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HomeRants > Talk like a human being. > Probe your audiences--gently.> Lump people together into small groups.



How to sort people out:

Avoid the muddy mingling of a traditional approach.

Sort out the information on the Web.

Figure out your niche audiences.

Don't rely on old demographics.

The smaller niche you define, the better.

Adapt to each niche.

Prove that you should be considered a member of the community.

Take on the group's identity.

Lump people together into small groups

Niches are a compromise.

Identifying a particular segment of the audience can help you figure out particular topics that will interest that group, develop a tone that establishes your attitude toward them, and signal the relationship that you hope to have with those people.

But grouping people into a niche like this may overlook the unique character of individuals, the very specific facts you learn when you talk to people directly

Avoid the muddy mingling of a traditional approach

Traditionally, when creating a large document like a manual, book, or CD, we throw together topics that appeal to many different subgroups in the audience:

  • Overviews and hand-holding for absolute novices
  • Troubleshooting for the competent performers
  • Information on what's new in this version for the old-timers
  • Specs and behind-the-scenes data for the truly expert

All of those sections go into a single paper document, on the theory that different groups can find what they want in different places.


Who am I writing for, and, incidentally, who am I? (Full chapter from Hot Text, in PDF, 566K, or about 10 minutes at 56k)




Sort out the information on the Web

On the Web, we have the opportunity to create separate paths for each group, displaying only the content appropriate for that group.

Each group can find the other material; but if we customize content by niche, we show each group what interests them, first.

Figure out your niche audiences

Based on your research and talks with actual consumers, you can probably figure out a half dozen niche audiences.

Niches form around

  • Income
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Geographic location
  • Occupation
  • Outlook

Don't rely on old demographics

Generally, people behave on the Web as they do in the rest of their life, favoring certain brands, attitudes, ideas, and activities. So demographic information developed over the years may help you flesh out what a particular niche wants from your text.

But the Web also allows upper-income folks to visit stores they wouldn't go into at the mall. And the Web shifts shopping times into the evening, and dampens seasonal variations in purchasing. So you need to define your own niches, based on your own research, supplementing it with the generic stuff.

Nowadays, the customer relationship management folks think this way, developing clusters of people around their shopping habits, interests, and industries.

But so far most of this data is being used to determine which ads to display to which visitors. Only the most advanced sites, today, customize content for more than three or four niche audiences.

The smaller the niche you define, the better

The focus helps you figure out stuff like:

  • What topics they care about
  • What moves them
  • What examples might make sense to them
  • What ideas they resonate with.

Imagine writing in five different voices, for five distinct groups.

Adapt to each niche

As you become more attuned to the little groups within your audience, you become a ventriloquist, or a character actor playing a series of roles.

This chameleon-like ability to take on the tone and attitude of a niche audience is not as insincere as it sounds. People do this all the time, to earn their way into a particular community, adopting that group's way of talking.

Prove that you should be considered a member of the community.

Here's how:

  • Show you recognize the divisions within the community
  • Indicate that you agree on the boundaries of the community (who is in, who is not)
  • Accept the latest definition of what is hip, and not hip
  • Stress the values and attitudes that are widely and deeply shared by the community
  • Follow the general agreement on what topics are important today
  • Take sides in the arguments that go on continuously within the community
  • Contribute new ideas, comments, and support to the ongoing conversation (taking part, caring enough to hold up your end of the conversation)
  • Position yourself in relation to the rest of the community (as a leader, follower, troublemaker, what not)
  • Use key slogans, totem ideas, and jargon in the right way (not like a school principal trying to talk to kids in their own slang)
  • Refer regularly to activities that people in this community take for granted (and do not mention activities they disdain, can't afford, or have never heard of)

Take on the group's identity

In writing for niche audiences, you may feel like a method actor pulling out personal memories to build a new character.

To help clarify what you need to do to appeal to the niche audience, you'll probably want to draw up some guidelines on what you feel comfortable mentioning--lists of likely topics, positions, arguments.

And like an actor, you may also want to think of personal experiences that resemble the activities, evoke the values, and support the ideas of the group.

To succeed in writing for a niche, then, you must really join the niche, wading right into the conversation.

For writers, of course, a community has more to do with their discourse than their purchasing habits. Despite working for a particular site, and taking its direction, you are adopting the group's style, adding to its stock of ideas-and becoming a member.

Next: Create personas!




































Who is this person?  What small group goes around wearing a Lego truck on their hats?




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The Communication Circle

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