Would you still be in business if you spoke to customers like you do in advertising?

What do your ad claims sound like to 'them'? (Photo: Steve Davis and phauly from Flickr)

What do your ad claims sound like to 'them'? (Photo: Steve Davis and phauly from Flickr)

Humans who run businesses are a funny breed, aren’t we?

We tend to create businesses or join organisations so that we can do what we are good at, or what we like doing, or both if we are lucky.

Most times, when we deal with customers or potential customers, we listen to their needs then draw upon our experience to suggest the best solution or two.

But when we put pen to paper for an ad or design a brochure or, heaven forbid, create some content for Facebook or YouTube or Twitter, suddenly we YELL at people.

Go and grab your latest brochure or newspaper ad or radio/tv commercial then come back as I give you an example or two and then some tips for overcoming ‘Ad Speak Syndrome’.

Take an ad and rewrite it about yourself

Jack Hughes from the Business Enterprise Centre NT alerted me to a quirky article by Peter Crocker from Flying Solo, where he talked about himself using advertising style. This is a good device for highlighting how false and patronising we come across as in our advertising.

Here is what I would sound like if I did it about me:

Is your business lacking lustre?

Are you confused by the hype around social media?

Would you like to start selling TODAY to the 10 million Australians on Facebook, or the few thousand using it in your neighbourhood?

Then look no more.

Steve Davis is Australia’s leading marketing expert on all things Web 2.0.

Want to exploit Facebook for your business? No worries

Want to Tweet like a bird and sting like a hustler? Step right up

Steve Davis uses a scientifically proven method to understand your business and connect you with new customers.

Using Meta-Marketing Poly-Conversational Leveraging Quotient techniques, Steve Davis will get deep into places that others only dream of.

So don’t waste time on One Trick Ponies who call themselves Web2.0 experts. Don’t trust your Marketing to your web designer or accountant. Go with the solution tried and trusted by the best brands, organisations and small businesses you can think of.

Steve Davis: Putting the ‘Me Too’ into Web Two!

Okay, you can relax now, I will return to ‘human speak’.

With that example fresh in your mind, please imagine you are in the dating scene looking for a new partner. You go to a social gathering where there are some promising candidates. Now, take your latest ad or brochure, replace your business name with your name, and use that as a script.

Would you really introduce yourself that way?

How many outlandish claims or sweeping statements do you make about yourself?

Everybody does it

You might want to argue that everybody does it and it seems to work. But I would counter with the question: Is it working to its full potential?

In my Writing for Publication workshops, I go through the reactions consumers have to ‘marketese’. Every time we make a bold claim in an ad, it causes the reader to use precious attention span to decide whether they believe that or not. And in this attention span economy, every wasted moment moves us closer to being ignored.

On Darwin television last week (Southern Cross, I believe), I heard a community service announcement for a local brass band. Three things struck me.

  1. The writing style reminded me of my days in regional radio where we used to churn out ads in high volume. If I had a dollar for every lazy slogan used (think: ‘for all your xxxx needs’) I would be a billionaire. This had the same hallmarks of either being written by someone in a hurry or submitted by someone who was simply mimicking a style of writing they thought they had to employ to ‘sound’ like an ad. Amid the general ‘come and do this you will love it’ generalities, there were two particular claims that stood out.
  2. The first claim was that there were plenty of performance opportunities. Plenty is a relative term but my reaction was to question it. Could there really be that many opportunities for a brass band in Darwin?  Would it mean once a week? Once a season? Or every night? I put that down to a generous superlative.
  3. The second claim that made me doubt the honesty of the announcement was that everyone was welcome to come along and play because instruments are available for hire. Having picked at guitar playing on and off for a decade or two and having only achieved the ability to strum about five different chords made me seriously doubt the accuracy of that claim. My next thought was whether brass band music was written in a way that you only needed to learn one or two notes and the trick was just to play them when it was your turn. Either way, as much as I would really love to experience the buzz of playing music in harmony with other players, there were too many unsubstantiated claims in the announcement to garner my trust and motivate me to make contact.

How could the brass band have used that announcement more effectively? Firstly, if it is easier to play an instrument in a band than it is anywhere else, I would suggest focussing entirely on that angle and giving us some meaty insights to chew over. Ask if we have ever desired playing an instrument in a band? Explain why playing instruments in a brass band is easier and give us a tangible goal, such as, ‘within one hour you will be able to play 3 pieces of music’, etc.

Yes, I know it was ‘just a community service announcement’ but how much better to think about one, powerful angle and exploit it, rather than than just contribute to the jumble of noise otherwise known as an ad break?

So what does all this have to do with Marketing and Social Networking?

While I will always urge clients to think deeply about their target market and ideal customer when producing advertising, it is absolutely paramount when engaging in social networking.

The reason is that social networks are places where conversations take place. And conversations involve to and fro, give and take, listening and speaking.

And ‘ad speak’ simply WILL NOT work here because unlike the ad on tv or in the paper where enduring the commercials is all part of getting the programming or content, in a social network (and the web as a whole) there is no compulsion for a visitor to read or engage with your content.

This means if you don’t work really hard at drawing people in with relevant questions or content they will care about and/or want to share, you will endure a long, lonely existence.

If you interact with customers in your business or organisation you have an advantage here.

Try to be more aware of all the little things you do when conversing in the flesh; the listening, the asking, the qualifying, the comments or demonstrations that pique the greatest interest.

This is the place to start when thinking through the content you will be sharing via your website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, or other social network.

Social networking will always be a more fruitful avenue for you if you seek genuine connection with your customers first. Oh, wait a minute, that applies to marketing also. How about that?

Please share your comments and examples here. There is also a chance your contribution will be used in the final eBook produced on these topics as part of October Business Month 2011.


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