Because business messages are written for the purpose of informing or persuading your audience, they should always be written for the audience. What does that mean? It means we need to know the audience when we’re drafting the message. Knowing the audience helps us choose the right words and other elements to ultimately achieve our message’s purpose.
Before we delve too far into audience analysis, though, we must determine our message’s purpose. When preparing a business message–be it an email, letter, brochure, social post, memo, or any other type of message–we must answer two questions to find our purpose:
- Why am I sending this message?
- What do I hope to achieve?
It’s also important to consider both our primary and secondary purposes. For example, your primary purpose might be to inform or persuade your audience, but your secondary purpose might be to also promote goodwill.
When you’ve determined your message’s purposes, you’re now ready to analyze and anticipate your audience: What is the audience like? How will they react to the message? These questions will help you profile your audience. Just like you might have primary and secondary purposes, you might have a primary and secondary audience.
The primary audience is the direct person(s) for whom the message is intended. The secondary audience is anyone else who might receive the message (perhaps the email was forwarded to them or a friend of theirs shared your social post). To profile each audience, let’s answer a few more questions.
- Who is my primary reader/listener/etc.?
- What is my current connection to these people?
- How much do they know about the subject?
- What do I know about their demographics (income, age, education, etc.)?
- Will their response to the message be positive, neutral, or negative?
- Who else might see/read/hear/etc. the message?
- How do these people differ from the primary audience?
- Do these people require more background information?
- Do I need to rewrite my message to ensure comprehension by the secondary audience?
I know, I know..I’ve thrown a bunch of questions and considerations at you, but what does this all mean? As I said in the beginning, we have to write for our audience. That might sound like a no-brainer, but believe me, it’s not always as easy as it sounds.
For example, I recently gave a presentation to a group of real estate agents in my community about the use of Instagram and Facebook together for their business. Because I’m well versed in both platforms, it’s pretty straightforward for me to walk folks through the ins and outs. But, for the people who aren’t terribly familiar with (and especially those who are brand new) the platforms, even the basic navigation and terminology can be confusing.
Imagine someone explaining to you how to do something but speaking only in a foreign language. For people not familiar with a topic, even the basics can sound like a foreign language.
Going back to my example, then, I had to consider that audience knowledge level when I was preparing my presentation. Knowing they weren’t overly confident with either platform helped me choose the right wording and visual aids to illustrate my presentation.
I also needed to consider their perceived response to the message. It might be easy to assume they’d be receptive and thus positive, but that wasn’t necessarily going to be the case. Especially if I made the presentation too overwhelming, their response could quickly turn negative. They might decide it was too difficult or too much work to be worth their while.
Once I had a good handle on the primary audience, I next considered the secondary audience. It was (is) certainly possible that they’d share what they learned (or were intimidated by or *gasp, hated!) with their co-workers. I needed to ensure, then, that I presented the info in a way that allowed them to do that easily while still achieving my ultimate purpose.
Who does your primary audience member remind you of? Maybe it’s your mom, your brother-in-law, a former co-worker or boss, your next-door neighbor. Whoever that person is, think of them when you’re writing. How would you tell them about your topic? What words would you choose? What visuals would you include? The more you know about them, the more successful your message will be.
Next time you’re working on a new blog post, letter, memo, social posting, or any other type of business message, take time to really think about and understand your audience. When your message is ready, read it again, and put yourself in their shoes. Does it achieve your purpose?