content marketing

Keep Your Audience Engaged: 5 Steps to Make Your Message Resonate

Keep Your Audience Engaged

The most effective communications aim to get people engaged, influence their behavior, and, ultimately, move them to action.

Too often, though, your targeted audiences end up like the geese in this picture I snapped the other day. The fake coyotes were enlisted to deliver a simple message – keep off the grass.

Clearly, as far as the geese are concerned, that message is no longer resonating.

As communicators and PR pros, we need to constantly work to ensure our audience doesn’t become a flock of indifferent geese. Here are some ways to make sure your messages don’t go stale:

Don’t just throw one pitch – Pitchers who throw only fast balls aren’t pitchers for long. It’s key to find new and different ways to deliver the same or similar messages. Focus on adding variety in how the message is positioned, who delivers it, and how it gets distributed. A blend of digital, print, video and even in-person communications helps ensure your message stays fresh and connects with the full range of your audience. 

Stay connected to your audience – As Peter pointed out last week, it’s essential to know your target audiences. Developing audience personas can be a game changer in terms of identifying your audiences -- and gaining a deeper understanding of what motivates them and how to reach them. Beyond personas, look for ways to gather ongoing feedback to make sure your messages are resonating. 

Avoid boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome – You can go overboard with trying to get your message out. Flooding your audience with messages, particularly if they are not very compelling or actionable, can cause them to check out. This is also true when you're working with the media. If you pitch the same reporters twice a week with mundane press releases, they may not be open to listening when you have a really compelling story to tell.

Make sure you hit the porch – Back in my newspaper days after we hit deadline a savvy old editor would often quip, “well it was all for naught if the paperboy misses the porch.”  Wise words. Even the best messages can’t get traction if they are not reaching your target audience. Make sure you know the right delivery channels and platforms to connect effectively -- and keep up to date with new ways people are getting information.

Monitor and measure — These days, people are getting bombarded with messages. As a result, they can tune out quickly. It’s essential to develop multiple ways to track and measure whether your messaging is resonating. That can include drawing insights from Google Analytics, tracking click and open rates, and measuring response rates or actions taken based on a particular message or campaign. It might make sense to establish an editorial advisory board, either online or in-person, or conduct some polls or surveys to gather more feedback.

Take it from the geese: Delivering the same message in the same way will bring diminishing returns. Be proactive and open to new strategies and tactics if you want to keep your audience engaged. 

Know Your Audience: A 6-Step Plan to Creating Personas

Your messages aren’t going out to faceless silhouettes. Put a face on your audience by creating personas. Flickr Creative Commons photo by  ephidryn .

Your messages aren’t going out to faceless silhouettes. Put a face on your audience by creating personas. Flickr Creative Commons photo by ephidryn.

A successful message isn’t about the message’s creator. It’s about the person who is reading, watching, or hearing it. 

What does she value? What is she hoping to achieve? What motivates her? What will turn her off? What will spark her to take action?

These are crucial questions — and they are important whether you’re composing an email, shooting a video, putting together an annual report, or creating something else.

Yet in a world where many of us are busy trying to keep up with our crowded editorial calendars, it’s often difficult to take a step back and think about the individuals who are on the receiving end of our messages. As a result, chances are pretty good you’re missing the mark with at least some of your target audiences.

Now imagine if your communications team truly understood the intended audience for every one of its messages.

Your open rates would be higher. Your social media content would get shared more regularly. Your revenues and brand awareness would soar.

There’s one especially effective tool for helping you achieve this state of communications nirvana: personas

Personas are composite profiles of your key audience segments that help your team identify, understand, and talk to these key audiences.

When created and deployed properly, audience personas can help time-strapped communicators understand and connect with their key audiences. Personas help put a face on the people you’re trying to get to take action — and they offer true insights into what your target audiences care about most.

Scott and I have come up with what we have found to be a great system for creating personas through working with groups like the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America and Wolters Kluwer.

Here are 6 lessons we’ve learned along the way:

1. Identify your goals

Before you define and learn about your key audiences, it helps to understand your priorities. Are you looking to advocate for an outcome, raise more money, launch a new product or service? By articulating two to three key organizational goals, you can begin to identify your highest-value audiences and work backward from there. 

2. Map your audiences to your goals

Once you define your priorities, identify which audiences you most need to reach in order to achieve these priorities. Perhaps you need to find more people who are similar to your existing donor or customer base—or you need to target an entirely new audience to achieve your goals.

3. Gather the relevant data

The most useful personas blend art and science. The science, in this case, is data. Review your organization’s CRM, web analytics, donor surveys, and any other key data about your current audience to begin to better understand who they are and what they care about. When possible, supplement these data with information from external sources to paint a more vivid picture.

4. Put a face to the numbers

Data is crucial, but so are insights from real people. We recommend interviewing people who are in your target audiences to gain insights that go beyond the numbers — and to reach outside of your organization to talk to folks who aren’t familiar with you. These interviews will help you learn more about what they value, what they think about your organization, and what it will take to gain the attention of others like them.

5. Make them engaging and accessible

Personas are designed to be easy to understand, so try to avoid word-heavy narratives. Use photos, quotes, and breakouts to give them color and help your team feel connected to them. And present them in accessible formats, such as posters that can be tacked up in office cubicles or flip books. Here’s an example of a package of personas we helped create for Make-A-Wish Foundation of America.

6. Embed them in your culture

Train everyone in your organization on how to use the personas in their marketing and communications efforts. Find ways to incorporate your personas into your planning process for events, new campaigns, and other activities that involve interacting with your key audiences.

The Takeaway?

Creating personas takes some work, but when done well, that investment is more than paid for by the added clients, donors, customers, and champions who come your way when you know how to speak their language.

Want to learn more about how personas can help your team? Drop me a line (peter@turn-two.co) and we can chat more.

Crack the Code to Effective Writing: 5 Tips for Creating Nut Graphs

Flickr Creative Commons photo by  Svetlana P .

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Svetlana P.

When it’s time to sit down and start writing, some writers begin by creating an outline or by trying to craft a compelling opening.

I start with the nut graph.

If you were trained as a journalist or have ever worked in a newsroom, you're probably already familiar with the term nut graph, which refers to the paragraph in a news story that tells readers why they are reading the story.

Nut graphs often appear early in the story -- typically in the second or third paragraph -- and set the context for what follows. They can be full paragraphs, short sentences, or something in between. But no matter the length, a good nut graph offers a clear roadmap to what makes the story important.

I’ve found that a strong nut graph isn’t just useful for writing news stories. It’s an element that paves the way for all effective writing. If you’re writing a white paper, case study, news release, blog post, video script, or e-mail marketing message, a nut graph is the key that unlocks your entire narrative.

If you can quickly and concisely identify why your piece is important, you stand a better chance of convincing the reader why it matters.

This is true whether you’re trying to pitch a story to a reporter, inspire a reader to make a donation to your nonprofit, or convince a potential customer to buy your product.

Whatever you’re writing, it’s important to explain -- very clearly and prominently -- why the piece is important.

But how do you figure that out?

Here are the five questions you should ask yourself before you write that will help you identify and frame your nut graph:

What’s different?

The fact that you are announcing a new CEO isn't different. Every organization hires a new leader from time to time.

But the person you are hiring usually brings something different to the table. Perhaps she is the first woman to ever lead an arts organization in your city, or the first graduate of your program to lead it.

If you can identify something different that might help your announcement stand out, your nut graph becomes fairly easy. Here's an example:

"Jones, who is the organization's 17th director, becomes the first woman to lead a major arts organization in Gotham City."

Is this part of a larger trend?

Let's say you are having a hard time identifying what's different. In that case, maybe you can focus on how it connects to a larger trend.

By spotting and calling out a trend in your nut graph, you're helping readers understand how your piece fits into a larger narrative or provides insight into something that’s happening around them.

Example: "The new program is part of a growing trend among nonprofits: partnering with local community foundations to track and measure a city's progress toward improving adult literacy rates. Similar programs in cities like Detroit and Pittsburgh are already showing great promise in addressing this important issue."

What’s the impact?

If you can identify how your subject will have an impact on the community it serves or a problem you're trying to solve, you have a ready-made news hook (and a nut graph that almost writes itself).

Example: "With this grant from Vandelay Industries, the Kramer Center will be able to provide housing assistance to 300 families that otherwise would not be able to afford rents in the neighborhood.”

Is it timely?

Perhaps you are writing about a topic that helps address an issue that is particularly timely or connects to a larger event in the news. Identifying a connection to something current can help give you the hook you need for your nut graph.

Example: "At a time when many local workers have lost their jobs due to the recent recession, this new program offers career training and placement services that are otherwise difficult to afford."

Can someone learn from it?

All of us are looking for information that can help us navigate our day to day lives. If your piece can offer practical advice that can help people be more effective in their jobs, with their finances, or with their relationships, it’s helpful to spotlight this information up front.

Example: "The new partnership is the result of months of deliberate planning and negotiations and provides a roadmap for other organizations that are looking to manage their costs responsibly."

What’s your best example of a nut graph? Share it in the comments below and we’ll spotlight the best nut graphs in a future edition of our newsletter.

How to Combat the Content Crooks

Flickr Creative Commons photo by  Adrian Scottow

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Adrian Scottow

Poet T. S. Eliot once famously quipped “good writers borrow, great writers steal.” 

T.S. would likely have a different take in today’s cyber age where there’s plenty of borrowing and stealing going on – but not by those looking to master a literary technique.

No, in the virtual cut-and-paste Internet era, content gets lifted at an alarming rate.

We’ve had clients and fellow writers voice concern that competitors are looting their content, changing a sentence here or there, and then passing it off as their own.

Yes, it happens.

No, there isn’t much you can do about it when it does. 

Yet there is solution: Create more content that is all but impossible to steal.   

Specifically, focus on your organization’s unique purpose and craft customized content that tells your story and highlights your strengths in ways only you can. 

For businesses, customer success stories and case studies do the trick. For nonprofits, it’s featuring a dedicated donor or someone whose life was bettered by your services. For any organization, it can be thought leadership content or op-eds that convey personalized insights or anecdotes.

Not only is this content well insulated from theft, it’s also much better than the generic copy that anyone can pump out and does little more than add to the clutter of the Web. 

Success stories from your customers or clients bolster your credibility by doing much of the heavy lifting to highlight your strengths. Meanwhile, thought leadership pieces helps your key leaders develop their own unique voices and share experiences and insights to connect more meaningfully with readers and set your organization apart. 

Creating steal-proof content doesn’t have to be a lot more work either once you get in the habit of branding your content as your own.

For even routine how-to or educational content, you can find ways to pepper in customer or client examples, or have the content bylined by a leader or subject-matter expert who can share personal lessons learned. 

Another T.S. Eliot quote that does stands the test of time is this: “Business today consists in persuading crowds.”

Whatever your business, a key way to persuade your crowd – while thwarting the thieves – is to create content that is uniquely your own