Welcome back to our series of articles on the principles of better writing. In our first article we looked at process and motivations behind writing product reviews. In this article we take a step back and look at one of the foundations of writing any copy whether it is a product review, a business to business (B2B) communication, or a business to consumer (B2C) sales letter – the Consumer Profile.
When faced with a new project, some writers’ first reaction is, “Where do I start?” perhaps with a few expletives thrown in for emphasis.
A better question would be, “Who is going to read this and how am I going to persuade them to take action?”
In a face-to-face meeting, or when making a telephone call to a “warm lead”, you will usually have a fair to good idea of who you will be talking to and what would motivate him or her to take action.
When writing sales letters (printed or on-line), electronic direct mail (eDM), Facebook posts, Tweets – in fact most types of marketing “blast” – you don’t have that luxury. The best you can do is use the materials and information provided to create a portrait of your intended reader. I deliberately choose to use the word “reader” rather than “target” as it puts me in a better frame of mind to write an engaging, persuasive and conversational piece rather than something intended to beat the intended recipient into submission.
Different areas of the marketing industry and writing schools refer to this portrait by various names such as a “Buyer Profile”, “Buyer Persona” or some other name involving the words profile or persona. For the purpose of this article I will use the term “Consumer Profile” as the principle is applicable to many forms of communication, not all involving buying, that you want the reader to consume and take action on.
The Consumer Profile goes beyond the purely written Buyer Profile by giving you a visual portrait of the person you will be writing for. This visual portrait helps you stay focused on the copywriting fundamental that you are having a conversation with a person regardless of whether it is for B2B or B2C.
Rudyard Kipling, author and poet, gave us a wonderful tool to help create a Consumer Profile in a poem that accompanies his “Just So Stories: The Elephant’s Child” written circa 1912 which have become known as the “Five Ws (and one H)”
I keep six honest serving-men ;
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.
Have you spotted the discrepancy in Kipling’s words?
The first line of the poem states “six honest serving-men”. What are their names?
No, I didn’t make a mistake, check the original as digitized by Microsoft®. One of them appears twice.
Kipling’s six honest serving-men are going to do some hard work to make our [writing] life easier.
The more information you can gather for the Consumer Profile the easier it will be to write something that will resonate with your reader in a meaningful and engaging way.
The sources of information available for you to create a Consumer Profile will vary from project to project and which market you are writing for.
Many businesses buy or rent mailing lists. Ideally these lists will be “clean”, i.e. the contact details are current, correct and have been collected legitimately.
This example is for the B2C market. A data card for the B2B market is less likely to contain gender or age details and the profile information will be more business oriented such as industry and role or job description.
If you are using an in-house mailing list or an autoresponder database such as Aweber, GetResponse, ConstantContact or MailChimp you will be able to obtain similar information based on the segmentation criteria being used.
If you are working on an existing campaign then you could be in luck, someone may have already created a profile based on customer surveys and questionnaires.
An existing profile should give you basic demographic details and may include more specific information such as education, personal beliefs, views, spending habits and net worth.
Your job is to extract the relevant information and add any new information you can discover that is applicable to the particular campaign you are working on.
These can be a great source of information about what concerns your reader and what problems he or she may be experiencing.
Even if these are for earlier, possibly different, purchases this can tell you about purchasing habits and what is important to your reader.
These are raw sources of information which, hopefully, were analyzed and compiled into an existing profile. Depending on the depth of the questions you can gather a lot of relevant information that will help with your Consumer Profile.
Take these and get an overall view of the personal information provided (the demographics), yes/no questions and more open-ended questions where the customer has been able to express his or her opinions.
Past promotions to the same or similar readers, whether they were successful or abject failures, are a great way to find out what appealed to the readers and what failed to capture their attention.
From the successful campaigns identify what captured the readers’ attention. This is a good indication of what is important to them. Conversely, the failures tell you what the readers consider irrelevant.
Census data and similar reference data can help augment the demographic information available. Much of this is openly available on the Internet.
Do your research using your preferred search engine or even take a trip to the local library. Where results are not from a credible or citable source, use them with caution and discretion.
Whatever you are writing about, someone had to come up with the idea in the first place and determined who he or she saw as potential consumers.
An interview, telephone conversation, email exchange, or chat via Instant Messenger can give you more insight than hours of research.
You’ve gathered all the background information you can, now it’s time to put your “six honest serving-men” to work. It would be great if they were real sets of eyes and hands to help you with the task ahead but let’s roll up our sleeves and get going.
As discussed before, you will have different information available according to the market you are writing for: B2B or B2C. Where applicable I have indicated the differences, otherwise I use the generic term reader or consumer is used.
For B2C this is about the reader as a human being. For B2B this may be limited to the reader’s occupation or job function.
B2C: Assemble the personal demographic information where available
B2B: If possible assemble the same personal demographic information as for B2C
For B2C this is what we know about the reader’s lifestyle and accomplishments. For B2B this is about the reader’s organization.
When did the reader last make a related purchase?
When does the reader intend to make a purchase?
Is there an urgent need or problem that the reader needs solved – now?
What concerns your reader? What are his or her pain points?
What emotions will motivate your reader: fear, greed, pride?
Does he or she have an urgent problem that your product or service can solve?
How does your reader prefer to receive information? Does he or she consume content on the move?
Whether B2B or B2C, this can be affected by demographic factors such as which generation your reader belongs to (Baby Boomer, Gen-X, Gen=Y).
Create different headlines to suit the various media channels your campaign will target:
For some writers a purely textual Consumer Profile is sufficient. Personally, I like to go the extra mile and create a visual portrait. It gets the creative juices flowing and the act of creating the visual portrait burns the reader’s background, wants, needs and desires into my mind so I can “hear” the conversation as I write.
If you are an Adobe® PhotoShop® (or similar) wizard this should be a breeze. I’m far from that so I often end up going “old school” physically doing a “Cut and Paste” exercise with bits of paper.
Unless your demographic is a mix of men and women you should only have one picture of a person.
For B2B choose a picture of a man or woman in business attire. For B2C choose a picture that depicts the appropriate demographic.
The more accurate the base picture the better.
Try to take into account all aspects of the person: age, gender, ethnicity (if appropriate) etc.
In this context the ethnicity is only a representation of the “Where?” part of your Consumer Profile, i.e. your reader’s location. If you are not comfortable using an ethnically oriented picture, try adding a background image representative of the location such as the Eiffel Tower for France, Taj Mahal forIndia, Great Wall for China.
Now take each component of your written Consumer Profile and put it into a call-out bubble (or write it on a Post-It®). Write it as though your reader is introducing himself or herself, e.g. “I am the CEO of a Fortune 500 company”. Keep each call-out concise so you can read it in a second or two whenever you want to remind yourself of each aspect.
Place the call-out bubbles around your base image so that the base picture representing your reader is at the center.
Now you can print it out, set it as your desktop wallpaper, whatever works for you. One of my current favorites is to use it as the wallpaper on my mobile phone so I can prop it up as a digital photo frame next to my screen. Look at it frequently as you write and it will help keep your conversation on track with the needs of your reader.
It’s only for your use so you can make it as simple or wild, wacky and colorful as you choose. Have fun with it!
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