Analyze Your Target Readers

In order to create the sense of urgency needed to get your target readers to take the action that you want them to take, you need to understand their needs and wants, and you need to address them with the proper level of formality. Together, these two steps—understanding what's likely to motivate your readers and identifying the appropriate level of formality—enable you to write to your specific audience; these steps comprisse the second tool of this chapter.

Before you write, you need to think about what thoughts, beliefs, emotions, or ideas are meaningful to your target readers. You need to be able to answer the question "Why would they do what I'm asking?" Given that what will inspire one person to act may not motivate someone else, it's important that you look at the situation from your specific readers' points of view—not your own—and identify what represents a benefit to those readers.

Consider the difference between features and benefits. A feature belongs to the product or service. A benefit belongs to the user of the product or service. People respond to benefits, not features. For example, let's say you want to write a flyer offering a discount on purchases of your grass seed.

Features: the size, weight, color, and category of the grass seed

General Benefit: how quickly your lawn will grow

Specific Benefits: Your lawn will be:

• the envy of your neighbors

• great for croquet and badminton

Consider how each specific benefit is likely to speak to a different kind of person. Some people want a beautiful lawn; others would like a beautiful lawn, but only if it's easy to care for. Still others want a lawn that will impress people, while others are only interested in a lawn for what it provides—a play area. There's no right or wrong. There's no one best benefit. People are different from one another. In order for your writing to generate results, you need to know enough about your target readers to be able to figure out which benefits will motivate them to act.

There are various ways to categorize people. For instance, you could evaluate their demographics (such as age or gender). Or you could assess psychographic factors (for instance, their lifestyle or socioeconomic status). In writing, one of the most useful approaches is to consider your target readers' personality types. Doing so enables you to select words and phrases that are likely to motivate your target audience to action.

While there are many models that describe personality, the following model is easy to use and easy to remember. Consider the differences among the four personality types below. I call them the Accommodator, the Optimist, the Producer, and the Data Collector.

• The Accommodator likes people but prefers small groups. Accommodators are kind, gentle, calm, methodical, and prudent. They are caretakers and tend to work in jobs that allow them to be helpers.

• The Optimist is sunny in spirit, impulsive, dramatic, fun, articulate, emotional, and sensitive. Optimists are party animals. They are creative and tend to work in jobs that allow them to interact with a lot of people and use their creative flair.

• The Producer is impatient, focused, ambitious, goal oriented, competitive, and intolerant of people's foibles. Producers are terrific problem-solvers. They are doers and tend to work in jobs that allow them to work toward a clearly understood goal.

• The Data Collector is independent, self-reliant, rational, curious, systematic, and self-contained. Data Collectors love research. They are fact oriented and tend to work in jobs that require attention to detail.

While most people are a mixture of all four personality types, most people also tend to demonstrate the attributes of one or another of the personality types in various environments and gravitate to jobs that suit their personality. Thus knowing someone's job can help you identify their personality type. As a writer, you can reach logical conclusions about which words and phrases to use based on people's jobs.

For example, which of the four personality types would most likely enjoy being a hospital nurse? The job requires patient care and follow-up, the ability to empathize, and the skill to explain complex procedures in an understanding and kind manner.

Isn't it likely that a nurse will be an Accommodator? An Accom-modator is giving, gentle, and likes helping other people. If you're trying to motivate a nurse to participate in a continuing education conference, for example, it makes sense to stress the benefits of helping, because helping is a prime motivator to an Accommodator.

How about a graphic designer in an advertising agency? The job requires that the designer come up with new ideas and clever approaches, work happily on tight deadlines, and socialize with clients.

Did you recognize the Optimist? An Optimist is creative, social, and works well under pressure. If you're writing an E-mail to remind the graphic designer to fill out his or her health benefit update form, you should use language targeting the Optimist and highlight the benefit of filling it out promptly and not having to think about it again.

How about a senior executive? The job requires the ability to focus on the goal of raising shareholder value above all else, quick and confident decision making, and problem solving.

Did you recognize the Producer? A Producer is goal and bottom-line oriented, and is motivated by getting things done. If you're trying to solicit money for a nonprofit organization from a Producer, for example, it makes sense to highlight the bottom-line benefit of the nonprofit group.

How about someone working alone in a laboratory evaluating slides of blood samples and recording the results in a ledger?

Did you recognize that a Data Collector is likely to love that job? It's task and fact oriented, procedural, and rational. Thus if you're writing a newsletter article trying to motivate a lab technician to adhere to a new safety policy, you'd want to use words that speak directly to a Data Collector by focusing on the details of the new policy.

Take a look at Table 1.1. Do you see how the recommended words and phrases match each personality? The words and phrases are intended to help you begin the process of targeting different people. They are not intended to be a complete listing but rather to serve as a guide.

Not only will the words and phrases in Table 1.1 help you motivate people, they will also help you motivate groups. This flexibility is critical when your communication needs to reach multiple audience segments or a broad base where it's impossible to identify personality, or when you know all personality types will be represented—members of your community, visitors to your website, or all employees, for example. It's a very common dilemma that either you can't figure out a person's personality typeor there's a mixture and you are uncertain which type to target.

For example, let's say that your company is trying to encourage all employees to use their personal digital assistant (PDA). The company has provided training on using the new PDA; now you need to send an E-mail to all employees reminding them of the benefits.

Table 1.1 Word and Phrase Guide to Personality

Following are words and phrases that are likely to motivate each personality type.

Table 1.1 Word and Phrase Guide to Personality




Data Collector



get it done


need support


hurry up




stop complaining



kind of on the wild side

solve the problem


work together

just take a sec'

bottom line

think about

smooth out the rough edges

chill out

reach the goal






build consensus


do it now


improve morale





pick your brain



it'll be painless

a surprise

let's talk about it



Telling Accommodators that the PDA has a feature that will help them be more organized might encourage them to use it. An Optimist, however, doesn't perceive the value of being organized. To Optimists, the key benefit is that using the feature that helps them to be more organized will give them more free time. To Producers, telling them this feature will help them get more done is meaningful. What might motivate a Data Collector is that this feature keeps track of details. One product, one feature, and four ways of expressing it.

In organizing the E-mail, remember to start with the benefit that's likely to motivate the Producers. For instance, you might say:

Get more done with less pain! Using your PDA helps you be more organized, which gives you more free time. All while keeping track of key details.

Notice we start with a direct statement targeting Producers (get more done). We then address Accommodators (be more organized), Optimists (enjoy free time), and Data Collectors (track details). This strategic approach is likely to help you achieve your objectives; by using the words and phrases that are meaningful to other people, in a sense what you're doing is speaking their language.

EXERCISE 2: Target Your Reader's Personality

Let's say that your favorite boss has asked you to write her a letter of reference. She is up for a "plum of a job" and is proactively gathering references. You're being asked to submit a letter as someone who knows her style and abilities as a boss. Your boss has asked that you write to the person she is interviewing with, Frank Smith.

Think about your favorite boss. It could be the person you worked for when you were in school, baby-sat, or mowed lawns. It could be your current boss. Whoever you chose, think about what sort of job this person would likely be applying for now. Think about what sort of person Mr. Smith is likely to be. You can't know, of course, but you can come up with an educated guess based on the job and environment Mr. Smith is in. You don't need to know what's in Mr. Smith's heart, nor do you need to know his essence. All you need to consider is what he is likely to value.

Turn back to the four personality types on page 7 and think about which one most likely describes Mr. Smith. Review Table 1.1 to get some words and phrases in your mind, then answer the questions below. After you've completed the exercise, read the comments that follow.

1. Write a one-sentence statement of your objective. Think action: What do you want Mr. Smith to do as a result of reading your letter?

2. What job is your favorite boss applying for?

3. What's Mr. Smith's personality type likely to be?

4. List a few qualities that make your boss stand out as a successful supervisor. (Note these are features.) For example, perhaps your boss has great technical knowledge, or perhaps she is able to give directions clearly.

5. For each quality (i.e., feature) use Table 1.1 to help you select a word or two to convert it into a benefit likely to appeal to Mr. Smith, based on his personality.

For example, if your boss has great technical knowledge and you determine that Mr. Smith is a Producer, you might convert the feature "great technical knowledge" into a benefit by expressing it as "Bottom line— she knows her stuff." If you determine that Mr. Smith is an Accom-modator, however, you might express "great technical knowledge" as "reliable and solid technical know-how."

For "gives directions clearly," if you determine that Mr. Smith is an Optimist, you might express it as "she expresses herself well and is easy to understand." If you think that Mr. Smith is a Data Collector, you might translate "gives directions clearly" to "provides comprehensive, step-by-step instructions."

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