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Targeting Your Audience

06-29-11 Maria Norman

You can’t be everything to everyone: writing to reach your target audience.

There’s a new radio station in Dayton. They claim to be the new alternative station that has something for everyone. The result? There are about three songs out of every twenty that perk up my ears. Otherwise? I have my headphones on.

What’s this have to do with writing? In short, the importance of targeting your audience. If you try to be everything to everyone, people will gloss over most of what you have to say and halfheartedly take in the information they need.

What This Means in the Nonprofit World

I’ll use an example from one my latest projects, which happens to be for the FORGE Your Dot Org nonprofit, American Council of the Blind of Ohio. There was a brochure that they wanted us to rewrite and redesign. They passed out the same brochure to everyone. This was a problem because nonprofits really have two main audiences: the people using their services and the donors that actually fund the services. In response, there are two different objectives: persuade people to use your services or join your organization, and persuade potential donors that their contribution will be put to good use. To solve this problem, I wrote two different versions of the brochure––two separate versions to target each audience. 

What This Means in the Nonprofit Web World

Websites are just like giant brochures, so they still need to have a targeted audience. Just because anyone (with an internet connection) can see your website doesn’t mean you should write to everyone. Let’s make a segue to last year’s FORGE Your Dot Org recipient, Homefull, to prove the point.

Just as the ACBO brochure was structured to reach both the donor and the member, so was the Homefull site; but with an added challenge: reach both audiences in the same medium. With this project, it was important to find balance. The primary purpose was to include positive, warm writing that would encourage people to contact them if they needed their services. The secondary purpose was to include numbers and statistics to show how many people they’ve helped in order to target donors.

What This Means for Content Strategy

Alright, let’s go from the abstract to some specifics that you should watch for in your writing. I’ve compiled a list for you:

  • Avoid jargon and carefully think about what terms your target audience will be looking for (this is where organic SEO comes into play).

  • Don’t include any filler writing just because that’s what the design calls for. This is an important time to advocate for content first, work with the designer to find a way the writing and design can work together, and only include writing that is essential. (Overall, consider a variation of the Golden Rule: If you were a visitor on the site would you consider the writing informative or fluff?)

  • Keep some character. Don’t be afraid to include some personality to create some connections to your brand; include some nods to your target audience.

  • Determine what objectives the visitors of your site will be trying to complete. Make these actions as clear and easy to find as possible. That means including lots of cross links and using strong, precise verbs. In the end, it will all add up to a very usable site.

How To Actually Make it Happen

Here’s an example of how the suggestions above can fit into your workflow:

Step 1: Ask lots of questions in the information-gathering stage. Find the people who know the business/organization best and ask who they are trying to target, how they are trying to target them, and why they’d be visiting the site.

Step 2: Turn this information into personas. Go ahead and give them names, ages, and demographic backgrounds.

Step 3: Figure out what actions the personas would need to complete and create workflows around this. Make sure your site is structured to support these actions.

Step 4: Now write like the wind! Think about each and every word and whether or not it’s meaningful and purposeful to your target audience.

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