Toast of the Town

It is with great sadness that I inform you of the complete and unexpected death of our toaster, last Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m.

Mr. Toaster served us well these many years, tirelessly and unselfishly converting ordinary bread into warm, crunchy, delicious treats. In return, he asked little. Just a daily wipe down and the occasional crumb tray disposal (as needed).

His passing was sudden. That very morning, in fact, he had toasted four perfect slices, just as pretty as you please.

By lunchtime, however, he was acting strangely and we discovered him stuck in the down position. We did what we could, but it was hopeless. So we stood together, held his cord, and said our good-byes. (I believe his last words were, “Pfffffttttt.”)

On Wednesday, after waiting what seemed like an appropriate amount of time following the passing of a household appliance, we got a new toaster.

Wow. Lots of buttons.

Along with the obligatory push-down bar and toast-setting dial, “Toaster Dude Web 2.0” has buttons for Toast, Frozen Toast (a bit of an oxymoron), Bagel and Frozen Bagel, among others. I’m guessing there’s a web cam on him somewhere, I just haven’t found it yet.

Don’t get me wrong, the newcomer is indeed impressive. I’m amazed, for example, at his ability to accommodate bread and bagels, a technological advancement that I consider a victory for both science in general and Judaism in particular.

But you know what? I’m already missing my recently departed friend. Because while the added features of our new machine do in fact give us more options, they come with a price. The simple act of creating toast – my goal, 95% of the time – has now become so complicated that I’m forced to read the manual before making breakfast.

As E-Newsletter publishers, we’re faced with the same temptations as the toaster-designers of the world. We can create something that’s clean and simple and intuitive to use for 95% of the people 95% of the time, or… we can toss all kinds of bells and whistles in “just in case.”

Personally, I think simplicity is an underused competitive weapon – particularly for small and solo companies whose large competitors just can’t seem to get out of their own way.

I think that’s why Google rose to the top so quickly (their home page has never had more than a couple of dozen words on it), why products like The Flip are doing so well, and why I’ll take a restaurant with just five dinner specials over one with a five-page dinner menu every time. Simplicity feels good.

Back to your E-Newsletter. Some suggestions for simplifying the experience for your weary readers.

  1. Design. You can fill the page from top to bottom and side to side, making sure you don’t “waste any real estate.” Or… you can leave plenty of white space, giving it a clean, clutter-free look.
  1. Features. You can litter each issue with buttons, links, photos, downloads, ads, tags and multiple articles. Or… you can keep only what you really need and prune the rest.
  1. Language. You can try to impress readers with recondite (look it up) words that they need to look up. Or… you can write as if you were enjoying a cup of coffee with a friend, simplifying and explaining as you go.

You get the idea.

Here’s the bottom line. When you boil it all down, the purpose of sending a professional service E-Newsletter is to stay in front of your contacts, position yourself as expert and reveal a bit of your style and personality along the way. It’s fantastically effective in making the phone ring, but it only works if someone actually opens and reads it to begin with.

If, in our eagerness to cover every base, integrate every option and work every angle, we turn our newsletters from a pleasant and intuitive experience into a problem to be solved, we just may make the toast more trouble than it’s worth.

 

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