Secret to Writing Success: Visualize Your Reader

By Apryl Parcher

One of the primary maxims of writing sales copy is: “Know Your Customer.” However, that particular pearl of wisdom sometimes gets ignored in white papers. Why?

We’re taught to “Talk Sideways”

When I took a speech class in college, one of the tips the instructor gave for handling stage fright was to look over the heads of my audience and avoid direct eye contact. Have you ever heard that one? Or how about visualizing your audience naked?

While these “talking sideways” tactics may help temporarily reduced sweaty palms in public speaking, they didn’t help me “connect” with my audience, which I later learned was much more important, both in public speaking and writing persuasive copy. Talking directly “to” your audience—making that eye contact—is what gets the best audience response.

Here’s a little nugget of wisdom I learned in copywriting that may help you make better connection with your readers:

Visualize one person (your Ideal Reader) right down to their shoes.

The great marketer, David Ogilvy, once said to a soap manufacturer: “Your customer isn’t a moron—she’s your wife.”

Think about it. Wouldn’t you write differently to a spouse than to a group of faceless people? Of course you would—because you know that single person well enough to be able to picture him in your head, and understand where he’s coming from.

So I like to get enough information about my prospect to mentally visualize what they might look like—age, sex, married, kids, income, lifestyle, hobbies—and conjure a mental picture of them before I start writing.

Clayton Makepeace, who many refer to as the “King of Copywriters,” takes this type of visualization even further with a “dominant emotion” exercise before he writes a single word, as illustrated in this excerpt from his book: Two Hours to More Profitable Sales Copy:

“I leaned back in my chair, closed my eyes and mentally inserted myself into the shoes of a 50 to 70-year-old man (our target demographic) whose life was plagued by chronic health problems… endless doctor visits… taking fistfuls of costly prescription drugs every day… suffering horrific side-effects from those drugs… and never getting any better.

I saw myself showing up at the doctor’s office… cooling my heels in the waiting room reading dull magazines for an hour, waiting for my name to be called… ushered into the exam room… and made to wait even longer.

Finally, I saw the doctor hurriedly burst through the door, ask me a cursory question or two, scribble a few chicken scratches on a prescription pad and vanish as quickly as he had come.

I saw myself experiencing what my prospects experience every day, I started feeling the emotions they were feeling: frustration with health problems their doctors couldn’t seem to cure… afraid of the consequences of failing health… exhausted by doctor visits that interrupted their lives…worried about the cost and side-effects of conventional medicine… and disgusted with doctors who never seemed to take a personal interest in them.”

Granted, Makepeace is talking about sales copy here, but the concept translates well in writing white papers, too. The deeper you can connect with your reader on an emotional level, the more likely you are to engage him in any type of writing.

For Better Connection: Go Deeper

Why not give this visualization exercise a try? It may feel a little funny at first, but trust me—getting that deeper connection in your head before you begin a project will help it flow more smoothly from start to finish.

About the Author: Apryl Parcher is Michael A. Stelzner’s apprentice. You can learn more about her at

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  • Joey Logano Fan

    Yes I have heard of visualizing the audience naked, or rather visualizing them in their underwear haha but truthfully I don’t think anyone has ever done that or been able to do it haha. The other tip you speak of sounds like a really good one though, I will have to try it, next time I present to an audience, its all going over their heads lol! If you are giving a more weighted and meaningful speech though it is very important to connect to the audience. I like the one about the audience being our family members! That I could do! Connect to the audience and rid myself of nerves.. nice

    Joey Logano Fan’s last blog post..Victory Lane At Pocono Raceway with Joey Logano

  • Tia Dobi

    Yup – and answering the question what keeps your prospect up at night can be helpful (similar to what Big Daddy Makepeace says “envision your prospect’s daily experince”).

    My secret visualisation tactic is to post a picture of my prospect on my computer screen as I write.

    Talk about heart to heart…

    Peace and Profits,
    Tia D.

  • Apryl

    Thanks Joey and Tia!

    Great comments! Still surprises me how difficult it can be for a business owner to think in that kind of detail about his prospect. My creative briefs often come back from clients sadly empty of the juicy tidbits I need to flesh out their ideal customer. Hmmm… think I should add a detailed questionnaire on reader characteristics to my briefs?

  • Jacques Snyman | 3 Quotes

    Brilliant piece of writing, April! It sure does help to put things into perspective. The old saying of “know your enemy” sure does apply to marketing too, and we are prone to forgetting that fact.

  • Apryl

    Thanks, Jacques–and many thanks, everyone, for the Retweets. :)

  • Elizabeth Cottrell

    Excellent information, Apryl — so many things boil down to some basic truths. As you have expressed in such a powerful and articulate article, when we visualize and try to imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we can always do a better job of communicating, serving, helping, or whatever it is we are doing. Thank you for reminding us of something we should never forget.

  • Apryl Parcher

    Hi Elizabeth:

    Thanks for that comment. You would be surprised how many business people forget, especially when they’re very close to their business and actively involved in running it.

    I just did two seminars for local business owners yesterday on using social media, and in the “blogging” module under “what do I write about?” the idea of visualizing (at least on the level I spoke of in this post) seemed to be a new concept for many of them.

    I can understand that, having run several small service and retail businesses myself. You get so busy stocking the shelves, doing the books and running the show that pooling detailed information about your best customers is put on the back burner (or not done at all).

    Many times it’s hard enough to find time to get traditional advertising done, much less sit down and write something. I’ll bet you hear that complaint a lot in your circles, don’t you?

    However, even if they want to hire the writing out, it’s important that owner or manager understand the need to visualize the prospect so they can give the writer the information they need to do it effectively.

    Collecting that information is a whole different story! :)

  • Chesapeake Movers

    This is very good advice, it’s always a good idea to keep in mind your target audience and their perception of the situation and of what you’re saying to them. The real challenge is that you have to know your audience well enough to be able to do this. If you don’t know what types of things the people you’re trying to appeal to think about, you will have a tough time picturing them in your mind and writing in a way that they can relate to.

  • Apryl Parcher

    Absolutely… which is why it is so important to capture that information about your ideal reader. This sometimes leaves business owners scratching their heads, and could be fodder for yet another discussion: How do you find out this kind of detailed information? Where do you look? Is there a way to collect detailed information on prospects other than a cumbersome survey questionnaire?

    Would love to hear more thoughts on this. I’m sure there are some great ideas out there, so submit a comment and tell us how you go about gathering this type of information… even unrelated businesses could benefit. :)

  • Obozy Studenckie

    There is something truth about what you have written in this post. When you write something you must know who are you writing for and that is actual in all possible ways of writing. Even if you are writing a novel that supposed to be innovative in any possible way you imagine people who would like to read it. And while writing articles about very specific topics this rule become even more important. So I must fully agree with you – reader visualization is very important.


    Hi,The success and wealth we observe of rich, famous writers – is it a pipe dream to aim for literary success? How do writers succeed at such a difficult art form? Is it similar to winning a lottery, or are you born to it, with the talent necessary to succeed?

  • naturalmedicine

    Good informative post about writing skill. Yes, reader visualization is important and when we writing anything we focused on reader also. Thanks.

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  • homeopet leaks no more

    I can understand that, having run several small service and retail businesses myself. You get so busy stocking the shelves, doing the books and running the show that pooling detailed information about your best customers is put on the back burner (or not done at all).

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