“Who is the Audience for this Piece?”

Who is in your audience?

Too much focus on your ideal reader is a good thing. It’s the marketing communications writer’s job to enforce that focus.

My new client’s CTO is bright and busy, and he talks fast. I was on time for my appointment in his office to interview him on server virtualization, and before I’d gotten to my second question, I saw his eyes dart to the clock on the wall behind me.

“You’d better let him do the talking,” my brain told my mouth. Mouth agreed, and we let the CTO tell his story.

“I want this piece to do two things,” he said. “I want it to differentiate us from our competitors in the areas of availability, failover and load balancing, and I want it to describe the benefits of each of those.”

Then he took off like a street fighter on global deployments, payloads and server utilization levels. I had no trouble understanding it, but my brain started nagging me again after a few minutes.

“Whom does he want to read this?” it asked.

“He hasn’t yet told us,” replied my mouth. “Shall I find out?”

“I think you’d better.”

“Excuse me,” I asked the CTO, “Who is the audience for this piece?”

The question seemed to catch him off guard. “Oh, well, I would guess that it would be…well, I suppose the people who would be interested in this are…I’m trying to couch it in terms that would matter to…IT managers and people who need to make equipment work properly in a data center.”

He paused for a moment as I jotted notes. “Yes, that’s right: IT managers.” I think he replayed most of the interview through his head to see whether he had indeed said things that would be meaningful to that audience, then recalibrated himself slightly and continued.

I still find it odd that people find that question odd. It almost always catches my interviewee off balance, but when I get a proper answer, it’s miraculous how much easier it is to write.

I’ve tried posing the question in e-mail ahead of time, but it has no effect on how people talk about the subject. Even when I raise it at the start of the discussion, the interviewee rarely sticks with it.

It is up to the marketing communications writer or content marketer to keep the interviewee focused on the ideal reader. Most people in an interview are simply too absorbed in telling their story to focus on the audience.

How do you keep an interviewee on track with the audience’s needs?

photo credit: US Information Agency

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Author: John White

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a content marketing writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Content Marketing Writer.”

2 thoughts on ““Who is the Audience for this Piece?”

  1. “Shoot me your best comment” – Okey dokey, pardner…!

    I think you did well to help the CTO improve his chances of hitting the target. I’m reminded of those scenes in Westerns where the rusty gunslinger misses all the 30 yd beer bottle practice shots until, miraculously, his hand steadies and the six-shooter never seems to miss.

    In this case your question acts as the adjustment HIS brain needs to start hitting the marketing target at least some of the time.

    I wonder if there’s more mileage in targeting specific IT services managers such as network manager, server team manager, storage team managers etc?

    In some large corporates the “IT Manager” might be far removed from any hands-on or technical oversight. A spreadsheet cell might be as close as they get to (the cost of) server utilization.

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