By Tom Garry
Imagine for a moment that you own a shoe store. A woman who is one of your best customers comes in and asks to see black suede high heels in size 7. You go in to the stockroom and soon return with an array of men’s sneakers, all size 12. Confused and more than a little irritated, the customer says, “I don’t want these! I asked for size 7 high heels – for a woman.” You respond, “I know what you want, but I’m overbought in larger-sized men’s sneakers, so what I want is for everyone who comes in today to buy a pair of size 12 basketball shoes for themselves or for the man in their lives. This is my store, after all.”
You would never take that approach, would you? And yet, organizations that hold fast to the principle, “Give the customers what they want,” when it comes to offering services, developing products, and shaping policies routinely ignore that dictum and take the self-centered (and self-defeating) approach outlined above when formulating their Editorial Calendars and overall marketing communications plans.
Too often, those calendars and plans focus on the message we want to deliver rather than on the information our customers, members, or supporters want to receive. But it is your business or trade association or non-profit organization, so why shouldn’t you determine what you say to your audiences?
The answer, of course, is that if you are sending messages no one wants to receive, you are not doing yourself or anyone else any good. Instead, you are devoting staff hours, money, and other resources to the business world’s equivalent of that storied tree falling in the deserted forest. It might make for an interesting Zen koan, but as a business practice, it’s a waste of time and effort.
Creating credibility, engaging attention
The better approach is to provide information of interest and value to your audience and then – when you have won people’s attention and demonstrated that you are a credible and worthy source – weave in the messages that are important to your organization.
Let’s revisit the analogy of the shoe store owner.
He could have presented the woman with six different options for black suede high heels in her size. Then he could have talked with her about whether she wanted the shoes for a specific event, or for work, or for some other purpose, and so have gained a better understanding of her needs. Then he could have drawn upon his expertise to help her select the pair of shoes that was best for her. Having won her confidence, appreciation and attention in that manner, he could have talked with her about his store’s policies, upcoming sales, and the commitment to customer service that distinguishes his business from online sources and department stores. He might even have elicited a comment about her husband’s need to exercise that would have enabled him to also sell her a pair of men’s sneakers – size 12!
The black suede high heels test and your last communication
Look at the last communication you sent to your target audience. Whose needs – yours or theirs – does it primarily serve? Does it offer readers something they can do right now to make their lives better? If so, are the benefits you outline available exclusively via your services or products, or are you also offering readers ways they can improve their situation without buying something from you?
If your communications are only, or even primarily, focused on meeting your needs, they likely aren’t meeting your needs because they aren’t winning the attention of your audience.
If you want people to read what you write, write what they want to read.
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