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What Maya Angelou Can Teach You About Your Audience

I always think of content avatars like those ice breaker games you’re supposed to do at group events. Everybody asks the same 5 questions, no one actually gets below the surface, and you walk away knowing some potentially interesting, but ultimately useless information.

The truth is, most customer avatars leave you with a really nice imaginary friend … which is lovely, but not particularly useful for creating content.

See, the whole point of these things isn’t just to imagine someone in your head so you find it easier to write to them. That’s solipsistic, myopic, and ultimately self-serving — a quick road to an echo chamber in which you essentially end up writing to yourself.

Instead, you need to figure out ways that you can take generalities about people and then pull specific, useful information out of them about your people.

And this can be an absolute bitch of a process. I mean long, experimental, and requiring you to step back from what you think people want and need to hear and what they actually want and need to hear. Believe me, I know — I do it with clients all the time. Which is how I also know that there are some really good tools for getting to the bottom of this whole audience thing.

Enter the Angelou Test.

This is one of my favorite things to do with clients when they’re figuring out who their audience is. Here’s how it works:

Maya Angelou once said that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.

And she’s right — these are all situations in which our default moves tend to show through. This whole quote isn’t just about what someone does when it rains, or they're at the airport or putting up decorations. 

It’s about what they do with circumstances beyond their control. Situations that pile frustration on top of frustration, and require patience to resolve. Those times when no matter what a lovely jewel of a person you are normally, you’re more likely to do something that you probably wouldn’t want to tell your grandma about.

Now think about your audience, really picture in your head how someone in it would respond to those three things. And then — this is the important bit — figure out why that is.

Because while it’s not such a big deal of whether your people would go out and dance in the rain, stay inside and watch TV, or go for a run, rain or shine, what does matter is what that says about their values and motivations.

Similarly, whether someone breaks down at a luggage carousel or just fills out the paperwork is ultimately irrelevant. But the degree to which they feel able to handle themselves in potentially unfamiliar situations does, as does the way they treat the people around them when annoying stuff like lost luggage happens.

And of course, nobody cares if your people are the type that mutters “Fucking lights” under their breath before yanking the tangles apart or the type of patiently unstrings them bulb by bulb. But the way they approach problems really matters.

Remember, it’s about drawing valuable specifics out of inane generalities.

Because if you’re going to write copy and content that hits to the heart, you have to know the territories of that heart as intimately as you know your own.


Is your content an asset for your business or a drain on your time?

So you've followed the advice of the so-called marketing gurus.
Created and crumpled a dozen "client avatars".
Blogged 'til you're blue in the face.
And you're still not seeing a ROI on your content.

Let's fix that.

Actionable tips, effective strategies, and absolutely irreverent advice for getting your words to actually work for your business, right here.Add paragraph text here.

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