Just Talk, You’ve Already Got My Attention

Grab a handful of the junk mail that came through your mail slot today (go ahead, I’ll wait until you get back).

If your mail looks anything like mine, you now hold in your hands a bunch of brightly colored “mail pieces,” emblazoned with phrases such as, “Save up to $150,” “You’re Pre-Approved,” and “Hurry, Offer Ends Soon!” Although we all know cognitively that just about everyone’s “pre-approved,” and that even though this “offer ends soon” the next will be right behind, emotionally we are attracted to these time tested phrases.

Not that there’s anything wrong with them. This attention grabbing approach makes sense with direct mail.

The direct marketers who send this stuff know that a piece of mail is only effective if it’s read, and the way to get you to read it is to catch your attention with something compelling and interesting. And with all the competition for your attention (according to “Permission Marketing” author Seth Godin, the average consumer sees about 3,000 marketing messages PER DAY), unsolicited advertising needs to stand out from the clutter to be effective. In a typical advertisement therefore, you’ll notice that at least half the effort is focused solely on getting your attention.

With your opt-in electronic newsletters and other customer requested correspondence however, this approach is unproductive and annoying.

Remember, you already have the attention of these people (they have asked you a question or given you their feedback or requested your publication). You don’t need to interrupt them because they’re already listening. “Sales speak” in this context only serves to bring the conversation back to square one, while you’re already standing on square four or five.

As obvious as this may seem, as I’ve worked with traditional companies that are beginning to incorporate electronic communications into their business models, I’ve seen how difficult it is for them — and in particular, their marketing people — to speak in plain English. We’ve all become so conditioned to “market” our services and strengthen our brand at every turn, that when given the opportunity to simply have a conversation with a potential customer, we are at a loss. As a result, most initial efforts to produce electronic communications result in output that reads more like a recycled brochure or press release, than like a letter to a friend. The latter approach is the path to developing a relationship that will contribute to your profitability into the future.

WHAT’S THE SOLUTION? We literally have to retrain ourselves to “speak” in a 1 to 1 manner when working in this medium. Write your communications in a first person, conversational tone, and resist the urge to have your Marcom — or God forbid, Public Relations — people “polish things up.” This is not the place for catchy phrases and smooth talk.

As author Christopher Locke ponders in his (sometimes maniacal) book, “The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual*:”

“Why is a medium that holds such promise — to connect, to inspire, to awaken, to enlist, to change — being used by companies as a conduit for the kind of tired lies that have characterized fifty years of television?”

I don’t know the answer to his question, but I do know that your customers would welcome a change. So get out there and start communicating, and by all means let me know what you discover (but hurry, this offer ends soon).

You can download the first chapter of Locke’s book for free, at http://www.cluetrain.com/apocalypso.html

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