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You might think copywriters ‘just know’ what to write. Well, they don’t.

Sure, some will dive right in and write something that reads well. But that’s just guesswork – they’re writing what theythink sounds right (or what the client told them to write).

There’s a better way that’s not only easier, it’s more effective. And you can totally do it too.Instead of guessing what your audience wants, use this copywriting strategy to strike the right tone of voice and get into the heads of your audience.

In this blog, I’m going to show you how to write great copy based on what your audience is thinking and how they speak. Not in a creepy, manipulative way, but in a way that genuinely helps you understand their needs.

Why would you want to write how they speak?

  1. Because it shows them they’re in the right place
  2. Because it grabs their attention
  3. Because they can relate to it
  4. Because it builds trust
  5. Because it’s easy for them to read (so they’ll stick around longer)
  6. Because it shows you understand their problem
  7. Because if you take the time to research your audience, you really will better understand their problem

Sure, you have your own brand voice. This isn’t about changing that voice. Think about how you speak to your clients, versus how you speak to your friends, versus how you speak to your grandma. Think about how you’d explain your work to someone in your industry, versus explaining it to a five-year-old. Everyone adjusts their speech to fit a given situation, and they don’t have to change their entire personality to do it.

It’s about choosing the right words for the situation, and speaking in a way your audience can relate to. Writing in a way that’s familiar to your audience AND taps into their underlying motivations is dynamite for your copy.

In this blog, the example I’m using is a series of Facebook posts for one of our clients. However, we use the same principal for website copy, emails, pamphlets – everything. As long as you know who you’re trying to talk to, you can use this technique to make your copy more effective.

So, let’s get into it.

The challenge

Māori and Pasifika Trades Training (MPTT) is an organisation that helps young Māori and Pasifika to build a career in the booming trades sector – and specifically in Auckland, New Zealand.

So basically, it’s a niche audience if there ever was one.

When our Facebook campaign began on February 11 this year, MPTT’s page likes had been fairly flat for months.

The goal of the campaign was to double the page likes in six weeks. (To be clear, we weren’t writing Facebook ads; we were writing posts for the page, some of which were then boosted.) And yep, we achieved our goal:

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 12.03.51 pm

But of course, we wanted those likes to be quality likes – no point in racking up lots of likes if those people weren’t going to engage with the posts, right?

We needed to weed out the randoms and find people who were either truly interested in joining the programme, or who were really supportive of it. Those were the people who would continue to like, share and comment on MPTT’s posts.

So, we needed the posts to speak specifically to those people. We needed to use their language and address their problems, to not only grab their attention but make enough of a connection that they clicked that like button.

How do you do that? Seriously, how would you do it?

  • Would you form a focus group of young Māori and Pasifika who would consider joining the trades, and ask them what they want?
  • Would you write out a detailed profile of a (fictional) member of your ideal audience?
  • Would you try to ‘put yourself in their shoes’ and manifest the right language to connect with them?
  • Would you just write what sounded good to you and hope it worked?

Luckily, the answer is ‘none of the above’. Because we have the internet now.

What we did

Look, ‘ideal client profiles’ are better than nothing when you’re trying to strike the right tone of voice. But unless you do good research, they’re still just a reflection of what you already believe about your audience. And you can do better than that.

Before we wrote a single word, we trawled through comments on MPTT’s Facebook page, pages with a similar audience and YouTube videos relating to the topic.

We also looked at who had shared MPTT’s posts, and the comments from their friends underneath. Being a step removed from MPTT (because people were commenting on their mate’s post rather than on MPTT’s page) meant people censored themselves less and wrote the way they’d talk to a friend.

We were also lucky enough to have MPTT videos of young people talking about why they chose their trade and what they enjoy about it. These were useful, but because they’d been edited (and people self-edit when they know they’re being recorded), they weren’t quite as golden as those online comments.

We cut and pasted people’s comments into a document.

Here’s what we were looking for:

  1. What they were saying: problems they had, their likes and dislikes
  2. How they were saying it: words they used, how casual or formal their language was, and any ‘in-group’ lingo

Here are some examples of statements we pulled out:

  • “Couldn’t see myself sitting inside all day.”
  • “I really enjoy the physical nature of it, feels like the blood’s flowing and the brain’s ticking.”
  • “What I like about construction, it’s hands on. I’ve done that office role and found it quite boring.”
  • “Office jobs suck.”
  • “I feel like I get trusted with doing jobs just as equally as the other guys. I feel respected.”
  • “Wasn’t feeling the buzz so decided to retrain.”
  • “Try and be great. Go hard and go for the future.”
  • “Could be my own boss one day.”

Note: we corrected a few spelling and grammar errors to make them easier to work with later, but you should leave in anything that’s deliberate, such as if they deliberately misspell a word because that’s what their in-group does.

The final list was about five times as long as this so I won’t put the whole thing here, but this should give you a good idea of what we did.

Finding themes

To write the Facebook posts, we needed to first come up with the topic of each post.

So we went back to our list and looked for ideas that came up several times. In this case, we were looking for reasons people might like to learn a trade.

For example, in the list above, you can see a few comments about wanting to work outdoors rather than in an office. (By the way, there’s no set amount of times a subject has to come up to make it a theme – one really powerful statement might be enough to be a theme on its own, but usually the ideas you’re looking for will pop up at least a few times.)

Here are some themes we pulled out of the list we had:

  • Job satisfaction – not being stuck in an office, and doing something hands-on
  • Empowerment – the sense of self-respect and competence that comes from studying and getting a job, and doing practical work
  • Opportunities – for work, for growth, for leadership, for career progression
  • Chasing a dream – believing they can do the job they always dreamed about

These were things that motivated the people we were looking for – so much so that they mentioned them of their own accord, without being prompted. So by basing our Facebook posts around those same ideas, we were able to tap into exactly what our ideal audience was looking for.

Writing how they speak

Now for actually writing the posts.

The power of using language your audience uses is that you’re able to show them they’re in the right place – but without directly having to say that.

Let’s take another look at our original list above.

  • “Couldn’t see myself sitting inside all day.”
  • “I really enjoy the physical nature of it, feels like the blood’s flowing and the brain’s ticking.”
  • “What I like about construction, it’s hands on. I’ve done that office role and found it quite boring.”
  • “Office jobs suck.”
  • “I feel like I get trusted with doing jobs just as equally as the other guys. I feel respected.”
  • “Wasn’t feeling the buzz so decided to retrain.”
  • “Try and be great. Go hard and go for the future.”
  • “Could be my own boss one day.”

Looking at the first theme – job satisfaction (not being stuck in an office) – here are some things we looked for in the above list:

  1. We can see our audience uses the word ‘office’ when referring generally to working indoors. So we wouldn’t go and call it something different (like ‘corporate work’).
  2. The phrase ‘office jobs suck’ stands out, and is the kind of phrase we might use in full when writing the post. Other phrases from the list that stand out in a similar way, which might be used to write posts about other themes, include ‘go hard’, ‘feeling the buzz’ and ‘feels like the blood’s flowing and the brain’s ticking’. They’re memorable phrases because they wouldn’t be said by just anyone; they’re examples of how this particular group speaks. If a member of your audience said it, there’s a good chance more of the people you’re targeting will relate to it as well.
  3. We also looked for ideas to rephrase, rather than use word-for-word. This might be because what they’ve said doesn’t quite make sense. But it may just be the words they’ve used aren’t really unique. For example, with the words ‘sitting inside all day’, you can imagine everyone from a 12-year-old girl to a school principal to your great aunt using the words ‘sitting inside all day’; they’re not specific to this particular group.

Here’s part of a Facebook post we wrote after following this process:

Office jobs suck. If you’re Māori or Pasifika and aged 18-40, why not learn a trade for free and get paid to work outside? 

Here’s another one, for the theme ‘chasing the dream’:

Not feeling the buzz in your current job? We’ll help you learn a trade and start chasing your dream.

Each of these examples contains:

  • A key phrase (‘office jobs suck’ and ‘not feeling the buzz’) that we borrowed word-for-word from a member of our audience
  • Something they said they wanted or didn’t want, which we decided to rephrase (‘get paid to work outside’ and ‘start chasing your dream’)

So, did it work?

Earlier on in this post, I showed you how we more than doubled MPTT’s Facebook likes in the period our posts were published (from February 11 until the end of March).

But although that was the goal, we didn’t just want the likes (otherwise MPTT could have just bought 1000 likes for $5 and be done with it). No, we wanted those likes to be from people who were genuinely excited by MPTT.

So yeah, we got the likes, but did that translate to more engagement?

Yessiree. Reactions, comments and shares all increased over that period:

How we increased Facebook engagement by using the right tone of voice.

Now it’s your turn. Ask yourself:

  • Where does your audience hang out online? Where can you go to observe how they speak?
  • What memorable phrases or in-group lingo do they use that you could borrow, word-for-word?
  • What are they saying that you can acknowledge in your copy? (What problems do they refer to? What solutions are they looking for? What do they like or dislike?)