5 ways to radically improve your external communications

Every year companies just like yours send thousands of emails, newsletters and brochures to their existing and potential customers as well as members. The Dutch Tax Agency, for example, send around 150 million communications a year! Unfortunately, a lot of these pieces of company literature are unintelligible, confusing and downright deceptive. These are letters without purpose and they’re wasting your time.

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Not only are you wasting time sending them, but your customers’ time is being taken for granted too. Lengthy forms. Vague language. Worried phone calls to your customer service team. It doesn’t have to be this way!

There’s a few easy measures you can take – starting today – to ensure your company’s external communications are reader-friendly and your customers are taking action where action is required…

ALWAYS empathise with the reader

Writers and marketers within an organisation can sometimes work without thinking of the audience or intended purpose of a publication; they can forget customers are not familiar with the industry daily and therefore don’t need to know about every, little detail. That is why it’s so important to produce materials written for the customer’s perspective. Why spend weeks on that small-but-crucial change in Section 6 of your terms and agreements? Your customers would rather spend the least amount of time possible thinking about the T&Cs – so don’t send them a whole newsletter about it.

Consider how the situational circumstances of your customers can have a strong influence on their reaction to your communications. A letter from a supplier regarding outstanding payments can have a negative effect on someone struggling financially, meanwhile a letter about pensions sent to someone in their early thirties currently building their home might not be high on the priority list. The reality is that most of your communications will largely go unread, so make what you send matter. Or just make it simple.

START with your core message

By leading communications with your main message there can be no doubt what the intended purpose is. I recently received a letter that was within an envelope stating ‘Policy terms and conditions within’. I could immediately decide to keep the letter, but knew it wasn’t necessary to read straight away. As a customer, I appreciated the straight-forward marketing.

A nifty tool to help with this is the Pyramid principle developed by Barbara Minto (McKinsey). It suggests building a layered message in three steps:

  • Start with your main message
  • Support your argument
  • Prove these arguments

The crucial point with this method is that there can only be one main message. Remember to reason from the perspective of your customers and readers rather than your own product knowledge (see tip 1.) and support your main message with clear arguments explaining why it is important to take action. Employ this and your reader will be guided effortlessly through the text.

STOP there.

One of the biggest pitfalls of company writers is the tendency to provide too much information. I understand why: in the little contact you have with customers you want to pour in as much detail as you can. This won’t work out well for your brand. What you need to do is take a step back to re-evaluate the point of your communication.

The attention span of readers is getting shorter and shorter. The term used to describe this phenomenon is TL;DR; or too long, didn’t read. Avoid this by making sure you stick to your main message, only use visual aids where necessary and include some ‘nice to know’ information.

ADD clear calls to action

The goal of most company communications is to make the reader take action. This call to action needs to be made explicit – but unfortunately it’s often hidden. Once again it helps hugely to put yourself in the shoes of your audience and ask these 3 questions:

  1. Why do I have to read this?
  2. What are they telling me?
  3. What do I have to do / what is expected of me?

That last question is also known as the call to action; what you want the reader to do. With this in place you inform, lead and direct your customer to where you want them. Take a moment to look at how some successful companies are displaying their calls to action and reflect it in your own communications to customers.

TEST text with your target group

Okay, so you’ve put yourself in the shoes of your target group. Your main message is clear. And you have done your best to convey the message succinctly. The question that remains: does the recipient agree you’ve done all these things? That’s the ultimate test.

Testing communications with your target group is frequently overlooked as an important part of a communication strategy. Excuses include limited time and resource to find a target group willing to test materials, but those within a business always overlook details that only a potential customer can spot.

At SPRINT we recognize the time and resource barriers and we work to solve them. We can test your text with 100 individuals from your target group and provide guidance on optimising your written communications. We can deliver all this in a span of 24 hours.