I recently walked past a billboard sporting an advertisement for a law firm. It screamed: “2900 lawyers. 43 countries.” It then displayed the name of the firm.
All I could think of was: “Wow. Who cares?”
If I wanted personalised service, this definitely was not the firm for me. Admittedly, I’m probably not their target market. No doubt, their message is best suited to global clients who want access to their firm’s lawyers in Abu Dhabi, Bogota and Piraeus. Fair enough.
However, I see this mistake being made by small business owners, most of whom are not appealing to a global audience. For example, I recently heard a coach introduce herself at a networking event with: “I’m a life coach, and am part of a network of 1100 coaches around the world.” This proud statement was also prominently displayed on her business card and website.
Well, you know what? If I want a life coach, I probably want one that I’m going to build a relationship with. Life coaching is an intimate relationship where you talk about your personal goals, dreams and challenges. Chances are that I’m never going to want to speak to any of the other life coaches in this extensive network.
This life coach may have been better off stating something like: “I’m a life coach, and I help people who are in a rut to achieve their goals and feel happier about their lives.” If she has a niche market, she might even say: “I’m a life coach and I help mothers who are returning to work get the job they want without feeling guilty about leaving their family at home.”
Whether you are speaking to someone or writing material for your website or brochures, the key is to clearly understand who you want to appeal to. In fact, this is the step that most people leave out. But it’s a vital factor in ensuring that your communication is on target. So what should you do?
1. Clearly define your reader
You need to be clear on who your reader is. To do this, ask yourself who your target customer is. Please don’t say that you want to appeal to everyone and that you want everyone to buy your product/services. Taking the ‘spray and pray’ approach is nowhere near as effective as a ‘sniper’ strategy. If you identify your target, you’ll hit them.
Take the time to determine whether your target customer is male or female, their age, income level, interests, geographic location and any other kind of demographic data that can help you picture who they are.
2. Give your target customer a name
You read that correctly. Give your target customer a name and visualise who they are. When you are writing marketing material, picture that person and write directly to them.
If you have products/services that appeal to different demographic groups, that’s ok. Simply use different customer profiles.
For example, I run the Sydney Writers’ Centre in Milsons Point. When I’m writing marketing material for our magazine writing course, I’m writing to ‘Sarah’, who is 35. She’s likely to have experienced a professional career in the corporate world, either currently, or she may have recently taken some time out to have kids.
However, when I write marketing material for our seminar on how to write a business book, I’m picturing Michael, 45, an entrepreneur who is likely to be a consultant or speaker. He wants to write a book to showcase his expertise.
3. What do your customers really want?
You need to take the time to think about your customers’ hopes, fears, objections and goals – and write your material accordingly.
Often, we are too preoccupied with telling our customers about how fabulous our products/services are that we are not addressing what they really want to know. Imagine the main questions or concerns that your customers are likely to raise and address these issues in the material you are writing. Otherwise, your potential customer is left with unanswered questions, leaving them frustrated. Not only that, you then end up with time-consuming phone or email queries to answer.
4. Features versus benefits
I see so many websites that list the features of a product/service and not the benefits. This drives me nuts. Remember when iPods first came on to the scene? An MP3 player was a new concept to many people. But Apple nailed it by focusing on the benefits, not the features. It could have highlighted the specifications of the iPod like this: “128-Kbps AAC encoding; in 256-Kbps AAC format, song capacity is up to 10,000 songs; actual capacity varies by encoding method and bit rate.”
Instead, it focused on the benefits to the consumer: “10,000 songs in your pocket”.
Such a simple message – but so powerful.
What can you do to create more powerful messages to your target customers?
Valerie Khoo is Managing Director of the Sydney Writers’ Centre in Milsons Point, Sydney. As one of Australia’s leading centres for writing training, the centre runs short courses to help people write with confidence and improve their business communication skills. Valerie is also Ambassador for the Best Australian Blog Awards.