To paraphrase the Chinese curse, 2008 was 'an interesting year' for business in general and for marketers in particular. We ran the gauntlet of swearwords, from Eskom to sub-prime; from inflation through Zuma to cholera. And then we started using the rudest word of all - the 'R' word - due to impact enormously on how smart businesses talk to their target markets in 2009.
Here are nine trends I hope to see unfold in 2009, in terms of shimmying under consumers' radar:
- Less 'communicating'; more 'chatting': consumers prefer chats to communication. The former sounds easy, natural, relaxed. The latter sounds like hard work. So when you're trying to sell an idea, product or service to a prospect, favour the style of the casual chat over the detailed, lengthy, time-consuming communication.
- More Obama-isms; less Palin-drones: Think Obama and, regardless of your political orientation, you think 'eloquence'. You think of engaging speeches, quotable quotes, clever catchphrases. And if you've examined the way Obama speaks, you'll know he uses short sentences. Bold expressions. Brave fragments. And plain, simple, easily understandable language. Palin, on the other hand, is... Palin. And her sound bites are boring. Vague. Ineffectual. Redundant. And sometimes, factually inaccurate.
- Less impressing; more expressing: in 2009, stay away from the flowery language, big words and complex constructions that have plagued business writing in the 'Naughties'. Not only are consumers sick of it, they're starting to see through it. Yup, the 'R' word is turning people into sceptics. So strive to express, not to impress. Say what you mean in as few words as possible. And when you're finished, stop.
- More 'Yes, we can'; less 'Sorry, but...': use positive, definite wording instead of negative, indefinite wording. Say Our projects always run smoothly. not Our projects seldom take long. Say We believe in value for money. not We don't believe in high prices. Prospects respond better to positive ideas than to negative ones.
And, in 2009, it's more likely than ever that words like 'don't', 'seldom', 'rarely' or 'stop' will cause unfavourable reactions. Also beware of: 'unfortunately, unable, afraid, mistake, problem, error, failure' - even when the context is positive: 'no problem, make no mistake, I'm afraid...'
- Less 'we'; more 'you': Research shows that the word people like to hear most is... their own name. No surprises there.
So, use your prospect's name. Use it throughout the text or conversation, not just at the start. And become aware of the number of times you use the word 'you'. The more I talk about 'you', the more interested you are in what I'm selling, because I'm speaking directly to your interests. As a rule, 'you' should occur two to three times more often than 'we', 'I' or your company name.
- More conversation; less email: we've fallen so deeply into the habit of using email to maintain our relationships that it feels like torture to have to pick up the phone. But actual conversations - remember those? - work better than anything else. For a start, you're not adding to coma-inducing mail volumes (my daily average? 178 emails per day). Second, you can present a more accurate tone. And third, you're more likely to get a 'Yes' - because over the phone, you can often be more engaging.
- Less junk; more spunk: yes - they're everywhere. But that's no reason to use ugly corporate buzzwords in your writing. They're like suitcases with nothing inside them: heavy, empty and not a whole lot of help.
In 2009, make a habit of cutting words and phrases such as 'the big picture', 'benchmark', 'best practice', 'in the pipeline', 'strategic', 'on the same page', 'go the extra mile', 'at the end of the day', etc. Instead, use different, innovative, stand-out, impactful expressions. You may have to spend a little more time writing, but your prospect will also spend more time reading or listening.
- More features & benefits; less mission & vision: any product or service offers a plan to fill a need, which is why the average consumer wants to know What's in it for me?, not What's it all about? Prospects don't care if you've been in business 80 years and your CEO was the first golfer in space; they don't even care if you think you offer superb service, integrity and sound product knowledge. They want to know how all of this translates into real, tangible, measurable benefit for them. So this should be your focus.
- Less text; more white space: the absence of white space on a page means the reader has no 'visual breathing room'. It's also hard to tell where one train of thought ends and another begins. So when a page seems like an unbroken wall of words, skim it for full stops. Find sentences that go on and break them up. The eye resists a crowded-looking page as confusing, so keep it open, balanced and tidy.