As a copywriter, you are expected to find not just a voice for the content you produce. You are also supposed to write the copy in a way that ‘resonates’ with your target audience, ideally in an authentic way. Often, you don’t always have an accurate picture of your audience, or even a lot of time to get to know them on any level.

When I started out as a copywriter, I learned a very quick series of techniques for getting to know my audience. Some of these techniques overlap with User Experience techniques, and tasks you may have done in marketing or journalism courses. I hope you find these techniques will save you time, and even some re-writes along the way.

1. Ask your client for more audience insight

Obvious one right? Maybe. But, if you’ve ever been a copywriter under a tight deadline with not much time for research, you know how likely you are to just ‘get it done’ without first getting more insight into your audience.

Talking to your client about the target audience shows you are professional, that you care about your work and that you are doing what you’re supposed to do as a copywriter – writing for your audience.

Most clients will know far more than you about their target audience, and because of this familiarity, they don’t always think to include pertinent information in their briefs to you. That’s okay – just ask.

The most useful bits of audience insight you can get from your client are things like what of magazines the audience reads, their level of education (giving you an idea of the type of language you can use), country of residence (should you use British English or US), what TV programmes they enjoy, where they shop, and what websites they frequent.

Getting these nuggets of background information is copywriter gold. By reviewing the magazines and TV programmes and websites, you’ll know what kinds of information they like to consume. Once you have the background you can move on to technique number 2.

2. Spend 15 minutes writing a detailed persona

What’s a persona? It’s essentially a story about the person you are writing for. This is the best way to figure out who it is specifically that you are targeting. By writing the story of this person’s life, you will come to an understanding of what drives them as a human being, what concerns they have, what habits, and you’ll discover what it is about the product or service you are writing about that will turn them on, and this will help you be a great copywriter.

The key here isn’t to spend a long time getting this 100% accurate. You’re writing a story about a typical person in your target audience. What you want to do is quickly sketch out that picture of the person:

  • What is his or her name?
  • Where do they live?
  • Are they married?
  • What is their typical day like? What things to do they do from morning to night?
  • Where do they work?
  • What do they eat for lunch? Do they brown bag it?
  • What websites are they visiting and when?
  • Who are their friends? How often do they spend time together?
  • What sports do they enjoy?

And so on. The important thing is to do this quickly, and include as much of the reasearch you previously did either on your own, or by speaking to your client. Share the finished persona with your client for a quick approval so that you know you’re on the right track. I trust you’ll nail this exercise because you’re not just a copywriter, you’re a human, and like all humans you are already a student of human interaction.

3. Interview some real people

Time doesn’t always permit this one, but it is simply the best way to get to know the real audience. Maybe your client has a contact list from user-groups, or interview transcripts from past marketing research. It’s best if you can ask your own questions, but if someone has already covered this ground for you, you’ll be saving some time.

The kinds of questions to ask are the sorts of things you’d want to know from writing the persona (see #2 above). The great thing about talking to real people is that you get to hear how they speak, how a conversation with this person unfolds, and if you pay attention, you’ll be able to spot what gets them excited and motivated to share with you.

These techniques will help you be a better copywriter by writing to a specific target person, you’ll be able to find the motivations, influences, and conversion points that will make them leap.

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