I’ve never thought much about how different people approach reading horror stories. After all, I don’t write scary stories. But I recently attended an event celebrating the Centennial Anniversary of the Poe Museum in Richmond, Va., and someone posed the question:
What kind of story gives children goosebumps? What type frightens a teenager?
I’m sure we can all agree: young kids are very different, both in terms of what they know and the type of content they’ll engage with, than teenagers.
R.L. Stine, the best-selling author of the Goosebumps series (for 7–11-year-olds) and Fear Street (for teenagers), has made a career of understanding what appeals to each group. He was sitting on the panel that night and supplied an answer.
Children, Stine says, can read horror without being frightened if they know the story is complete fantasy. He adds fantastical elements to his work so younger children feel secure knowing these events can’t happen in the real world.
Teenagers are the opposite. For them, the story must be rooted in the real world, so Stine takes care to incorporate the familiar.
Knowing his audiences – and how they differ – has paid off. In 2003, the Guinness Book of World Records named Stine the best-selling author of children’s series of all time.
Who’s Your Audience?
It may not seem obvious at first, but Stine’s approach to writing horror stories and content marketing have a common thread. “Know your audience” applies to both.
At Version A, our typical readers are buyers of technology and data products. They’re C-suite, IT, and marketing professionals. All have different backgrounds, pain points, and involvement in buying decisions – even if they’re within the same functional team.
For instance, a CMO will have different concerns than the VP of Marketing or the Brand Manager. All three will look at the same problem in unique ways – through the lens of their own set of challenges and goals.
Since each has their own point of view, as content marketers, we need to approach every article, ebook, or other asset and tailor it to our target reader.
Tell them something new.
Keep your reader’s level of expertise top of mind – and be sure to tell them something new. Education should always be your primary goal.
A CIO isn’t going to find anything useful or new in an article titled “Networks 101.” They’re already experts in managing corporate IT infrastructure. But they’ll keep reading an article that offers advance tips about how to build a more resilient network or meet corporate goals with innovative technology.
Address pain points.
Readers turn to the web again and again to search for solutions to both urgent and ongoing problems. For instance, if your target audience is struggling to build team cohesion in an era of hybrid work, they’ll happily consume any content offering new ideas and solutions. If your product portfolio can make their life easier, it’s a win for everyone.
Tailor content to specific roles.
Often, the person researching the problem isn’t the one making the buying decision. Most corporate decisions are made with input from others. C-suite executives might conduct some research on their own, but they’re more likely to assign the task to their direct reports or a junior member of the team.
Requests or recommendations for solutions may also come from other teams that would benefit. For example, the finance team might ask the IT team to implement a specific application to streamline accounts payable. Each of these researchers will need a slightly different spin on the same topic.
Understand priorities and goals.
Every reader will have a different set of goals and priorities – even if they work for the same company or the same team. A mid-level employee may be struggling to meet their goals with existing technology, while their manager has team metrics to meet and a limited budget to spend. Understanding these unique pressures can help you write more relevant content.
Leverage buyer personas.
At the start of every writing project, I ask the client two questions: Who is the audience? Do you have a buyer persona for them?
Buyer personas cover all the elements above, but in more detail. A comprehensive buyer persona should describe:
- Roles and Responsibilities
- Variations on job titles
- What success looks like
- What information sources are used
The advantage of buyer personas is they allow the writer to step into the shoes of their audience. Before I sit down to write, I imagine a day in the life of my reader. If it’s a CMO with global responsibilities, I hitch a ride on their commute and listen to their weekly EMEA conference call about strengthening regional marketing results.
I stand in the queue at Starbucks as they pick up coffee, then trail behind them as their marketing VP makes a pitch for extra headcount. In executive meetings, I see how the CMO’s priorities don’t always align with team needs.
Then, I look for ways my client’s solutions can help bridge the gap.
This little exercise makes writing easier – and more effective.
While some of us may enjoy a good horror story now and then, we want to avoid it at all costs when it comes to content marketing. Knowing your audience and what matters to them is the best way to keep the monsters at bay. Reach out if you need reinforcements.