5 great ways to alienate your audience and sell less


How can you be sure your digital marketing is reaching the right audience? Learn our techniques for maintaining a strong, distinctive tone of voice.

1 Corinthians 9:22 goes like, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” Further proof, if any were needed, that Jesus was a UX designer, not a copywriter.

In a content-shocked world of increasingly tribal audiences, writing to appease everyone thrills no one. I call it the Beige; that amorphous, neutered tone of voice that speaks to a fictional market of machine-people.

The Beige stops you getting noticed, it stops you making real connections, and it stops you selling your product. The Beige is your enemy, here’s how to slay it.

Who do you think you’re talking to?!

Audience research is essential.

Say it again: Audience research is essential. For every word you write, you need a clearly defined image of one single person at whom your marketing is directed. Audience personas should form a cornerstone of your branding, and should evolve alongside your offering.

These might come from a good brainstorming session, questionnaires, early feedback, commissioning market research, user data. The list goes on. Here at Sookio we use over a decade of sales data, client feedback, and industry experience to maintain three distinct profiles:

·      Louise, the communications manager. She's got a PR background and works with a big industry incumbent. Louise is time-poor and looking to spread her organisation's reach more effectively.

·      James, the tech director. With huge business experience, he's now in charge of a niche tech company. James needs to show off his company's expertise to grow market share.

·      Meera, the marketing millennial. She's finally convinced her manager to invest in agency support. Meera needs quick marketing wins driven by strategy and data.

I encourage guesses in the comments about who you think this blog is written for.

Ditch the committee

Writing in the Content Marketing Institute blog (which you should read regularly), Rusty Weston penned a recent blinder on surviving content by committee.

Nothing pleases the Beige more than a huge, bloated signoff process. Each step pushes the audience further and further from the action. But there are a certain number of non-negotiable steps to balance. Subject matter experts, legal compliance, and the key stakeholder all need to have their say.

Have an honest, upfront conversation at the start of a project about how lean you can physically make signoff. Weston suggests a process something like:

·      Collect input from all possible stakeholders and experts, designate one key stakeholder

·      Put together a detailed brief

·      Get the brief itself signed off by the key stakeholder

·      Write the thing

·      Have drafts reviewed by the key stakeholder and, if necessary, one subject expert and one legal compliance person

Even if you can’t trim signoff down to three key people, having the brief or outline of the work signed off before you write it does wonders. The factual nuts and bolts of the piece get approved, freeing the copywriter to focus on hitting the right tone.

Getting noticed is hard

Steve Harrison is one of my copywriting heroes. In his neat tome, How to Write Better Copy, he breaks the act of effective writing into three steps:

1.     Getting the audience to notice it

2.     Getting the audience to engage with it

3.     Getting the audience to do what you want them to do

Steps two and three involve messy things… like the actual product you’re selling. For the purposes of this blog, only step one is driven solely by an accurately targeted message.

The average UK citizen, Harrison informs me, is exposed to 2,200 marketing messages every single day. Of those, eight actually get noticed.

It gets worse. Clickthrough rates for banner ads is around eight in 10,000. Consumer engagement with Twitter posts sits at about three in 10,000.

I say all this to say that getting noticed is very hard, but it’s possible. You’re competing to be one of those eight-in-2,200 messages which hit the mark.

By now, you’ve taken pains to know your audience and have structured your project to remove as many barriers as possible to speaking to them. Craft a message which is interesting, informative, and relevant to the desired persona – not to your marketing needs – and you won’t go far wrong.

X = not-Y

How do you craft that message? Gaze, if you will, upon this timeless marketing classic:

Would this ad have ever been signed off if Harley were worried sick about upsetting air passengers or folk with peanut allergies?

Understanding who your audience are is the most liberating experience, because it frees you from what they are not. If you’re never going to do business with a certain demographic then they do not exist within your brand’s universe.

If your audience is diametrically opposed to something, don’t feel bad about attacking it. Don’t worry about ‘being negative;’ you’re playing to your base and demonstrating you understand the context in which they live.

Context is absolutely vital in reaching your audience. In-jokes, obscure references, memes, all are fair game to subtly speak to your tribe as an equal.

And if, by chance, some obscure internet sect takes up arms against your marketing? I still wouldn’t worry; a certain cynical school of thought holds that they’re doing your promo for you.

Don’t ‘we’ all over the audience

This last one is a general web copy tip for the ages, but it’s critical in terms of connecting with the right audience. Talk to your audience about their pain and how they can solve it… using your product. The audience must be the hero in the story you’re trying to tell them.

Your brand, your history, your board of directors; sorry, but they’re all totally irrelevant to your audience. Your audience has problems; it’s up to you to identify these problems, then selflessly step aside while you show them how to solve those problems themselves (using your product).

Even the product itself is almost an afterthought to the transformative journey on which you’re sending the audience.

Back in 1989, before Gillette started fixing what wasn’t broken, they took over the shaving industry by promising “The Best a Man Can Get!” No man wants second best, and they avoided that terrible fate by choosing to buy one razor over another.

L’Oreal did even better. In 1973, they rolled out the first big-brand slogan written solely from a woman’s perspective. “Because I’m Worth It” empowered women with the agency to spend more time and money on their own needs… starting with a better shampoo.

This became “Because You’re Worth It” in the 90s, then “Because We’re Worth It” in 2009. From empowerment to admiration to collaboration, but always focused on the problem being solved, not on shampoo.

Sookio beats the Beige

Whether you’re researching your ideal audience or producing content to inform and delight them, Sookio can lend a hand with expert digital marketing.

Contact us today, and let’s get your next big project off the ground.