by Tony Vidler
Waaaaay too many times each week I think “that is not an effective message”. There is a lot of material prepared by well educated, articulate and thoughtful professionals that leaves me going “Huh?’ when I read it. And I am not talking about their compliance-focussed advice process documents; I am talking about their attempted marketing or service communications.
I find myself wondering what the purpose and objectives are of the communique that I am reading. Now if I am left wondering what it is that the professional is trying to achieve, and I am unsure what they are expecting me to do with it, then what hope does your average customer have when they don’t even have the advantage of understanding the language, issues or industry to begin with?
So there are two questions that should apply to written material -even emails – when producing it:
On the surface the two questions appear closely related, perhaps even leading to the same answer. They shouldn’t be quite the same answer though.
The first question helps you clarify what actually needs to be in the message, which is the first step towards stripping out all the concepts, fluff and jargon that does not need to be there. Any message, whether that is marketing collateral, approach letters, statements of advice, or basic instructions to someone will be created for one of two basic reasons:
Either way, there must be a reason behind why you are writing what you are writing; there must be a clear purpose. That purpose should be pervasive and frame everything that follows within the messaging.
The second question creates the difference between merely writing with a purpose and writing to create an action. Ultimately with all messaging you are hoping to change something….somebody’s perceptions, beliefs, actions, allegiances….but you are hoping to change something. So be clear in your own mind about what it is that you want done when the message is read.
It might be that you want the reader to take a specific action, and therefore you build in a specific call to action with clear next steps. However, it might just be that your objective is simply to create an audience that trusts you as a reliable and relevant information source. You call to action in that case might be as simple as encouraging subscription to further updates. There are a multitude of other possible actions that you might want someone to take too of course, but the one thing you do NOT want is to have them wondering what to do next.
Creating effective messages for your audience does essentially come down to being able to answer these two questions in your own mind at the outset, and then just writing in a way that answers them.