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You Talkin’ to Me?: 4 Ways to Connect With Your Audience


Last week I received a letter from the department of my graduate school alma mater, asking for money.

The letter began by touting the department’s features: “a real-world education focused on media convergence, a first-rate curriculum using cutting-edge technology,” and so on. It went on to explain that $75 could help fund a variety of programs, scholarships, and equipment.

Proper use of hyphens aside, this held little interest for me. That’s because I graduated in 2008, moved to another state, and started a new job—and I’ve had no contact with the school since.

Know thy audience, increase conversions

I had a great graduate school experience and would consider making a contribution, but my first instinct was to toss this letter in the recycling bin. The problem with a one-size-fits-all message like this is that it didn’t seem to be meant for me. It didn’t seem to be meant for anyone.

The good news is that my alma mater, like other organizations, can take steps to optimize content and better connect with readers:

1. Go with what you know. Without doing additional research, my school knows my graduation year, concentration, location, and donation history. What do you already know about your audience? When feasible and appropriate, use the information you have to create dynamic fields that change according to the recipient or segment.

2. Acknowledge the relationship. My school wasted valuable real estate bragging about its “first-rate curriculum” in the first sentence. I already know about it—I’m an alumna, not a prospective student. Consider your readers’ relationship to your business or product. Are they repeat customers? Prospects who may not be familiar with your brand? Address them accordingly and you’ll establish a connection right away instead of giving them an excuse to walk away from the conversation.

3. Remember, it’s not about you. Resist the urge to tell your readers what you think they should know about your business or product. Instead, tap into their needs and emotional motivations by focusing on what they’ll gain. This isn’t always obvious. For example, my department assumes—quite reasonably—that the possibility of new equipment and programs for current students will compel me to donate. But as an inactive, out-of-town alumna, I’m more interested in bolstering the school’s scholastic reputation or its alumni network.

4. Avoid writing for a demographic. My alma mater made the mistake of trying to appeal to everyone with the same message. And yet it’s not enough to segment your audience and tailor your copy to each demographic. That’s because your prospects are more than a set of traits. They have specific and varied interests, desires, and behavior. When you create an authentic person to write for, instead of a theoretical persona based on a demographic, your copy is more likely to resonate with readers.

Ultimately, you’ll start testing design and copy to further improve your conversion rate—but you can’t do that until you’ve optimized your content to truly speak to your audience.