Creating Content That Connects … and Generates Response

Copywriter and direct marketing best practices for audience development

When your assignment is to write (or approve) copy and content that’s responsible for generating a response, the first question to ask is, “Who’s the audience?” And don’t settle for answers like these:

“Women/men over the age of 65.”

“Business owners with fewer than 9 employees.”

“People with a lot of money.”

Here’s why. These descriptions don’t come close to telling you what you need to know to engage a reader in opening your envelope, clicking on your subject line, or coming into your store.

To write copy and content that connects, you have to understand what makes your reader tick. That’s why writers ask so many questions about the audience. And why those of you who provide us with input need to be prepared to answer them!

For example, when I’m writing to a customer, I’ll ask my client if I’m writing to a first-time, second-time or multi-buying customer. The reason I ask is that a first-time buyer is still a “tryer.” And tryers require reassurance. A multi-buyer is a believer. Believers already trust the brand and the company behind it. What I say to these two audiences will vary even though they are both customers.

Here are a few more questions whose answers will help you connect with your reader:

  • What is the typical reader’s age, gender, marital status, household income, educational background, location (urban vs. suburban vs. rural), number of children (at home), and any other information pertinent to the message being written. This info helps you envision and engage with an individual rather than a sea of nameless, faceless people.
  • Is the delivery address (email or USPS) at home or the office? This can be especially important when writing to audiences such as physicians, users of financial services and teachers. Where will they be when they read your message?
  • How is the individual’s mail screened? The screener sees it first, so you’ve got to plan for this.
  • How much mail/email does this person typically receive? This is part of your competition for attention.
  • Is your reader the decision-maker or decision-influencer in your sales process?
  • What is your offer and how does it benefit the reader?
  • Is English your reader’s first language? Or will your message be translated?
  • What is your reader’s preferred channel for receiving marketing messages?
  • What is your reader’s relationship with your company (prospect, customer, donor, first-time buyer, etc.)?
  • Which three product benefits are most appealing to your targeted audience? Different product benefits appeal to different audiences.
  • Does your reader recognize your company as a trusted source? Or will you have to educate to build credibility?
  • What is the length of the decision-making cycle?
  • What has this customer purchased from your company in the past? Is there value in cross-referencing this purchase in your copy?
  • What are the three top reasons your reader won’t do what you’re asking him or her to do? You need to understand these so you can address them successfully.

Yes, you really need to know as much as you can about the person you’re trying to persuade. And it’s important across all channels. If you don’t connect with your reader, you won’t make the sale, generate the lead, or get the clickthrough you covet.

Pat Friesen is a direct response copywriter, content developer and creative strategist. She is also the author of "The Cross-Channel Copywriting Handbook," published by Direct Marketing IQ. Reach her at (913) 341-1211.
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  • Karen J Marchetti

    To Pat’s great list, I’d also add:

    1. What are the particular Buying Stages your prospect typically goes through to buy your product?

    2. What type of information do they need at each Buying Stage? Can we create an Offer to deliver the information they’re looking for at the early Buying Stage?

    3. What web pages are available to support the direct mail? (Many prospects will check out a company’s web page before responding.)

    Have loved your articles for many years, Pat.

  • Chad Stewart

    I think that these are all very worthwhile concerns. It’s amazing how little many marketers understand about content – and even more mind-boggling the way they think that *just any* content is going to be good enough to produce results. This is a great guide! I especially like that you mention the potential for screeners. You never want to waste money on a piece of mail that will be tossed out with the "you’re pre-approved!" credit card offers and "for our neighbor at…’s". Thanks for posting!