Know Thy Audience

A friend of ours – educated, articulate, and accomplished in his field – recently sent us an article he’d written for a major trade publication. He was justifiably proud. The article was well written and was getting some real attention online (judging by the comments section). But… we couldn’t read it. Even though he’s our friend. Even though he took a highly-technical subject and wrote about it in (mostly) plain English, we couldn’t get through all 20 pages. We just weren’t that interested.

This is actually a good thing.

Because the article wasn’t written for us. It was written for our friend’s professional peers. Written to be engaging in a general way, sure, but also written to address the specific needs, concerns, ideas and innovations of one industry. The article did exactly what it was supposed to. And by shutting us out spoke more clearly to those who were “in.”

Here’s a good rule of thumb for all marketing activities: that one should learn the general best practices for any medium (clarity, brevity, emotional appeal), but also learn the peculiarities of the audience. Sometimes you have to actually break the “rules” of good marketing (designed to appeal to people in general) in order to produce good marketing materials (designed to appeal to specific groups).

An extreme example: there are videos out there that seem to do everything “wrong.” Long, long-winded, highly-technical, and visually uninteresting, they nonetheless get the job done in industries where such prosaic qualities are expected and embraced. Like Government. (If you’re trying to land a government contract, video with an edgy, exciting, startup-style vibe would be a bad idea. Unadorned, competent, and qualified is probably the better approach.)

Not saying that you should go out and make something deliberately boring or deliberately alienating. Only that there’s a difference between interesting and effective. And the two aren’t always complementary.

Our work tends toward the left side, but the right certainly has its uses. And yes, there are ways to seem both engaging and competent/qualified to a certain core group, but you can't be all things to all people all the time. Know thy audience.

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