Are You Saying the Right Things to Your Secondary Audience?

Any marketer who’s been in the industry for more than five minutes understands the importance of a clear message. 

But what happens when that marketer is talking to more than one group of people at the same time? How does she sell a product to both decision makers and end users if they have completely different pain points? How can the copywriters, designers and brand strategists be sure they’re presenting a holistic message, while also saying the right things to the right people? 

At my agency, we’ve helped several clients overcome this dilemma. Here’s what we’ve learned along the way. 

What defines a primary versus a secondary audience? 

In marketing, a primary audience is generally the group with the buying power and the authority to make a purchasing decision. A secondary audience is made up of people who use the product, and they have some measure of influence, even if they’re not the buyers. 

Here’s an example: In a previous life, I was an adjunct professor at a university. I was once called into the dean’s office to choose which of several textbooks I’d prefer for next year’s class. Although I wouldn’t be purchasing the textbooks, I had a major stake in the decision. And as you can guess, my considerations about the purchase were very different than the dean’s.

 While I was looking at how the chapters were divided and wondering if the reading passages were appropriate for students, my dean was more concerned about price and publisher credibility. We represented two different audiences for the same product. One of us had the buying power; one of us would actively use the product. The publisher had to consider both of us as they visited universities and pitched their products. This situation illustrates how primary audiences and secondary audiences work. 

Using audience personas to identify and reach primary and secondary audiences 

To successfully market to both audiences, primary and secondary, it helps to know who they are. Who in your audience has the buying power? Who has the influence? What type of message would appeal to each? 

There’s a powerful tool that can help you determine the answers and keep everything straight: audience personas. 

Consider this example: a technology company develops a new medical app that needs to appeal to different groups—administrators, clinicians and patients. By creating 3 audience personas, a profile of each group, the tech company can understand how to address each group’s pain points.  

For example, they might create messaging to target administrators that speaks to the company’s longevity and expertise. To appeal to clinicians, the tech organization may explain how their app will benefit doctors and nurses. Messaging that targets patients may emphasize how easy it is to use their product. By referencing these audience personas, the company can develop marketing materials that are more effective—reaching each audience with messaging tailored specifically for them. 

What happens when companies need to reach a new audience? 

B2B industries have seen record levels of mergers and acquisitions in recent years—and combining or acquiring new brands typically includes reaching new audiences. When you’re dealing with a firm that’s undergoing a merger or branching out into a secondary market, it’s important to get a grasp on their target audiences right away. Getting insight from brand leaders, stakeholders and customers can help you establish personas for the new audiences. 

As you interview stakeholders and develop a messaging strategy, look for similarities and differences between the two companies. Identify the values they have in common. Finding common themes can help you maintain brand consistency across the marketing collateral you produce, no matter which audience you’re targeting. And that can ensure that the messaging is effective, even if one audience segment sees something intended for another. 

Some companies, such as FedEx, take a slightly different approach to audience segmentation: the branded house model. Consider Google. When users check for a scheduled appointment, they use Google Calendar. When they need to reach a client, they use Gmail. Each of these tools have the same parent; they’re all sub-brands of Google. FedEx’ brand lineup includes FedEx Freight and FedEx Kinkos—different divisions under the same umbrella. 

It takes strategy: getting from analytics to a messaging framework 

Whatever solution a company ultimately lands on, it takes audience analysis and a comprehensive marketing strategy, complete with a carefully crafted messaging framework, to get it right. 

Using Google Analytics or similar tools can give you insights into who is visiting your website, which pages they’re exploring, what devices they’re using and more. Social channels like LinkedIn or Facebook can give you similar information about your audience demographics. The insights you gather can help you determine which channels may be more or less appropriate for your target audiences. 

Let’s go back to the medical app example. Your research may tell you that the best way to reach hospital administrators is with a white paper or a thought leadership article. That suggests that your primary audience would be best targeted on LinkedIn. Your secondary audience, however, would be more likely to check YouTube for product descriptions and tutorials. Thinking ahead like this, and choosing the marketing channels that will yield the best results, is an important step as you develop an audience-focused marketing strategy. 

Once your audience and analytical research has given you a direction, it’s time to develop a messaging framework. Get out your charts. Your framework should first include a core, overarching value proposition and brand story. You should know who you are, what you stand for, why you’re in business and what you offer that’s valuable and unique. Second, you should establish messaging pillars that address each audience’s unique concerns. There’s where you can identify your primary and secondary audiences and write key messages targeted to each. 

Audience-focused messaging begins with your website. 

Marketing collateral is one thing. But the marketing resource you’ll rely on 7 days a week, 365 days a year is your company’s website. Audience-appropriate messaging should start there: in your site navigation, your landing pages and the resources you provide online. 

Think about the way many B2B companies speak to customers across industries. Software developers like Netsuite and Square present different content on their landing pages to appeal to customers in different fields. While their products’ features and benefits may overlap, the copy changes to speak directly to each audience’s concerns. 

Website navigation aids in this, too. When you visit Enterprise’s website, for example, you’ll notice that it’s primarily geared toward individuals who need to rent a car. But there’s another section of their website that speaks to a different audience—businesses—and there are resources specifically designed to address that audience’s main concerns. Naturally, these resources aren’t shared with individual renters. They wouldn’t be relevant to individuals, and the language used wouldn’t grab individuals. The messaging in these documents and marketing pieces is focused on answering questions a corporate fleet manager needs answers to. The professional tone and just-the-facts language is delineated in the messaging framework and emphasized in every creative brief. 

The lesson is to consider your different audiences as you design your website, from navigation on down. And, as you think about how to write for your different audiences, don’t just think about what your targets would like to hear—think about what they don’t want to hear. 

Here’s what we mean. One of our clients specializes in global logistics and supply chain solutions. Their technology saves time on the loading dock, which is a major selling point for their primary audience. However, their secondary audience—the dock workers who use this technology—may be reasonably concerned that saving too much time could mean they’re out of a job. That’s why, in their messaging, this supply chain company focuses on how much more their clients can accomplish with the same number of employees. The specter of a downsized workforce isn’t mentioned. 

Writing for your target audience. And for your other target audience. 

The moral of the story is to shift your messaging so it’s appropriate for your primary audience and your secondary audience, depending on where and how you reach them. Understanding which product features and benefits will appeal most to each audience, and which messages to tread lightly around, will go a long way. So, ask yourself: 

  • What messages will be most relevant to the primary audience? 
  • What messages will be most relevant to the secondary audience? 
  • Do any of these messages contradict one another? 
  • Do they all align with the overarching brand and core value proposition?
  • Are communications tailored so they reflect each target audience’s needs and priorities?
  • Are marketing efforts reaching each audience via the right channels? 

Keep in mind that your tone may shift slightly as well, depending on audience. While more logical appeals may work for one group, more emotional appeals may work for another. It’s important to have a plan not only for what you’ll say to each audience, but how you’ll say it. 

 Do you need to better target your message for a specific audience? 

A strong brand story, a clear value proposition and strategic messaging, segmented for different audiences, will help you reach the right people, at the right time, with the right message.

Untitled Draft

When they said “she’s a breath of fresh air” they didn’t mean me—

brown and small as a nut and grouchy, too. My therapist said as much, admitting that he discounted some women—frowning women, er, when he was younger, he amended.

I feel so proud when I see younger women feeling proud. 

Their ex mother in law will never say to them, “I thought we solved all that in the 60s” (though she didn’t know my mother, or her own son) and their bosses will never force them against a wall. 

Now I think about developing a self-help program for women like me, like us, with unhappy mothers and small paychecks, the ones who still sing along with Tori Amos when no one’s picking up the phone

I pull my leggings up over my belly, playing today’s music, skimming today’s headlines, imagining that I’ll never be passed over for a job again. 

That maybe the proud young girls will make the lawmakers listen and, maybe together, we can stop what’s coming for girls younger than all of us. 

I think about the possibility of being counted, about the ones doing the counting—I think about my mother’s mouth
hardened into a quiet line.

20 Years after 9/11

We’re coming up on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. I was 24 then, I lived in Arizona, and I wrote emails for Charles Schwab. (That was my day job. I also wrote poetry in my MFA program.) Watching a 9/11 documentary today made me think of a few of the poems I wrote back then. I never published them, and they feel like artifacts now. But maybe it’s a good time to share one of them. This is a poem in 2 columns. I originally called it The Emotional Life of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. (…leave me alone, it was grad school.)

In 2000 I learn about the “dot-com bubble,”
when it bursts. 
I work in an office where we watch the Dow drop 
over 500 points in a day.
The hardest hit, it seems, are personal retirement accounts.
The first round of layoffs begin.
The Twin Towers fall in September of 2001.
Among the dead
are hundreds of bond traders with the firm Cantor Fitzerald,
most of them only about 25.
The CEO weeps on television
in an interview with
Larry King–he says
“They were just babies.” 
An inside joke is whispered
around the office
in response to the questions
we get
from our wealthiest clients,
frantic, demanding to know
if their assets are safe. 
“Oh, sorry. Your assets
were in Tower One”
we say. 
Layoffs continue in conjunction with another wave 
Of panic-selling. We learn that the Enron executives 
Sell their shares many months
in advance of negative reports.
The market fluctuates in tandem, as the war begins, 
With new color-coded
alert levels. 
On the first full day of war,
the Dow gains 200 points. 
With over 200 years from risk management to banking,
U.S. government orders are never to wait; they are first 
In line. Is this correct? 
Would you like me to place this order?
3,000 or so people are a window. 
Watching clouds means the rain
may or may not fall.
I learned in a children’s book that you could
stretch a sheet of plastic
over a hole in the sand
and pray for dew.
I don’t wish, anymore, to trade places with anyone, but sometimes
in my daydreams
I escape my captors,
heroically firing a single shot
Into the brain of my enemy. 
When you’re a child you say, someday, you’ll take all their money.
You’ll build an escape hatch
on the top floor,
With a helicopter
and a circular staircase. 
You fill 5 pages with plans for this magical house. 
You grow up, and as you grow
you lose things–a thumbnail 
To the bread knife, a fiancée
or a used car.
You say, I know where to go for it,
I can survive 
only spending a third of what they give me. 
The rest seems to vanish into big gray buildings. 
The scraps of paper that float down, can they be read
like palms? 
I tried to keep the numbers clear,
on both sides of the ledger,
but there wasn’t any way out but underground. 
You may have money in your pocket, 
but you sit in the waiting room, like all the others. 
You remember watching CNN
in a different city, 
waking groggy, with the feeling you were back in Tulsa, 
twisters on the horizon. 
You look up at television in the corner.
Wonder why they keep showing that open grave. 

Getting this off my chest.

This morning, I woke up in a piss-poor mood. It was humid and hazy, and I grumbled about living in a swamp as I took the dogs outside. I picked up my medication at the pharmacy and wondered if I could afford counseling or if I would have to let that idea go. Once I got to the office, I scanned the headlines and my friends’ posts on social media before starting work. And I felt bitter. There was something bothering me — the same thing that’s bothered me for months and years now.

See, for the past thirty years, members of my family and people I’ve called friends have watched news channels and listened to radio programs that made them feel good about themselves. As have many of the people in the states I’ve lived in. It’s understandable, and it seemed harmless at first. But now these people, who claim to love me, look at me with a combination of wariness and pity. Our topics of conversation are limited, and they’ll sometimes start to say something — in a way that sounds like a challenge — and then drop it. Or chuckle and move to safer ground.

It wasn’t always this way! I used to enjoy talking politics with my uncles, cousins and friends, even when we disagreed. It was an honest debate. I respected them — and felt respected by them. Sadly, apart from a few who lean conservative but never went full Tea Party, that’s not true of those folks anymore.

Now, the voices in their ears and the feelings in their heart tell them I’m a radical socialist. I’m a “Lib.” And as a Lib, I’m hateful and amoral. I’m both hopelessly naive and sinister, with an agenda that would dismantle the freedoms we hold dear in this country.

What a shame that I’ve turned out this way…

The values they hold onto — of family, patriotism, and faith — are values I don’t share, according to them. And that makes me misguided at best — and a threat to their way of life at worst.

Sometimes they wonder if they’ll have to take up arms against people like me. People like me and people like my friends, the students I’ve taught, the people around the world I’ve learned from.

All sorts of things get them going and plunk coins in their outrage machine: mask mandates, Biden, the rights of trans people, Black Lives Matter, Biden, Afghans who might have Covid, Mexicans at the border, the things teachers might say in classrooms, the junk that might be in that vaccine, cancel culture, criminals who destroy Democrat-run cities, Biden. Oh, and their unshakable conviction that I’m just dying to take away their guns and start a class war. Just like a typical Marxist.

I guess they think I’d rather sponge off the government than work hard — even though they’ve known me my whole life, and they surely know that I’ve worked steadily since age 16, just like they have. I guess they think that the things I’ve learned in school and abroad, or the values I’ve gained as an educator and a writer, make me weird. Uncomfortably unknowable. Not … (hopefully) more compassionate or wiser. Just … a snowflake. Feminazi. Leftist. Lib.

Am I being paranoid? Sensitive? Maybe. But I live here. I’ve been around these folks all my life. I’ve listened to the things they say and I’ve noted the way they’ve changed.

Sometimes they say to me, wow your [sic] brave, with a look in their eyes that betrays what they really think. They’ll earnestly say to me that Obama is a secret Muslim and blink at me when I disagree. They’ll freely call young Black men thugs, they’ll laugh when I express a pro-immigrant or pro-LGBTQ+ or pro-choice point of view, and they’ll bemoan aloud, usually after asserting a Hannity talking point or blatant untruth, that people like me always make everything political.

And I am so tired. I feel this sad bitterness when I read their Facebook comments and learn about the conspiracies they believe in. Thinking about making small talk with them over the holidays and doing my best to understand where they’re coming from exhausts me. Because it’s in no way reciprocated.

This is the despair of watching your fellow Americans slide from honest values and heartfelt Christianity to … something else. Something that looks and feels like a death cult.

I’m still hesitant to say the word fascism. And I’m not equating my countrymen and women with Nazis. But I will say this: I understand a little better how trapped and helpless so many people in Germany must have felt as their democratic experiment descended into dictatorship. As their neighbors and family members happily ignored the cruelty and waved red and black flags.

Taking the “Boring” Out of B2B Content Marketing

I used to teach freshmen composition at a local university. 

You may have taken this class in college. You probably didn’t enjoy it. The class was a requirement, and the students who took it were there to get it over with. 

As I chose readings and designed assignments each year, I learned something that helps me in my current role: I learned how to get people talking

Finding the Passion that Makes Sentences Sing

Many of the students in my class were athletes who hated writing. If I asked them to write a descriptive essay about, say, their neighborhood, they’d fill it with clichés and vague sentences. So, instead of choosing a writing prompt from the textbook, I’d ask them about the most exciting game they’d ever played. 

These formerly dull writers would come to life. Given the right topic, their words would leap from the page. Their sentences would have an energy that even experienced writers can’t always generate. All it took was finding that question – that topic, that job – they felt passionate about. 

I think about this whenever I write for a tech or manufacturing B2B company. B2B content marketing for industries like medtech, managed IT services or cooling and ventilation can be tough to get excited about. And it often shows: too many B2B companies publish bland content that doesn’t represent what’s really cool about their line of work—leaving the thoughtful prose and engaging storytelling to B2C brands. The result is content marketing that isn’t interesting to read and, therefore, not as effective. 

I once toured a manufacturing plant and was fascinated as I listened to an engineer talk about the to-the-millimeter precision of his tools and how vitally important his job was to industries like aerospace and oil and gas. It was an industrial process I’d never heard of before. As this engineer rattled off numbers and statistics, I realized that his kind of passion was infectious. 

And that’s what copywriters need to tap into. 

6 Tips for Writing Engaging Technical B2B Copy 

If B2B marketers and copywriters can inject a little bit of the energy that engineer felt as he talked about industrial honing – or the beauty in description that my student athletes tapped into – then their copy will sing. Here are a few more tips for writing engaging B2B copy: 

  • Interview the Right Subject Matter Expert

When it comes to B2B content, especially highly technical content, you shouldn’t try to muddle through on your own. And you shouldn’t just rewrite information you find on a competitor’s website. To be a true thought leader in any industry requires original ideas. Regurgitating information from articles you find online won’t cut it. 

My advice? Do the work and get the right people talking. You’ll be amazed at what you learn. Subject matter experts can explain difficult concepts, which a skilled copywriter can then present from a fresh angle. Asking the right questions (even the stupid ones) and allowing conversations to unfold is key. That’s what will produce thought-provoking and valuable content. 

  • Use Jargon Sparingly 

Too many writers fall back on industry jargon. It’s understandable; there’s a balancing act between speaking to an audience that understands the industry – and doesn’t need basic concepts explained to them – and writing about complicated, highly technical subjects that require precise language. But while jargon can be useful for SEO purposes, it can’t do the whole job a copywriter is called to do. It can’t grab attention or get a reader to engage with a brand. There’s just no story in jargon. 

  • Lean Into the Specs and Numbers 

Details, on the other hand, matter. Details about manufacturing or IT that might make a layperson’s eyes cross mean something to your target audience. So, lean into the specs and numbers. Put them front and center. To the right people, they’ll tell a pretty compelling story.

Once, I wrote for a company that did custom casework – basically the countertops and cabinets, soffits, lighting sconces and other custom products used to furnish a restaurant or dentist’s office. When I got these craftspeople talking about the type of material they used to make a countertop resemble hot-rod chrome, for instance, or the exact dimensions required to create a 3-dimensional, tapered diner counter, their words painted pictures. Suddenly, the back-and-forth process of typing measurements into a computer, envisioning a project on a drafting table, and wrestling laminate into a new shape took on the suspense and gravity of a hero’s quest. 

  • Write to One Person 

Experienced copywriters suggest that you imagine having a conversation with an actual person when you write. This is good advice, and I’ll add to it: think about what your actual person might geek out about. Then, fire them up. 

Here’s what I mean: I worked with a writer and social media phenom who discovered an entire community devoted to scrapping and metal recycling. She “listened” to what this community said online. She was able to engage them with highly specific, industry-related content they loved debating amongst themselves. Before long, this community became a fan base, trading the type of user-generated content some B2C companies can only dream of. All for the type of industry many people wouldn’t think twice about. 

It’s that kind of passion that makes B2B copywriting interesting: finding it, injecting it into a brand’s story, and igniting it in their audience.  

  • Provide a Solution to a Problem 

As with any good piece of marketing, it all comes down to this: what job is the product or service designed to do, and how will doing it make a customer’s life better? 

This goes for B2C and B2B content alike. So: why is the cutting-edge AI in a company’s product so important for the hospital nurses who will be using their software? What makes the manufacturing process at a prefabricated construction facility so groundbreaking, and their products so innovative? 

Making solutions the goal of your copy – and telling the right story, in the right way, to the right people – will help you uncover the spark in B2B content. 

  • Finally, Consider the Bigger Picture – the Why 

The final thing to always keep in mind is the company’s why. Every business – no matter if it’s in shipping, cybersecurity or heating and cooling – has goals beyond the bottom line. They’re in it to make a useful impact on the world around them. 

One of Atomicdust’s clients hardens the metal components needed to make safe, reliable seatbelts. That highly specialized, specific product may sound boring – until you think about the car crash you passed on the highway and the family, alive and unhurt, standing beside a nasty-looking wreck. 

So, once you’ve “zoomed in” to the details, zoom back out. Consider the bigger picture. The why. That essentially human reason B2B industries are so important. With a story any human reader can relate to, a process that hardens metals suddenly becomes that much more fascinating – and your brand does, too. 

Whatever You Do, Don’t Be Boring 

I used to tell my students, “If you’re bored writing something, I’ll be bored reading it.” 

Our job as content creators is to amplify the importance of B2B brands and engage customers with the kind of details that energize them, not make their eyes glaze over. But first, we have to find those details. Mull them over. Make them reveal themselves.  

Clearly, I’m not an expert in transportation logistics, Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) or HVAC systems. And if I didn’t know any better, I’d think that drafting copy for these industries would be a long slog. But here’s the thing: once you find the right subject matter experts and tap into their passion, B2B content isn’t bland at all.