All Business Isn’t Good For Business

I was half-watching the 11 o’clock news the other night, jumping around among the three local networks. It was amazing to see how similar the programs were.

Same stories, same sound bites, same, “live from the scene of . .,” segments. Most times they even covered the news in the same order(is there an FCC regulation that requires Sports to come on at 20 minutes past the hour?).

It suddenly dawned on me that the primary difference — and therefore the determining factor between who’s #1 and who’s #3 — isn’t even the product itself (i.e. the news). It’s the extra stuff: the banter and chit chat and “How about that heat wave?” side conversations that go on in-between the real stories. Take that out and it’s all the same.

I mention this because one question that my clients often ask is, “Should we include any ‘nonbusiness stuff’ in our E-Newsletter, and if so, how much?”

OK, that’s two questions, but stay with me. . .

Answer number one is, “Yes.” Answer number two is, “Sprinkle it lightly.”

Two reasons to include this “soft stuff:”

• Human beings have short attention spans, particularly when reading from a computer screen. Blame it on MTV, blame it on the public schools, blame it on breakfast cereal with 17% sugar content. Whatever you attribute it to, it’s a fact that in today’s world, most people can’t stick with one topic for very long (you still with me?).

And so just as the networks deliberately inject conversation in-between the real news to give you a break, your message will get through most effectively when you also throw in some tidbits that are not necessarily about the business at hand.

• Effective E-Newsletters show the people behind the business, not just the business itself. It’s no coincidence that President Bush frequently walks up to press conference microphones having just finished exercising; with his dogs in tow; or with some kind of ranching gizmo in his hand. It’s all done as part of a conscious attempt to shine a light on his human side, so that viewers will be more willing to “buy” his message (I know what you’re thinking: maybe they should get the Vice President a couple of dogs).

Likewise, when you include a restaurant or book review; show a photo of the CEO and her spouse on vacation; or talk about a charity event your management team just participated in, you help your readers make a connection with the company that transcends whatever your products and services may have to offer.

In terms of how much to do all this, I say “sprinkle lightly,” because you don’t want the filler to dominate. Although the news show sidebars may indeed be the differentiators, it’s safe to assume that if that’s all there were, nobody would watch at all.

Bottom Line: Humanizing your interactions with customers and prospects is what makes doing business with you enjoyable, and like it or not, people do business with people they like. Useful information does not have to be dry and serious, and the more you can cut up the meat, the easier it is to digest. I’ll be channel surfing if you need me.

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