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Commentary & Analysis

Which to Choose: Natural Language or PR Speak?

How we speak to our customers matters. Are you using natural language or that “PR speak” that investors love but that causes the average person to tune out?  

By Heidi Tolliver-Walker
Published: March 11, 2020

I’ve been reminded recently of a phenomena to which we all fall prey—speaking to customers in a way that makes us sound really smart but that may be creating stumbling blocks to getting our message across.  

For the past 10+ years, I have produced the content for a client who gets it...and reminds me when I forget. His company, Great Reach Communications, produces newsletters, emails, and other marketing materials that can be branded by printers and sent to their customers. My mandate is to create content that is meaty but easy for the average marketer to understand. That means using natural language. Communicating main points in bulleted lists so recipients can scan and get the point quickly. By all means, not talking over people’s heads.

But it’s easy to slip into that PR mode and talk at a level that is beyond what the average printer’s customer wants to hear (or that will engage them). It’s easy to slip down that slope because that’s what I’m surrounded by all the time. It’s what I’m used to hearing, so it’s what wants to come back out when I write.

For example, I was just reading the teaser for an article in a trade magazine that included this statement: “Content optimization, customer modeling, and profiling through a strategic optichannel plan will produce a strong customer acquisition system.” Seriously, what does that mean to the average person? Here in the industry, we know what it means because we’ve been trained to interpret that type of language. But if this were going to the average business owner or marketer, what would they hear? Waat-waat-waat-waat-waat.

That’s why it struck me recently when a large MSP contacted me about writing some white papers. They wanted the language to be conversational, not technical. They wanted something fun. A white paper that is fun? Isn’t that an oxymoron? I went to the company’s site to see what they had already done. There were two detailed white papers on the subject I was writing about. Both were very meaty and informative. So...why did they need another one? Then I started reading them. Waat-waat-waat-waat-waat

The CEO of the company wanted something more engaging for the average person—something they could pick up, enjoy reading, and say, “Oh! I get it. That’s really cool!” Not something they’d have to run through an interpreter to understand. This made it fun to write.

That’s why, when I read the teaser for this omnichannel customer lead generation article, the contrast was striking. It made me wonder how often we stand back and look at our communications objectively and ask, “Who am I writing for? What is the best tone and style I should use to get my message across?” And, of course, “Is this it?”

Because ultimately, the content isn’t about making us feel good, or look good in front of other people within our company or at our competitors’ companies, but communicating with people who are not as up to their eyeballs in PR speak the way we are.

Heidi Tolliver-Walker Heidi is an industry analyst specializing in digital, one-to-one, personalized URL, and Web-to-print applications. Her Marketer’s Primer Series, availalbe through Digital Printing Reports, includes “Digital Printing: Transforming Business and Marketing Models,” 1:1 (Personalized) Printing: Boosting Profits Through Relevance,” “Personalized URLs: Beyond the Hype,” and “Web-to-Print: Transforming Document Management and Marketing.”

 

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