Make Your Message Bounce With a Game of Verbal Tennis

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I'm currently reading Geoff Livingston's New Media Primer Now Is Gone(a great read for anyone seeking practical advice on how to use new media in a marketing strategy). In the introduction, Brian Solis makes a point that really got me thinking.

"Conversations are driving the new social economy...Messages are not conversations. This is where most companies and PR people fall down. People just don't communicate that way...Markets are not comprised of audiences...This is about speaking with, not "to" or "at" people."

I couldn't agree more and it got me thinking - what's the difference between a message and a conversation?

Obviously, a message is one-way communication and a conversation is not. Rather, a conversation is like verbal tennis where words and ideas bounce back and forth between both parties.

Think of it this way...

A "message" is like playing shotput. You put all your effort into forcing information forward. It's not about having the ball returned, instead it's about pushing as hard and far as you can. The problem with verbal shot put is that there's little room for feedback or interaction with your customers, which increases the risk of a missed message.

Shotput is not about being accurate, it's about using your energy to blast your message far and long. While this strategy used to work when the landscape was less competitive, the goal of communication in this new paradigm is to make your message bounce.

How to do this?

1. Statements vs. Questions - A simple way to encourage conversation is by asking a question instead of a making a statement.

Example: Shotput: You'll save money and time with Product X Tennis: What would you do with an extra 30 minutes a day? Use Product X, find out, and then tell us about it!

2. Yes/No vs. Open-Ended - The type of question also determines the game you're playing. Yes/No questions solicit short and boring responses. While traditional sales training encourages the use of questions that "will always result in a yes," I believe consumers are smart enough to pick up on this sales tactic and quickly pack up their attention and leave when they sense its use. Opting for honest and conversational open-ended questions is a successful strategy.

Example:Shotput: Are you looking to save money and time? Then buy Product X. Tennis: What would you do with an extra 30 minutes a day? Use Product X, find out, and then tell us what you did! (Imagine coupling this with a prize to entice customers to submit stories)

3. Go beyond WWWWW&H - Questions aren't the only way to get the ball bouncing. Using "feeling" verbs is a great way to encourage your customer's imagination. Try peppering your copy with words like "imagine" or "discover" and allow your reader's mind to soar.

Example:Shotput: Product X will make you feel 10 years younger. Tennis: Remember how you felt when you were 10 years younger? Imagine feeling that way again. Product X can help.

Ready to return the serve? Just write a comment below. :)

Related Links

Why Great Copy Is a Conversation, Not a Soliloquy - Dan O'Sullivan

Beware of Self Congratulatory Web Copy - Laura Bergells

Ad Copy That Attempts to Say Everything - Sometimes Says Nothing - Marc Davison