By Scott Flood, Writer, Brand Acceleration, Inc.
One of the most common mistakes communities make when developing communications materials may surprise you. They completely lose sight of the people for whom the messages are actually intended.
Okay, that may sound a little confusing. It may even have you shaking your head. But I’ve seen it happen again and again. Communities invest huge amounts of money to develop websites, advertising, brochures, and other materials, and then forget all about the people who will be reading and/or viewing them.
How can that be? Very simple. They concentrate on what’s important to internal audiences instead of focusing on what really matters to the target audience. Sometimes, it’s driven by ego, whether that’s individual or institutional ego. “We know we’re the best, and so should everyone else.” But everyone else doesn’t. And they won’t discover that you’re indeed the best unless you can get them to pay attention. (Not to mention the fact that they’ll be more convinced if you give them what they need to draw that conclusion on their own.)
One of the biggest contributing factors to this problem is the typical organization approval chain. In most economic development organizations, one person lacks the authority to approve any kind of message, so those messages get sent along the organization chart. In most cases, they move upwards, rather than laterally or down.
Because the people in the boxes near the bottom are concerned about looking good to their bosses (and their bosses’ bosses), they begin to change the messages into something that will appeal to good old J.P. and the rest of the board.
But J.P. and his buddies aren’t the target audience! In fact, they’re typically several steps removed from the target audience. The messages that make J.P. and board happy and warm probably aren’t the same ones that will connect with and motivate the organization’s potential customers.
What’s important to your internal audiences at any level is usually vastly different from what matters to the folks who select communities for jobs and investment, and when your materials drone on about internal points of pride, your organization comes across like the boring guy at the party who spends the whole evening talking about himself.
Evidence of this shows up in other ways, too. I’ve listened as many communities have insisted that the fact they are a “Great Place to Live and Raise a Family” or some similar phrase be placed prominently in their website or brochure. And they bristle when I ask, “Who cares?” I point out that every community in America says exactly the same thing, but corporate executives and site location consultants are far more interested in other selection criteria.
You see, a key part of an effective copywriter’s role is to serve as an advocate for the reader or other target audience. That isn’t some blue-sky idealistic or artistic concept – it’s just good business sense. The work my peers and I do succeeds only when the message speaks to the audience and encourages them to take action. If the goal is to get short-listed for a project, and the website we create helps land a huge project, we’ll appear to be pretty darned competent.
But if that website gets twisted and turned into a piece of ego-driven self-gratification and fails to connect with the audiences, the community may be eliminated without them ever knowing they got a look. And, more often than not, guess where the blame gets placed?
If you really want to communicate effectively and productively, stop talking to yourself. As you think about adding items to your materials or modifying what’s been created on your behalf, ask yourself whether those changes are being made to impress internal folks or to convince the prospects who really count. If you’re one of the links on the approval chain, stand up for your external audiences. Your willingness to do so may very well spell the difference between success and disappointment.
Scott Flood is a valued member of the Brand Acceleration team of marketing communications professionals. His insights, experiences, and writing skills are instrumental to our economic development clients.