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Don’t Know the Ideal Reader? 3 Reasons You Should

As marketers, our careers revolve around choosing targets and articulating messaging that clearly addresses our targets’ pain points and need states.  We spend days and weeks creating profiles and personas for the people we most want to buy or products, and test their response through split testing and focus groups.

But for some reason, when it comes to white papers, we just start writing.  Few of us spend time crafting arguments for different audiences.  And even fewer craft different arguments for different stages of the sales cycle.

I was shocked last week after doing some informal research.  I downloaded 20 white papers and found less than five had a clearly stated ideal reader – a missed opportunity for 75% of the papers I read.

When a single, well-marketed white paper could generate six-figure advertising reach, why don’t we target our white papers with the same fervor?

Do You Really Know Your Reader?

Who is your ideal reader?

Many of you just said “Well, it’s my target audience, Ryan, duh.”  But that isn’t always the case, as the target reader is simply the person you want to read this particular argument.  Sure, it may be your target buyer.  But it might also key a key technical influencer, or the decision maker on a large purchase.

Understanding your white paper’s ideal reader is the critical to your paper’s success.  To maximize the probability of your success, make you clearly understand the following:

  • Key demographics (age, gender, company size, title and responsibility)
  • Psychographics (type A/B, busy or free, know-it-all or willing to learn, closed- or open-minded)
  • Topic knowledge (how much do they about your topic?)

Don’t Know the Ideal Reader?  3 Reasons You Should

No Affinity, No Page Turning
As a white paper writer, your first priority is to get the first page turned.  You want your first page to scream “I hear you.  I hear you and I am listening!”  But you can only create this if you create a connection with the reader.

How do you create affinity with your readers if you’ve never identified them?

By specifically identifying the reader, you dramatically improve your chances of creating this connection. Using phrases like “for security directors at Global 5000 companies,” you make it very clear who will get the most from your paper.  By combining this identification with a clear statement of the reader’s challenges related to your particular topic, you will exponentially increase the readership of your white papers. 

Untargeted Messaging is Poor Messaging
A common writing trick is to constantly review your work through the persona of the ideal reader.  This ensures that you are writing for them and have not strayed off-path when creating your arguments.  Unless you have a clear picture of the ideal reader, you will not be able to read the paper from their perspective, and you risk a loose paper that doesn’t quite hit home.  Bottom line: every word of your paper should be written for the ideal reader.  Anything less is wasted copy and potentially distracting copy.

Over Educating the Reader is a Turn Off
How many times have you read a paper about a topic in which you are familiar, and the first five pages about what you already know.  If you are like most readers, you either quit reading or you discredited the topic as being remedial.

You have a unique opportunity if you understand the topical knowledge of your ideal reader.  Why?  By providing the proper amount of educational background, you align yourself with the reader.  If you don’t know your reader and you guess their topic knowledge, you risk two very real situations.  If you over-educate the reader, you risk losing them as I mentioned in the example above.  Busy people don’t like to read things they already know.  If you under-educate the reader, you risk losing them and end up building a poor foundation for your arguments. 

Choosing a Writer Who Knows Your Reader
If you use outside writers for your white papers, make sure you spend time understanding how they identify the ideal reader of their papers.  If they don’t have a specific response, process or set of questions they use to identify the ideal, you should consider finding a writer who does.  There is just too much to lose in getting it wrong.