How to Talk to Your Target

by Clara Jacob
September 23, 2013

“We take care of the consumer after the sale.”

Recently I heard these words spoken as part of a local radio spot. I cringed.

Nobody wants to be “the consumer.” Nobody wants a carefully considered purchase to be called “the sale.”

And nobody wants to work with a salesperson that talks “at” you.

If you’re inside your company, talking to other staff, it’s fine to talk about “consumers” and “the sale.” But when you’re talking to potential customers – which is what you’re doing on the radio, presumably – it’s essential to phrase things differently.

One of the reasons we identify a target market is so we can speak to folks appropriately. This is elementary marketing. But you’d be amazed how many companies and organizations lose sight of this fundamental principle.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at their websites, annual reports and corporate identity brochures. These tactics are often the worst offenders, featuring particularly inaccessible language.

Sometimes it’s difficult to keep that target market in mind and easy to wind up targeting primarily people in your own company.

Here’s a little test. If most sentences start with “we,” you aren’t speaking effectively to your target market.

Knowing Your Target

Back in the day, big-company marketers used various systems like psychographics to precisely define target markets. That’s fallen out of fashion, but we still work hard to understand everything we can about customers and prospects.

One of the methods we use at Paulsen is going out and meeting our clients’ potential customers where they work and live. Absolutely nothing beats this in terms of understanding a target market.

In-person meetings are not always possible. However, there’s an interesting alternative that comes to us from the web world.

Some web strategists develop “personas” in order to understand their target market. Each persona is a character sketch of a potential site user. It’s less about who the person is in terms of demographics or psychographics and more about how that person will interact with the website.

Personas are enormously helpful for anticipating web user behavior and following every action through to its conclusion. For example, if we know Jack came to a site through an organic Google search and is gathering information for a later purchase, we can think through everything Jack might do on the site and plan for it.

Once you’ve used personas in web development, it’s easy to apply that strategy when creating other communications tactics.

Writing for Your Target

As a writer, I like to imagine the person I’m “talking to” when I work.

If I’ve met prospective customers, those are the folks I keep in mind. If not, I use a persona. And then I “talk” directly to these people – writing as though we were friends having a conversation.

By treating prospective customers as humans – with wants, needs, beliefs, preferences and ideas – it’s easy to avoid saying things like “taking care of the consumer after the sale.”

It’s also easy to avoid saying “we” at every turn. If you’re truly focused on the other person, you’re not talking about yourself all the time.

This isn’t brain surgery. These are actually basic relationship skills – treating other people like humans and not talking about oneself all the time. Perhaps it’s the complexity of corporate or organizational communications that gets in the way of common sense.

Back to the offending radio spot – what’s a good alternative to, “We take care of the consumer after the sale?”

Good: “We take care of our customers after their purchase.”

Better: “We provide service and support after you’ve made your purchase.”

Best: “Count on us for top-notch service after your purchase – and for years to come.”

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