By Jenny Lemmons Magic published March 4, 2011

How To Talk So Your Target Audience Will Listen

Struggling with what to say on your blog or social media sites? Have you made all the “new product” announcements but you’re still lacking followers and fans? Here are a few tips.

Turn off your “radio voice”

Have you ever listened to NPR radio announcers and imagined them walking around their normal lives talking like that? “Honey, we’re out of mustard” in that deep, formal baritone? Not only would it seem awkward and fake, but it would also be pretty distracting.

The same is true for content marketing, and we’re seeing companies of all sizes struggle with this as online media evolves. Traditional, one-way media channels like television, radio and print are more suited to the formal tones of broadcast. In the old days, a credible, omniscient, father-figure advised you on your consumer choices.

Times have changed.  Social media is conversation, and a “radio voice” sticks out like a sore thumb.

Turn off the formality and talk to your audience as individuals.  Have a regular conversation with them. Not only will your message sound more authentic, but the conversational tone will encourage a conversational response.

As an example, if you were marketing your restaurant, you could say that you specialize in “Combining local seasonal ingre­di­ents with an infinite spec­trum of flavors from around the globe as the basis for our culi­nary philos­ophy.” I took that almost verbatim from a restaurant website.

But to “turn off the radio voice,” you might try the style of one of my favorite Austin, Texas spots, Magnolia Cafe, and use more casual language and a little personality: “Welcome to Magnolia Cafe! Fresh food cooked with passion in a comfortable setting, kind of like your favorite aunt’s giant kitchen, if she had one. Open 24/8.”

If you use language and tone like your readers would use in everyday language, your message is more likely to be heard, remembered and repeated.

“Hey you!” Talk to them directly

Have you ever been at a noisy coffee shop – ignoring all the talking around you – when someone says your name?  Your ears perk up, and suddenly you’re looking around and listening to find out if it is a coincidence or if someone you know is trying to get your attention.

You weren’t listening until you thought someone was talking directly to you.

The same thing is true in every communication situation, especially in the cluttered world of the Internet. As users visit websites and search for products and services, they tend to ignore general messages that could be targeted at anyone. Instead, they hone in on the messages that seem designed for them.

That’s why shampoo ads don’t just say, “Get clean hair!” but instead have messages like, “Hey there, do you have dry/ frizzy/ unmanageable hair? Have we got the shampoo for you!”

Information that tries to be helpful to everyone is likely too generic to be interesting to anyone.

The more you can say, “Hey, you!” to your target audience, the more likely they will listen to what you say next.  Much like the person saying your name in the coffee shop to get your attention, using descriptors in your marketing messages that your audience will recognize in themselves will get their attention.

So instead of just posting blog tips about “10 Things Every Business Owner Should Know,” consider addressing a very specific issue: “Having Trouble Finding the Right WordPress Plugins? Top 10 Plugins for Small Businesses.” If someone has recently fought that battle, your headline will jump off the page for them.

Get to know them

Consider what you don’t know about your target audience, their goals, desires and habits, and ASK. Ask about things that aren’t directly relevant to selling your product or service. Ask the kind of “get to know you” questions you would ask in a real life introduction.  Choose topics that are interesting for your market research, but also ask the questions because you just want to know your audience better. Companies that use social media to show they understand and care about the audience they serve are the ones that get attention, get fans, and get passed along because they’re trying to make a genuine connection rather than just sell.

You could ask which blogs or Twitter users they think are the best in a certain category. You might have them rank the top events or conferences in your field, or get their opinions on your next product or logo update like Simple Shoes did.

Zappos recently posted on Facebook, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood debuted on this day back in 1968. We know you have the theme song in your head now. What was your favorite television show growing up?” Not at all related to selling shoes, but 165 fans took the time to give Zappos their answer.

Even if your intention is just fostering interaction, you’ll often get valuable insights to help you build out your target audience persona.

Any communication book will tell you that using simple language, talking about topics that interest your listener and asking questions are all key to building understanding and rapport. Don’t forget to apply the same principles to your marketing messages!

What other tips do you have to better connect with your audience?

Author: Jenny Lemmons Magic

Jenny Lemmons Magic is the founder of Better Way To Say It, a content marketing firm specializing in helping businesses and non-profits find their voice and get attention. Her communication and community-building skills help her forge bridges between companies and their customers, among members of marketing teams, and on the boards of the organizations with which she volunteers. You can follow her on Twitter @jennyLmagic.

Other posts by Jenny Lemmons Magic

  • Katie McCaskey

    Great tips, Jenny. I think “voice” is something a lot of companies struggle with, and, there’s an easy solution: hire a quality web writer/copywriter! Hire them not because they’re going to grammar-ify your message, but, because they can construct natural-sounding copy if that’s not your primary skill set. After all, while everyone can talk “naturally”, not everyone has the finesse to translate that into readable copy. (My informal 2 cents as a web content writer!)

  • No

    The writer can come up with simple and quality content, but unless the company is willing to go less formal and give these kind of writers latitude as well as the authority to do what works, then the conversational content won’t make the cut come publishing time. That seems to be a common challenge.

    • Better Way to Say It

      I completely agree – it can be a real challenge to get executives to let go of beloved, over-worded marketing content. I’ve found that the only real way to change their mind is to let them hear it from other people. We will often place our replacement copy next to the existing “radio voice” copy and let people vote. It can be as simple as a paper with checkmarks on the office bulletin board, but it usually gets the job done!

  • Marcus Sheridan,The Sales Lion

    Jenny, this was great. I’m always amazed how business owners speak above their clients and often times use vernacular they don’t have a clue as to what it means. Personally, I do everything I can to write like I talk, and it makes all the difference if someone is truly working toward a ‘social community’.

    Thanks again,


  • Brian Massey

    Thanks for the post. Does it help to have an awesome name like ‘Magic??’ 😉

    • Better Way to Say It

      One would think, but it sometimes flies in the face of my “under-promise, over-deliver” mantra – “magic” can be a hard claim to live up to!

  • Yinka Olaito

    Fantastic write up. I am learning to make the difference betwwen an official write up and converstaional tone. Converstaional tone helps better than official banwagon language use. Thanks Jenny

  • Codrut Turcanu

    Jenny, that’s a wonderful content-packed post. I have Tweetered it because I like its practical insights 🙂

    Now, my 2-cents.

    For better connecting with your audience you cannot afford to interrupt them but continue the conversation they’re having already with others (if you blog comment for e.g.) or in their heads (if you think of SEO and Google searches or social media interactions)

    Too many people interrupt us instead of genuine engagement ; too many offers, less substance.

    How do you feel about this guys?

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  • Stan Cole

    great tips and information in this article, especially the “talk to them directly” part!


  • Tim

    I find myself always talking to a targeted audience. This was a great post, thank for the tips.

  • Target-printable-coupons-2012

    I also wanted to add that you can also read this and other things about Target on my website.