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Write Like A Man: Understanding Your Content's Audience

By Annie ZelmMay 8, 2014

write like a man

OK, it’s time to come clean. I’ve never ridden a motorcycle. I don’t own a boat and probably never will. I don’t understand how anyone watches golf without falling asleep. I don’t understand a lot of sports, actually. I grew up with three sisters and a dad who would rather spend his Saturdays on a tractor than watching a football game.

Most of the testosterone in our house came from the family dog.

Yet I spend 90 percent of my time writing for men, mostly men old enough to be my dad. They are successful, decisive and pressed for time.

I’m sure I’m not the only one with this problem.

For whatever reason, it seems there are more women than men writing content. There’s not much data on this, so I can only speak from my own experience. Kuno’s brand journalists consist of six women and no men. We could spend a long time speculating why that is, but let’s not.

A man would never do that.

If you’re a woman who’s doing a lot of writing for men, your default writing style won’t fly.
You need to channel Natasha Romanoff in The Avengers and hack into their minds. It’s not as scary as it sounds. As marketers, we’re constantly telling other people how important it is to know our audience, so we should practice what we preach.

Time to man up already. writing-content

Here’s what I’ve learned so far about doing that.

Spend Time Where They Are

Here in Northern Ohio, it’s the Harley Davidson dealership, the islands, the barge parties, the yacht club and the bistros. I’ve met some of the most highly motivated men at local road races, where it’s natural to talk about achievements.

These men always know exactly what time they need to beat to achieve a personal best. They want all the facts to draw their own conclusions on the best way to do that, and they love to compare their times, training stats and pre-race strategy. It’s always good to get some conversation going, but you can also learn a lot just by observing and listening in. What else motivates these men? What aggravates them? What are they ordering? What are they checking while they wait for their food?

Read What They Read, Watch What They’re Watching

I’ve gotten into the habit of adding Bloomberg, the USA Today’s business section, Forbes, Fast Company and the Wall Street Journal to the websites I check each day. I scan the headlines and read about why Asian stocks are plummeting and how Jack Ma’s fortune is growing. I follow more industry leaders and company profiles on LinkedIn and Twitter, so I’ll check there, too. I’ve started to watch more "Shark Tank," and I jumped on the "Walking Dead" bandwagon for a while despite my indifference to zombies. It wasn’t as addictive as Scandal, but it was well-written and a lot more entertaining than I expected. Next on my list: True Detective, House of Cards and Hostages.

Talk to Them

Wherever I’ve worked, I’ve been fortunate to have the kind of bosses who still keep in touch. Sometimes I’ll run an idea by them or just ask what they’ve been doing. Where are they going on vacation? What is it they don’t understand about their daughter in college? What cultural references do they make? (I’m embarrassed to say the "Kung Fu" reference was lost on me the first time my former boss called me “young grasshopper,” but he’s Master Po to me now.)
It’s equally important to build connections with people in the industry you’re targeting.

I don’t know many investors, but I know people who have introduced me to them. Don’t be afraid to ask for industry references and call them. Ask them what questions they ask when they’re considering a new investment. Who do they trust for information? What’s the best way to contact them? The most brilliant copy will have no impact if your target audience doesn’t check email.

Write With Authority

The biggest hurdle for women who write for men is overcoming differences in communication styles. Whether it’s by nature, nurture or a combination of both, women tend to use language differently. Linguistics professor Deborah Tannen, author of You Just Don’t Understand, studied this extensively.

She pointed out that in conversations, men focus on achieving social status, solving problems and showing expertise, while women focus more on developing a personal connection. We care more about building consensus than taking the authoritative stance. This isn’t true of all women, and it's not a weakness. In fact, these characteristics are often the markings of highly effective leaders. Marketing is all about building relationships, so that instinct is spot on and should absolutely be a goal in your strategy.

In content marketing, though, too much desire to appease diminishes authority.

That’s especially true in B2B marketing, where you as the writer are the subject matter expert. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a definitive stance that will influence decision makers, you need to do more research. Don’t make suggestions; give clear recommendations.

Even if you know exactly what you want to say, watch for hesitation creeping into your writing. Kill the qualifiers – words like very, really, somewhat, quite, possibly – and passive voice. I didn’t realize I was guilty of this until the phrase, “You may find this helpful,” worked its way into a marketing email and ratted me out.

A Final Word

As I look back at my early news features, it’s painfully apparent I spent too much time writing for myself and not enough time writing for the reader. In writing a business profile, I set the scene with long, descriptive introductions because they made me feel good about myself. I saw them as a reflection of my writing ability, but I doubt the reader cared. They would have rather seen, “6 Things You Didn’t Know About Kalahari’s new CEO,” than three paragraphs describing his interactions with his staff.

Save your most artistic writing for your Tumblr blog. Notice I didn’t say you should stop being creative. It takes more creativity to catch someone’s attention by speaking their language than using all your old tricks.

Keeping up with football doesn’t hurt, either. If only the draft picks were zombies...

Are you a woman writing for a male audience or a man who’s targeting Millennial women? How have you refined your tone? What’s worked best, and what has backfired?

Share your comments below.

Creating Content for Marketing Automation

Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Lightstorm Entertainment

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The Author

Annie Zelm

As the content manager, Annie manages a team of brand journalists and is the driving force behind the content strategy for companies in a wide range of industries, including healthcare, technology and professional services. Relying on interviewing skills she developed in her seven years as a journalist, she uncovers insights about what motivates buyers in these industries and uses that knowledge to shape client websites and editorial calendars.
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