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Fragments and Shrapnel: Not like you

Too many years working in radio have made me jaded and it’s rare I hear an interview that makes me stop and pay attention. First I notice the bad production value and then the bad questions and finally I get so annoyed I have to turn it off. Last week, however, I heard something that got my attention and forced me think outside of the box.

I was stuck on the Max on a Friday afternoon with two squalling children and a driver who muttered something about an electrical problem. People were tired and ready to throw the squalling baby and its mother out into the river. To avoid committing mass homicide, I put on my headphones and listened to A Closer Look with Pam Atherton.

The interview was with Kelly McDonald the author of How to Market to People Not Like You. Kelly’s message was simple: If you really, truly want your business to succeed you need to market to cultures other than your own. Don’t assume you know what people want because you don’t. Simply translating your advertisements into Spanish will not help you gain more Hispanic customers and making something small and pink does not mean more women will buy your product. She recommended doing your research and showing an honest interest in the people, culture and communities you’re trying to reach. In other words, know your audience. To hear the interview click here.

As writers we are told to write what we know, but how many of us actually write outside of our comfort zones? I place myself as a character in many of my short stories in locations with which I am familiar. I give my characters one or two syllable names and nothing too exotic; although, I did once write a story with a main character named Cuthbert. So, what’s stopping me from writing a story about a South African girl (never mind I’ve never been there and don’t know any South Africans) or a story about an Irish lad?

Familiarity breeds contempt and as creative types we need to push ourselves out of our comfort zones to stay inspired. How many of us take the same routes home or shop at the same stores? I heard an interview with a woman in New York who had a store people kept meaning to stop in but never did and she had to close her business. You just never know what you might find if you change your route to work or say hello to that person you see on the train every day.

Perhaps it’s time for me to take Kelly’s advice and write for people are NOT like me. What about you? How can you apply this in your life?

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About Anna Alexander

I am a freelance writer and producer living in the Pacific Northwest. My husband and I live with our cat Grendel who lets us pay his mortgage.

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