Audience personas make your copy, well, personal. To put it another way, they make it clear that you, as a writer, care about the reader. That’s an important quality. It enhances the persuasive power of your writing.
One of the things that used to bother me about technical writing was its impersonal quality. Technical content often reads like it was written by a robot—by no one, for no one. The feeling is downright ghostly.
This effect probably results from the technical writer’s focus on informing the reader. With knowledge transfer as the goal, tech writers emphasize factual content and clarity. They don’t pay much attention to motivation or persuasion. They don’t think about voice.
Business communicators, by contrast, are interested in motivating their readers. Their goal is to establish trust and credibility. They project and elicit empathy. For these reasons, they take an entirely different approach to crafting their messages.
Business communicators often create audience personas to help them connect with their audience. An audience persona is an imaginary person, someone who represents a member of the audience the communicator is trying to reach. Because a real audience is made up of individuals, communicators often create several personas in an effort to simulate a cross-section of the audience.
Kevan Lee describes this process in Marketing Personas: The Complete Beginner’s Guide. He recommends creating between three and five personas for each audience, enough to represent a significant segment of the audience, but not so many that the personas lose their specific qualities.
The process is quite simple. First you select a name and gender for your persona. Then add a photo. Then add demographic data—age, education, income, etc. Then add goals and challenges—the sort of hurdles we all face occasionally, like applying to college or seeking a new job. Describe how your product or service can help your imaginary person meet her challenge.
Next, add a list of your persona’s values and fears: a love of pets, say, or a geeky embrace of technology. While you’re at it, include a list of your imaginary persona’s hobbies, reading habits, and community ties.
Kevan Lee recommends the use of real data in fashioning a persona, even if that persona ultimately springs from the imagination. Using real data will help you create a realistic portrait—one you can address in your writing.
To get a feel for this process, I decided to create a persona on the fly. I’m interested in working with small businesses, so I started with some quick research. To my surprise, Small Business, Big Impact: Alberta Small Business Profile, a publication by our provincial government, revealed that small businesses (firms with 1-49 employees) make up 95 percent of all businesses in Alberta. In 2013, there were 158,049 such firms. They’re common in agriculture and forestry; construction, transportation and warehousing, retail and wholesale trade; finance, insurance, and real estate; and professional, technical, and scientific sectors. Together, small businesses represented 35 percent of Alberta’s total employment in 2014.
Next, I invented two personas—Rene, who runs an import-export business, and Mahmoud, a body shop owner.
Meet Rene. She’s 35 years old and unmarried. She entered the import-export business after completing a commerce degree and traveling widely through India and Nepal. Rene lives in Red Deer and drew $90,000 in salary in 2014, her best year ever. She is a native Albertan, attended the University of Calgary, and has close ties to her parents and siblings (older brother, younger sister). Rene has a cat named Maggie. She volunteers with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. She would like her business to grow by 25 percent over the next three years. She enjoys her annual buying trips to South Asia, but she often feels overwhelmed by the many challenges of running a small business, like accounting and marketing.
Rene, call me for help with your marketing issues. I’ll write some dazzling copy and optimize your site to make it rank in search results. Then we’ll take a look at AdWords and see if it makes sense for you.
This is Mahmoud. He’s 38 years old and has two kids. He lives in northeast Calgary. Mahmoud trained as an engineer in Cairo, but he got a job at a body shop after moving to Canada in 2007. Now he owns the shop. Business is off lately, but during the oil boom it was great—Mahmoud took home $175,000 in 2013. His key goal right now is to survive Alberta’s economic slump, but he would like to expand his business when things pick up again. His biggest challenge in business is identifying his target market and figuring out how to reach it. Google, Facebook, Instagram—how can he figure all that out? And run his business at the same time.
Mahmoud, call me. I’ll create a strategic communication plan that will identify your fundamental business issues, connect them with your audiences, and select the best channels for your message. We’ll set measurable objectives and follow up with a comprehensive evaluation plan to see how effective we are.
Using audience personas like these, I can address my audience in human terms, avoiding the impersonal, robotic voice of copy that is written for no one in particular. I actually found these personas quite helpful in writing this post. My first draft, which I wrote without personas, was so dull that even I was bored. But once I invented Rene and Mahmoud, I recast the piece in a warm, friendly voice and completed the post in record time.
Marketers, copywriters, do you use personas in your work? If you do, what effect do they have on your message crafting?
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