Audience awareness – FAIL!!

In my last post, Who do you think you’re talking to?, I discussed how easy it is to fall into the trap of writing for the wrong audience. Here, I present five more instances of writers who are trying to please the wrong reader – everyone a real-life example. Don’t fall into the same traps as these writers!

1. Exciting news!!!!!! (Snore . . .)

The perpetrator: The author of the email entitled “Exciting news from Waterstone’s, Clare”.

You might want to sit down and take a deep breath before I reveal to you the precise details of the knee-tremblingly thrilling bulletin contained in this missive – namely that: “You’ll notice some changes in our shops including a new look that’s as bold and exciting as the books you love to read.”

Who they think they’re talking to: Someone who cares about the colour of the carpets in a bookstore. And who hasn’t just finished a highly technical, statistics-heavy, graph-filled history of sovereign debt crises. (Actually, it was quite “bold and exciting” in a scary kind of way – this financial crisis could get a whole lot nastier if previous crises are anything to go by).

Who they’re really talking to: The design-conscious executive who’s spent the last 18 months comparing the relative “Waterstone’s on-brandness” of various wallpaper swatches. Have you any idea how difficult it is to get board-level buy-in for stuff this important?

2. Sorry seems to be the hardest word

The perpetrator: The bank that, having lost numerous paid-in cheques, apologised with the words: “We are disappointed that you felt you did not receive our normal high levels of customer service” and “we regret any inconvenience this may have caused”.

Who they think they’re talking to: The customer who didn’t merely feel (she was) extremely inconvenienced by breathtakingly bad service. The customer who is slightly to the completely peeved end of the “disappointed” spectrum. And the customer who “regrets” expecting even passable levels of customer service from the writer’s employer.

Who they’re really talking to: The company CEO, whose motto is “never say sorry”.

3. Please delete me

The perpetrator: The government organisation whose email to all its suppliers opened with the friendly, but seemingly ignorable words “WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!” and ended, after four paragraphs of bureaucratic spiel, with words to the effect of “you will be struck off our supplier list if you don’t fill in the attached form by 12pm on Monday”.

Who they think they’re talking to: Company executives with the time and attention spans to read every non-essential looking email to the very end, despite having to devote a third of their working life to jumping through numerous hoops to get on the approved supplier lists of their clients.

Who they’re really talking to: Their local government colleagues who have as much time and inclination to wade through inches of bureaucratic spiel as they do.

4. Everyone loves me (so how come nobody’s following me?)

The perpetrator: The business owner who tweets incessantly about how busy they are, how much their clients appreciate their work, the amount of new business they’ve won, what makes them so much better than their competitors etc, etc.

Who they think they’re talking to: Potential clients, who they think will be impressively impressed by their impressive impressiveness.

Who they’re really talking to: Their own, rather fragile, ego by the sounds of it.

5. Sorry, I can’t hear you above the sound of my own voice

The perpetrator: The writer of the page entitled “Our success is based on listening to customers” on the Talking Tesco website, which comprises 1,017 words about how Tesco’s success is founded on its “strategy of listening and responding” to customers.

Who they think they’re talking to: Talking to? Don’t you mean talking at? For more, see my previous post, Too much talking, and not enough listening).

Who they’re really talking to: The line manager responsible for awarding the end-of-year bonus to the person in charge of Tesco’s “strategy of listening and responding”.

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4 Responses to “Audience awareness – FAIL!!”

  1. Brad Shorr says:

    These are all hilarious because they’re all so true and oh, so common. I suggested recently on my blog that companies should allow customers to write their Web content. Reading this, Clare, I’m more convinced than ever it’s the way to go.

  2. Piper says:

    Ha ha! This is soooo true, esp. re the banking nonsense (“we are deeply hurt that you think our customer service is crap”) and the business tweets. There are a number of people I’ve stopped following because all they do all day is crow about the phone call they’ve just made and some client they’ve won. Just give me bad jokes any day.

  3. Peter says:

    Wow, I think the Tesco example is amazing! Firstly you wrote an article about how lengthy their text was. Now I see they have a new layout and probably even more text than before… Maybe they could add some footnotes? A glossary? Or annexes? The poor copywriter is obviously being paid by the word.

  4. anon says:

    I suspect that in #3, the bank is talking to whatever court might possibly be asked to determine whether the bank has been negligent or in breach of contract. An admission that a customer has not received stellar customer service is less damaging than an admission that a cheque has been lost.

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