Writing clear, concise and compelling copy always begins with clear, precise and insightful thinking. And that beginning is the Communication Brief. The writing of one leads to the establishment of the common ground upon which we and our target audience can strike a mutual respect for sharing and receiving story. It is the finding of this common ground that I will endeavour to demonstrate in this post.
Naturally, it all begins with the gathering of relevant data and information about the subject, the target audience and their contexts and distilling it all down to the key proposition (the subject) and profile (target audience). Now I’ve done enough classes with marketing and communications practitioners to come to the conclusion that writing a CommBrief is a highly under-developed area of expertise. The sorry numbers show me that approximately 84% of “communications professionals” see demographics as the start all and end all. Little wonder we’re all seen as “consumers” rather than human beings. Ex-adman come film producer, David Puttnam (Midnight Express, Chariots of Fire and The Killing Fields) was already complaining about this back in the 70’s.
In this post I will focus on demonstrating how to profile a target audience to the point where you can actually see them in your mind’s eye, like they were across the table from you. Demographics is a good starting point but it’s not going to get us through the door of perception. And take note, we in the western world are exposed to approximately 5000 messages each day (Art & Copy; A film by Doug Pray). Even if we did a conservative estimate of, say, 1500, that’s still a case for information overload in most books. And how many messages does one register for every 1000? Last count was five to seven. Of those five to seven remembered communications, I will chance a guess that the copywriter and art director had a very deep understanding of where their target audience was at. But let’s not get bogged in statistics because I’m sure there’s the opposing view with a set of equally compelling statistics for keeping us all in the “consumer box” and perpetuating the in-grown mediocrity in marketing and communications departments here, there and you-know-where. So if you’re with them, this is where you can get off while the rest of us begin the search for The Real McCoy & Julia in the deep-digging business of target audience profiling.
To give you a step up to the level of strategic intelligence and creative insight that make legendary copywriters and art directors like Jack Vaughan, Lionel Hunt, John Bevins, David Denneen, Bob Isherwood, Allan Johnston, Ron Mather, Alan Morris, Kim Thorp, Gordon Trembath and Neil French residents of the AWARD Hall of Fame, I’m going to use two case studies from my Copywriting classes. One profiles a single target audience and the other profiles a multi-target audience to test drive the process in the most rugged of terrains. I will be employing the knowledge of Psychologist, Social Researcher and great Australian thinker, Hugh Mackay, to enable us to create a life-like picture of the target audience in question. Mackay’s ground-breaking work has already been covered in my post What are the hopes, fears and desires of your target audience? In this one, we will put it into practice.
Case Study N˚1Subject: Credit Card Insurance
Medium: Direct Mail letter Target: Bank credit card holders
50/50 gender credit card customers of Australian-boutique banks such as Citibank and HSBC. Well-healed, affluent 40-something family bound. Average credit balance $5-10k. More often than not live beyond their bank balance whilst not generally reaching or exceeding their credit limit. This customer is responsible in ensuring their immediate financial obligations are met. They are also savvy and search for the best offer.
He/she lives for the material moment but is forward thinking enough to ensure some safety net. They are confident enough to live beyond their bank balance but know they need to secure their income in case something happens (illness, injury, redundancy etc). It’s a fine balancing act, and they are aware enough to know that they could be vulnerable to the unforeseen. They just need to be reminded occasionally.
The desire that drives him/her:
In this context, they have the desire for control. “Due to circumstances beyond our control” is a familiar announcement in his/her book. The global financial crisis is their stark reminder. The recklessness of certain mortgage brokers and money-market traders in an under-regulated economy has cast a fearful shadow over their daily “lifestyle” more so than ever. But even though we can never be in full control, this desire has increased in intensity as the rate of change increases. The greater the rate and scope of change, the more the idea of control becomes an obsession. And here’s a universal truth: the only thing we can control is our own behaviour.
The key proposition:
Our professional advice to all valued customers: the only thing you can control is your own behaviour.
Case Study N˚2Subject: Solar Roads proposal
Medium: Print Target Audience: A funding body made up of six
50/50 gender in the professional class; aged 40+ executive leaders in their field of expertise. They have made it onto the Foreign Policy’s top 100 thinkers of 2010’s global marketplace of ideas and the thinkers who make them.
Psychographics: (key characteristic of each) The desire that drives him/her:
1 Equality and inclusiveness matters The desire to connect
2 Need to think much bigger The desire for something to happen
3 Green technology is good for business The desire to be taken seriously
4 Break top-down approach and act from the grassroots The desire to be taken seriously
5 Need to treat problems before they arise The desire for control
6 Need to be able to run an entire country
without oil or new science The desire for something to happen
The common ground for all six:
In this context, the desire for something to happen would be the most likely common-thread that brings them together as decision makers on the panel. To act! move! create! change! make a difference! surges their intent to “rage against the dying of the light”. And this is a time of action because it speaks louder than words. What makes this even more resounding for these six people is the fact that they are conscious of being a committee, and they are the first to declare committees as notorious for non-action. Which leads us to the second desire they share equally, and that is to be taken seriously. “We’re not the usual committee suspects”. We want you to be absolutely clear that your idea must match, if not rise above, our size of thinking on this matter. We don’t just want something to happen, we want ingenuity to happen. If you’re idea is seriously breakthrough, then we’ll put our money where your mouth is.
The key proposition:
All the highways, freeways and carparks in the world can become power stations with solar road panels.
Now you have a go using this method and see what happens. If you’re serious about communicating with genuine empathy and respect for your target audience, your first step would be to consult Hugh Mackay’s What Makes Us Tick? It contains enough depth of knowledge and insight to turn any consumer into a human being.
And if you don’t have a target audience at all, you will now be able to create your own.