Sep 30

Step One: Know your stakeholders

Man reads content customized for stakeholdersWhen jumping into a writing project, we often start by determining the goals of the piece, what message we are trying to convey, what length it should be and how it will be distributed – all wonderful and important background to know when drafting any form of content.

However, an even more important step should take place before taking up the quill. You have to know who will be reading the finished piece – and not just their name, but as much as you can about them.

The most persuasive writers are able to get into the head of their final audience, understanding what motivates them, drives them, makes them tick. You can’t expect to write an effective piece if you don’t first take the time to dig in to understand this first.

Our job as marketers and communicators is to bridge the gap between an organization and our publics. So often, we see organizations make major communication missteps because they don’t understand their audience and don’t craft their messaging to align with the values of whomever they’re trying to reach.

If you have big budgets to utilize fancy market research companies, more power to you. However, the average marketer may be a one-person band with limited resources, including time and budget. Here are a few ways to simply start grasping who your audience is:

Talk to them

It always amazes me how often I talk to those in charge of communicating with a group of people who have never talked to them. This is probably the best way to get first-hand experience. Whether through focus groups or just informal conversation, listen to what they have to say. Taking some time out of your day for these conversations will be time well-spent, allowing you to have a first-hand look into what motivates them.

Listen to those who have

Sometimes, it’s not always possible to have direct access to the end-reader because of confidentiality, location or a number of other reasons. However, it’s likely someone within your organization does have access to them. Solicit their input, learn what they know about the audience and then take it to heart when you draft your communication.

Create audience profiles

This is an extremely helpful tool, especially when you are just getting to know an audience. Profiles may include motivators, likes, dislikes, favorite activities, words to use, words to avoid – basically any details that will help you get inside their head. Keep them at the ready (preferably pinned up at your desk) so you can quickly view and keep their motivators top-of-mind.


One of the oldest tricks in the book is to survey stakeholders. Surveys can be used to understand what price point a customer is willing to pay, what qualities of a product or service they want to see and where they want to purchase a product. They can also be used to understand their demographic background, what their values are, how they want to be communicated with and what their interests are. Surveying also doesn’t have to be an overly complicated effort. Utilize communications you already have in place to include the survey. The data gathered will be helpful to make informed decisions in your copywriting endeavors.


Google is your friend. Spend some time keeping up-to-date with consumer trends (I always enjoy reading AdAge and Adweek) to understand what’s motivating the marketplace. You can also check out PRIZM by Claritas. This is a sophisticated program with a hefty price tag; however, it has a great free resource that allows you to look up any ZIP code and it will give you demographic profiles of who lives there. This is such a fun and interesting tool to understand audiences my location. Check it out here.

To be truly effective in your communication and marketing efforts, you need to know who your talking to – and really know them. Remember, it’s your job to get to know them so they can get to know your brand.

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