It’s a simple question, but one that can be difficult for some of my clients to answer: Who is the reader for your thought leadership?

Marketers, business development professionals and subject matter experts always know what they want to write about — digital transformation, or why companies need to do a better job of protecting their trade secrets – but when I ask them who the article is for, they’re often stumped.

“Senior executives,” they say after a pause.

“Which ones?” I ask.

“Oh, you know. All of them.”

Really? If you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll appeal to no one. That’s a fact. Why don’t these professionals know who they’re writing for? Why haven’t they thought about it?

I blame this first on the way we’re educated, and then on the delusions of grandeur we develop in our professional lives, especially when we’re successful.

In school, we write for our teachers, who want us to learn how to summarize, analyze, research and present a logical argument. That’s all important. But teachers are paid to read what we write. After we leave school, our readers aren’t. We need to convince them; we need to address their unique and very specific concerns. We might have been better served if our teachers had said, “Write an essay that convinces your mom and dad to let you watch an extra hour of television each day” instead of “Write an essay about the educational benefits of television.”

Then, we would know who we were talking to. A direct appeal to mom and dad likely would contain a more compelling argument because we would be writing for people we know instead of a captive audience: the teacher.

The second hurdle to writing for a specific audience is the belief that the entire world will be interested in what we write. If you’re Malcolm Gladwell, Stephen Covey, or Sheryl Sandberg, that might be true. If you’re not, it isn’t.

And even these best-selling authors had a specific audience in mind when they sat down to write: people who needed to understand decision-making, how to manage their time, or succeed as women in the workplace.

That’s why I try to push the marketers and subject matter experts I’m hired to help to go beyond defining their audience as “senior executives.” Is it a CFO? A CIO? A human relations leader? Because, let’s face it, the CIO is highly unlikely to download your white paper on taxes, and the CFO is unlikely to read your article on artificial intelligence.

So, pick one of them and focus on their anxieties and interests. For example, if you’re writing about digital transformation for a company’s employment counsel, concentrate on the aspects that most affect him or her, like how to recruit people with the necessary skills. And if you’re writing for compliance officers, concentrate on the data security and privacy issues that come with digital transformation.

Narrowing your audience will give your article a beautiful thing: focus. When you know who you’re talking to, you’ll know which details to include and what to leave out. You’ll be writing about what’s most relevant to your readers. That gives you the opportunity to address their concerns in a practical way.

Articles that try to be all things to all people fail. Write for the people you know need your knowledge and insight.

That’s how you get downloads; that’s how you make an impact.

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