My first job in advertising was for a website called Home Made Simple. It supported some of the biggest products in home care. It was owned by Procter & Gamble and is what marketers call a lightly branded site. Kind of a Martha Stewart Living that just happened to mention Dawn, Cascade, Febreze, Swiffer and Mr. Clean over and over.
It was content marketing before that term had been coined. I'm revealing how old I am, but we sometimes referred to it as an ezine - an ancient term from the early 2000s.
The site's target audience was women, 28-45. The type of woman who does the shopping for her home, and does a fair (or unfair) bit of the cleaning as well. We had come up with a fictitious editor for the site who was supposed to represent the idealized version of our audience. Her name was Julie B.
As the primary writer on the site, I was, for all intents and purposes, Julie B.
The funny thing was, at this time in my life, I couldn't have been further from this fictional home care maven. I wasn't married, had no girlfriend, and lived in a loft apartment by myself. An apartment that wasn’t very clean or well-organized, at that. It was the epitome of post-college bachelorhood.
One evening, my colleagues and I were at a dinner celebrating a major update to the site, along with our clients. Our main client was going around the room, thanking everyone for their contribution. She got to me and said, "Thank you to Craig, who does such a great job of being Julie B."
There were some snickers, and someone derisively asked, "How is it that you do such a good job writing like a woman, Craig?"
I could feel that I was being set up as the butt of a joke, but I didn’t feel like playing along.
"I just think about my mom,” I said. “She would have loved this website when my brother and I were younger."
My answer took the air out of the room a bit, but it was true. My mom is always looking for things that will make taking care of our house easier - less of a headache. And she has a way of talking that was perfect for the site. Optimistic, excited, and straightforward Midwestern. A voice our target audience could identify with and appreciate.
Know your audience
I knew nothing about women at the time (arguably still don't, even as a married man with two daughters) but I knew enough about one woman to be successful.
I'm lucky my mom fit perfectly into our target audience. At the time, I didn’t know how important it was for me to understand who my audience was and I stumbled into this technique. Now that I’ve done this for a while, I always start a new project by thinking of someone I know who fits the audience and I write for them.
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Doing this gives your user a level of comfort, not only that your product is right for her, but that the people who developed it understand her, as well.
I cannot say this too emphatically - as a writer, you have to be able to connect with your audience by understanding who they are. There are three elements that go into this:
During our celebratory dinner, I think my honesty about my creative inspiration was maybe a bit too serious for the friendly tone of the gathering. But I know it left an impression, as many of the people in the room mentioned it to me over the next few months. So it seemed like I knew that audience as well.
So how do you decide who to use as inspiration?