You've likely heard it a thousand times over by now - if you're going to write, then you need to know exactly who you're writing for. Know your demographic. It's one of the oldest laws of content creation - yet I constantly see people breaking it. That's rather problematic. After all, if you've no idea who your audience is or what they're looking to gain, how are you to provide them with anything meaningful? You can't - one of the most important traits of an engaging writer is that they know exactly who it is they're writing for; they know how to tailor their language to their audience. So how does one go about determining who's on the other side of the keyboard? What's involved in researching one's demographic? More importantly, what can one do if none of that information's being made available to them? Let's discuss.
Who Do You Think You're Talking To?
Knowing your demographic is one of the oldest laws of content creation - yet people constantly break it. pic.twitter.com/ROYYErVFox
-- Northcutt (@northcuttHQ) September 26, 2014
To be honest, demographic research isn't actually all that difficult. It can be a little laborious - particularly if all you want to do is sit down and put your thoughts to paper - but the impressive selection of tools at the disposal of modern content creators makes the process of researching one's niche a breeze. So long as you know your preferred topics, it really just boils down to busywork. For completion's sake, however, we're going to go over a few of the techniques you're going to use. The first thing you should do - before even downloading/purchasing any SEO/demographic tools - is to look at competing blogs, websites, and brands. Who are they writing for? What do you know about the users who most frequently comment on, talk about, and share their posts? Take notes - there's a good chance that those users are the sort of people you're going to target on your own blog. If you're writing for a brand, look into the people who purchase that brand's products and services. Talk to your sales department, and ask them for all the information they can provide about your company's customers. Again, these are likely going to be the most devoted people in your audience. Now it's time to pull out the tools. Although the Internet is positively flooded with demographic insight tools, there are four in particular you're going to want to focus on - Facebook Audience Insights, Google Analytics/Adwords, Alexa, and Demographics Pro. Since a description of these utilities could form an article in and of itself, a fairly comprehensive explanation of all four -technically five, if you count analytics and adwords as separate entities- with respect to their role in content marketing can be found here. Last but certainly not least - and here's where things get a little sticky - once you've got all the information marked down about your target demographics, you're going to want to take a bit of time to analyze their personal characteristics - or, as Inc. puts it, psychographics. This includes personality, attitudes, values, interests/hobbies, lifestyles, and general behavior. While some of these traits will be accounted for in your analytics tools, you're nevertheless going to need to do a bit of observation on your own to form a more complete picture. See what I mean? None of what I've described above is terrible difficult, just time consuming. That said; if you want your content to be as high-quality as possible, it's still something you absolutely must do. But what if it's not possible to carry out this research - what if, for one reason or another, demographic data is unavailable to you?
Writing For The Anonymous Audience
The notion of writing without knowing your demographic may sound absurd to some of you, but it certainly can happen - particularly if you're working on a tight schedule or as a contractor. See, the thing is, not everyone's going to go through the necessary motions to determine their target audience. Maybe you've met with a client that doesn't understand demographics. Maybe you're on a tight deadline - such that comprehensive research isn't possible. Or maybe, just maybe, you aren't writing for an audience at all - you're simply throwing content onto the web. None of those sound like ideal situations, but I've found myself in each one at various points in my freelancing career. As for how I dealt with it? Ultimately, I used one of two techniques:
- I drew on my own experience. I thought of friends and relatives who might be interested in what I had to say; acquaintances who I knew were in the same field as my client. How, I asked myself, would I phrase this piece if I were talking to them one-on-one?
- I determined the baseline level of knowledge a customer of the client would have, then tailored the piece to someone with that knowledge. Again, I wrote it as though I were having a face-to-face discussion with them.
Sounds fairly simple, right?
Sounding Off In The Internet's Echo Chamber
It's almost a cliche at this point; the idea that writing without knowing your target market is folly at best. As you've seen here, that isn't entirely true. While truly effective content marketing still requires a thorough knowledge of one's audience, it's entirely possible to write the odd piece that isn't tailored from top to bottom. Just don't make a habit of doing it too often. Image credit: Erika