM, a foundation member and President of the Souvenir de la Bataille de Fromelles 19/20 Juillet 1916. Delebarre’s grandfather fought at Verdun and when he was growing up used to play in the fields and bring home such a quantity of shrapnel and shells that he was nicknamed the ‘Fieldmouse’. His family has lived in the area since the 14th century and he set up the first museum in the Town Hall, until the publicly funded museum, where even the trenches and no man’s land have been recreated, opened in 2014.
In the centre of the Memorial Park stands Peter Corlett’s sculpture ‘Cobbers’, based on Sergeant Simon Fraser and dedicated to the compassion and courage of the men who fought and fell. A replica can be seen in Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance.
Every morning the village school, called ‘l’Ecole des Cobbers’, rings a Freedom Bell cast in Australia in memory of the 5th Division soldiers. The school also has two clocks, one showing the time in France and the other in Melbourne plus a kangaroo weather vane. There are poppies painted on letterboxes all over town and the Australian flag flies by the side of the French flag.
This year, as part of the Centenary Commemoration of the Battle of the Somme, the Birralee Choir sang while volunteers helped with 5000 Australian charity poppies. There was also an overwhelmingly poignant and moving installation of 26,500 hand-knitted poppies by sustainable landscape garden designer Phillip Johnson.
There is some corner of a foreign field that is forever Australia.
People enjoy humour, it’s part of the human psyche. The desire to laugh and be happy are shown to improve productivity, success and lifespan. Also it is widely agreed that laughing is part of human bonding. With this information in mind wouldn’t it make sense to employ humour in your content to improve it and gain appeal, creating a bond with your audience.
The simplest way to do this is through puns. One of the best wordsmiths in the world so far, William Shakespeare, was incredible at this. Many people are capitalizing on this – I mean we all do don’t we? People consume humorous content all the time – this can be seen through the popularity of Buzzfeed and The Onion.
My personal favourite punny content is a webshow called ‘Whine About It’: a show in which Matt, the host, gets drunk drinking wine at his desk and whines about things. It’s a perfect mix for me – humour and complaining. Upwards and onwards, here are five steps for you to include satire, hilarity and cleverness in your writing to engage your readers and consumers.
Consider your choice of words carefully and think about how they sound and how they play together. For example, at The Copy Collective we are always trying to make our social media more engaging. “A gift from a grateful client, heads up Dominique greatly enjoys grapes of the red variety, Maureen’s muse is more of the Moët kind” was a post we put up recently with an image of wine from a client. Something as simple as alliteration can take an ordinary sentence and make it magical.
When talking about a story or explaining something, compare it to something that’s completely different i.e., an oxymoron. To quote Oscar Wilde, “I can resist everything but temptation” or Andy Warhol, “I am a deeply superficial person”. The simplicity of an oxymoron can really boost any content in both how clever it is and its humour.
In my experience some of the best jokes are my worst jokes, although my friends may not agree with this, obviously they’re wrong. Making people groan is just as satisfying as making people giggle. For example, every opportunity I have to say, “Hi hungry, I’m Rachel” I will. It’s just like with media; there’s no such thing as bad press, all press is good. The same goes for puns.
It’s all well and good to throw in an odd joke here and there but you will upset readers when every single thing they read is a joke. They’ll stop taking you seriously and the comedy will lose its value. Be strategic, hit them when they don’t know it’s coming and make it good.
Isn’t that the point of comedy, to have fun, enjoy yourself, and make people laugh? So be funny in your writing, be clever and most of all be creative.
I’ll leave you with this: A person walks into a bookstore, “Where’s the self-help section?” they ask the clerk. The clerk shrugs and replies, “If I tell you, won’t that defeat the purpose?” – Anonymous
“The Great Barrier Reef is in grave danger” – David Attenborough
Larger than the Great Wall of China, and the only living thing on earth visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef almost escapes description. Its scintillating beauty, whether photographed, filmed, or for those lucky enough, glimpsed up-close and underwater, is a testament to the vast diversity of life with which we share our planet.
And now we face a future without it.
It probably won’t be news to you that the Reef’s destiny hangs in the balance. Whether it’s reports of the potential impacts of coal mine developments, 2016’s global coral bleaching event, or UNESCO’s admonishment of Australia’s efforts to protect perhaps our best known World Heritage area, there’s a lot to keep up on.
Here’s a rundown of three key recent developments:
Legal challenge to Adani coal mine relaunched
A well-publicised court case, led by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), has sought to challenge a huge coal mining development proposed for Queensland’s Galilee Basin. The basis being that burning coal and climate pollution is inconsistent with international obligations to protect the Reef.
Adani’s Carmichael mine, if built, would be one of the largest coal mines in the world and would release more CO2 emissions annually than Bangladesh with its population of 160 million.
The ACF has argued that then federal environment minister Greg Hunt failed to consider the impact of emissions and climate change on the Reef when making his decision to approve the mine.
Threatened ‘In danger’ listing by UNESCO World Heritage Committee
Coal developments proposed by the Queensland government led to a warning from UNESCO in 2012 that the Reef risked being listed as a World Heritage site ‘in danger’. The UN body urged Australia to reconsider a coal terminal and port developments proposed on the Reef’s doorstep.
UNESCO has been closely monitoring progress since their initial warning, including an official visit to Australia. In 2015, UNESCO decided against listing the Reef, but said it would closely monitor conservation progress over the next four years.
On 26 September, Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad met with UNESCO officials in Paris to discuss how the state government has progressed in protecting the Reef Amendments to tree-clearing laws that failed to pass parliament. The amendments were intended to reduce polluting land and agricultural runoff, one of the major ongoing threats to Reef health. Tree clearing has more than tripled in Queensland in recent years.
UNESCO said the status of this promise to strengthen land-clearing laws would be reflected as “significantly delayed” in future reports on the Reef. The commitment forms part of the Federal and Queensland government’s Reef 2050 plan.
Worst coral bleaching in history
Adding to pressure on the reef from development and pollution, a strong El Niño heralded what is widely regarded as the worst global bleaching event ever recorded in 2016. Ninety-three per cent of the Reef has been affected, with almost a quarter of its coral killed this year alone.
Some scientists believe it may now be too late for the Reef.
Others hold onto hope, but with the cool pragmatism of those who comprehend the scale of the task ahead. As Attenborough has said, “the resilience of the natural world gives you great hope really. Give nature half a chance and it really takes it and works with it. But we are throwing huge problems at it.”
Attenborough has seen first-hand the impact of these problems. The Reef he first visited 60 years ago was a very different place to today, having lost around 50 per cent of its coral cover in the 27 years between 1985 and 2012 alone.
Current efforts are not enough to save the Reef. More needs to be done, and quickly. Climate change is happening faster than predicted, and other human threats to the Reef like pollution and development continue to grow.
For freelance copywriters, versatility is crucial. Like many freelancers, I’m often switching gears. On any given day, I may be writing pithy B2C web copy in the morning before drafting a long-form industry white paper or annual report in the afternoon.
Adaptability is essential in terms of writing for different formats and channels.
It’s also essential in terms of whom you write for.
Being versatile allows you to round out your freelance writing portfolio (and your job options). But if you’ve been working in the corporate or commercial space, how do you transition to writing for non-profit organisations? And vice versa?
You can write for both if you think about what corporate/commercial and non-profit communications have in common: It’s all about them (the target audience), not you (the organisation).
Focus on the benefit and impact, no matter who you’re writing for
We’ve all had a chat with that person — you know, the one who rambles entirely about themselves and never asks any questions. That self-centred focus is just as off-putting in communications as it is at a cocktail party.
Compelling writing for any client — corporate, consumer-facing, non-profit or otherwise — is audience focused.
For corporate and commercial writing, that means communicating the benefit. Instead of talking entirely about a new product or service offering, write about how it can help. What business problems will it help users solve? Or how will it make consumers’ lives easier?
Likewise, when writing for non-profit clients, emphasise the impact that your target audience can make (or already has). What fundamental issues does your target audience care about, and how can they make a difference? Go beyond talking about who the organisation is; focus on the outcomes and benefits through compelling storytelling.
Understand your target audience
Effective copywriting for any client reflects a deep understanding of the target audience (more on that to come in a later post).
If you’re looking to diversify your work as a freelance copywriter, realise that your experience in one sector can help you write for another. If you keep your audience in mind (and avoid that cocktail party sin of only talking about yourself), you can write anything.
A brand is more than a logo and signature style for communications. It’s also what people think about your organisation. In this way, a brand is alive. It’s constantly being recreated in real-time based on people’s perceptions.
For your organisation to succeed, you want to ensure that those perceptions align with your own beliefs about who you are and what you stand for.
Your brand voice plays a key role in achieving this. But how do you finesse your brand voice? And what is brand voice anyway?
Identifying your brand’s personality
Your tone of voice helps your brand become memorable, meaning that how you say something is just as important as what you say — and sometimes even more so.
But how do you make sure you’re consistently using an authentic and effective tone of voice?
Start by thinking about your brand voice as an extension of your organisation’s personality. If your brand were a person, how would you describe them? Humble and wise? Cheeky? Direct? Friendly and approachable? Compassionate?
Establishing personality traits helps you set parameters. If confidence is one of your company’s main traits, then your tone of voice may be bold, assertive and direct. If you consider your organisation to be visionary, then your tone may be uplifting and aspirational. A bit lofty even.
Guiding questions for refining your brand voice
Clearly personality and tone go hand in hand. But there are other factors to consider as well.
As you continue to refine your brand voice, here are some guiding questions to consider:
- What type of language will resonate with your key audiences? Casual language, including slang? Or more formal language?
- How do personality and tone impact the cadence of your written communications? Are sentence fragments ok to use? Or are you more academic?
- Are you conversational in your content, using ‘we’, ‘our’ and ‘you’, for example? Or do you strictly write about your organisation in the third person?
- Do you use contractions in written communications? (This links back to your target audience as well as the level of formality you’re aiming for.)
- How do you/your employees naturally speak about your organisation? How can this organic approach be captured in your written communications?
Making your organisation distinct through your unique brand voice
Finessing your brand voice means delving deeper than questions of style, such as punctuation preferences. It’s about communicating in a way that helps you effectively connect with your target audience and stand out from the crowd at the same time.
Although spring has just arrived here in Australia, winter is coming for our friends in the northern hemisphere.
“I’d never get anything done if I worked from home”.
People say that to me a lot. And to be honest, it’s how I feel all too often. There are sooooo many other things I could be doing around here, instead of hitting my desk and tapping out a thousand words on the inner workings of superannuation.
And it’s never harder than in winter.
It’s comfy, warm and cosy in bed. It’s so chilly out there that I don’t want to move. Seriously, where’s the incentive to get up and write? Especially when I could get away with leaving the work for another day.
But as any freelancer knows, drag your heels today and suddenly you don’t have time for the lucrative, urgent job that comes in tomorrow…
So here (from one reformed procrastinator to another) are five pro tips for freelancers on winter productivity.
Work to your own rhythm
Possibly the best thing about freelancing is that it doesn’t matter when you do the work, as long as you get it done. Instead of forcing yourself to keep conventional hours, you’ll be most effective if you tap into your body’s tempo and work when you’re most alert – whenever that is.
So if you’re not a morning person – or you’re only a warm weather morning person – go ahead and have that lie-in. Work from midday until 8 pm. Work late into the night, when all your nine-to-five friends are tucked up in bed. Working with The Copy Collective lets you do whatever suits you best – but do make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
Do something first to get you going
The chillier it is, the longer it seems to take to get the brain firing. Some winter mornings, it can feel like you just don’t have a coherent word in you.
Doing something else vaguely productive (like house chores, paying bills or hacking at something in the garden) can help wake you up and give your brain – and your confidence – a boost before you sit down to work.
I’m very sorry, but I’m going to use the ‘e’ word. Every motivational post you ever read will tell you how much ‘exercise’ helps with body and brain function ‘blah blah blah’ – and that it’s especially important in winter (when you’re more inclined to hibernate).
But wake-up exercise doesn’t have to mean sweating. Getting outside for a half hour walk (even if you’re bundled under numerous layers of wool and a waterproof sheet) really can help to clear out the cobwebs. Honest.
Make yourself comfortable
Fact: cold fingers don’t type well. And it’s pretty hard to focus on work, when you are shivering. So before you start work each day, put the heater on, dig out the old-lady lap rug and make sure your office is a comfortable place to work.
Oh, and don’t forget to compensate for the shorter, grey days with some extra lighting so you don’t feel like you’re working in a cave.
If you’re really struggling with motivation, there are some great apps out there to help you form better habits and stick to them (I love Habit List for iOS).
Obviously an app can’t generate willpower out of thin air. However a good tool can help you track how you’re doing, build a more productive lifestyle and keep the inspiration flowing on those chilly, darker winter days when your bed looks so very inviting.
It can be daunting. That blank screen glaring, the blinking cursor taunting you and a deadline looming. Returning to work as a writer after a break is a bit like getting back to the gym after an indulgent holiday. You may need a few extra minutes to get out of bed, but you know you’ll feel better once you’ve just done it.
So, whether you’ve been on a globetrotting getaway or taking time off for parental leave, here are a few pointers for sharpening your copywriting skills when you return to work.
Allow some extra time.
Give yourself plenty of time to warm up. Plan extra time for assessing your brief, conducting any necessary research, brainstorming, writing and reviewing. That way if your writing muscles seize up, you have a bit of a buffer.
Ask for input.
Just like grabbing a spotter for the bench press, ask someone you trust to read your copy before you submit it. A second opinion can be invaluable (regardless of whether you’re returning to writing after a break or not).
You’ve heard it here before – reading is essential to effective copywriting. Especially if you’ve been reading nothing but tourist websites (or in my case, stacks of rhyming baby books!), then carve out a few extra minutes each day to read. It could be the newspaper, industry magazines, fiction – anything to stir up the stagnant words in your head and help you find your rhythm again. Even reviewing the TCC Style Guide can help.
Get back to basics.
Focus on the fundamentals of good writing. Who is the intended audience? What is the goal of the communication piece? You won’t feel overwhelmed by the task at hand if you keep best practices in mind.
Hey, you’ve done this before! Every experience enriches your writing, so leverage that time you spent away from the screen while reminding yourself you’ve got it covered.
Sometimes a break from the gym can be just the thing you need to push yourself harder when you return. And the same can go for writing. So, if you’ve taken a hiatus, whether for family, work or play, follow the above tips to fire up your writing muscle memory. You’ll be back in top copywriting shape in no time.
Why tone of voice matters
The way something is said is described as the tone of voice. In content writing, it is a product of the words you choose and the structure of your sentences.
Tone of voice reflects personality and for organisations it is integral to their brand — just as much as their logo.
Tone of voice enables organisations to:
- stand-out from their competitors
- communicate their personality and values
- attract and keep customers.
Developing tone of voice
It takes time to identify and develop an organisation’s tone of voice — its values and personality must be carefully considered.
Here are some steps you can take:
- Talk to stakeholders: How do your employees, suppliers and customers perceive your organisation? Is it serious and formal or casual and laid-back? Which of your competitors’ voices do they like or dislike?
- Audit your content: This can be a mammoth task, even for a small organisation, but it is worth the effort. Review website pages, brochures and proposal templates, etc. Is the tone of voice consistent throughout? Do parts clash with what you are trying to achieve?
- Review your brand: Tone of voice is part of your overall brand. Does it match the image your organisation projects? It should. So, if your website’s home page depicts serious people doing serious things, of course, fluffy, colloquial language is not appropriate.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of altering the tone of voice for different market segments. After all, shouldn’t we, like chameleons, mirror our audiences? Yes, but tone of voice must be consistent. Instead, it’s content that should change (blog posts or white papers, for example). When an organisation is inconsistent with its tone of voice, it can be perceived as ‘fake’.
Set some rules
For this reason, consistent tone of voice is important. But, when several people are producing content, this can be difficult to achieve.
It pays to set some rules.
The Copy Collective established a style guide. For example, we don’t use question marks in a blog post’s main headline; we also spell out numbers below 10 unless associated with measurements.
A style guide can also include:
- Values: For example, it may state: ‘When we write, we are always friendly, polite and helpful.’
- Language: Which words should you use or avoid? For example, for a friendly tone, your style guide may instruct writers to use ‘you’ and ‘we’. If you are an IT support company, it may advise avoiding technical jargon, which could confuse and intimidate customers.
What is your organisation’s personality? What are its values? Make sure you communicate clearly with a consistent tone of voice.
Thank you customer. You have been charming, friendly, clear in your brief, demanding, unreasonable, confused and ignorant. Sometimes you are the good fairy of those things; sometimes the other and sometimes all in turn. Sometimes you pay your bills on time; most often you need a friendly reminder.
But, together, with the help of some amazing writers, editors, interviewers, transcribers, designers and project managers, we’ve produced great things.
We’ve progressed international trade, we’ve made information available to millions of people about putting a roof over their heads, food on their tables, wine to gladden their hearts and religion to save their souls. We’ve helped save dying children, pursued better treatments for cancer, blindness, deafness and spinal injury. We’ve helped save the planet – including the whales, wallaroos and wombats. We’ve educated and entertained. We’ve celebrated growth and development and grieved over destruction. Our words, through you, have become heralds of hope, iterations of innocence and cornerstones of creativity.
Together, we’ve created miracles, one of which is a million dollar business. Over the years, we’ve paid writers more than $3 million dollars, we’ve paid our share of taxes and kept the energy industry afloat (often burning the midnight oil on your behalf).
Thank you. Thank you for the brief, for the opportunity, for the growth, for the employment and for the sense of satisfaction. Thank you for choosing us.