Developing a target audience persona - who are you even talking to anyway?

In writing there’s one make-or-break question you need to answer first: who are you talking to? Here we outline how to narrow things down.

Whether you’re copywriting a tweet or a major marketing campaign, there’s one make-or-break question you need to answer first: who are you talking to? Here we outline how to narrow down your buying group into a key target audience and, most usefully, give it a persona.

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Buying group vs target audience

A buying group is anyone who could purchase your product or service. Your target audience is the people within your buying group who are most likely to purchase from you and make you the most profit. Once you’ve nailed your target audience, you need to work out how to speak to it, and for that, you need to develop an audience persona. Give them a personality, a life and a voice, and then start your conversation with them.

Why you need an audience persona

You can't talk to everyone who might buy your product. Why? Because if you try talking to everyone, you’ll end up being so generic that you'll get no cut-through. It's a bit counter-intuitive, but the more exclusive you are with your targeting, the more people you’ll include in your messaging.

Define your target audience as a person

OK. So you've been exclusive and defined your target audience. How do you turn that into a real person you can speak to with your writing?

Now the real fun begins. Start brainstorming – get a pen and write it all down.

Don't just leave this audience definition as a vague demographic – e.g. ‘Small business owner’ or ‘household shopper with kids’. To communicate compellingly, you must get into the heads of your target audience. So, define a real personality to represent your audience. Lots of people refer to this as "creating a persona." You imagine a person with a name, age, thoughts, feelings, fears and motivations that represent the whole group.

Doing this will allow your natural communicating ability to come through – you'll instinctively adjust your message to suit that person and ensure you're writing in a way that will properly connect with them.

Exercise: define your audience as a single representative person

The following questions may help you be specific. They’re a starting point, not a comprehensive list.

What is your person’s name, age and gender?

How do they look? Is their hair short or long? Do they wear glasses?

What does your person do for a living?

What are their passions? For example, are they eco-warriors? Do they love classic cars?

What kind of home life do they have? Single, professional couple, retired or with a young family?

What hobbies do they enjoy?

How do they interact with your product or service, your brand in particular and the market segment in general?

How would you describe your person to a colleague?

How would your person behave at a party?

What else is essential to note about your person?

Talk to your audience persona

Now that you have your target audience persona, your writing decisions become much easier – you know how to talk to that person, what they care about and what tone to use. You’ll create the connection and the cut-through you need for the best results – it’s the secret sauce to effective copywriting.

Helen Steemson

The lead copywriter and creative director at Words for Breakfast. She spends much of her time working with the copy writing team across a variety of projects.