How to make me hate your company

One of the most important principles of both journalism and corporate communication is to consider your audience and frame your message in a way that meets their needs. As a reporter, it was my best way to come up with stories. Put myself in the shoes of a typical reader and ask myself, what do they want to know more about? How can I package the information in a convenient and engaging way that they can act on? It’s also the way I think about how a client’s website content should be organized and what should included. How do we make people feel welcome and appreciated? What can we give them? How can we build a relationship with them and persuade them to do the things we want? How can we be of service?

I wish more advertisers did that. Instead, particularly online, many advertisers behave like a four-year-old who’s half an hour past hungry.

Like this: I begin to read an interesting article. Your company covers up what I was reading with a floating ad that maybe even flashes. I’m just as annoyed at you and your product as I would be if you stuck your hand between me and what I was reading on an airplane. So I want to say, “Go away!” The way to do that with such an ad is to click CLOSE. But you have hidden the close button two inches above and to the right of the ad so I have to search to find it. How do you not consider how rude that is? But I can just hear the meeting: Think of the number of impressions! No one who comes to this site will avoid seeing our ad!

Yeah, but the impression you left with me was negative. I’ll end up avoiding your product because you were a jerk. (This, incidentally, is EXACTLY how the new New York Times online paywall works after you exceed your 20-story monthly quota. I will rant about the paywall in a future post). Shouting at me is also bad.

A few years back, I did a magazine profile of J. Walker Smith. He co-wrote a great book called Coming to Concurrence. The idea of concurrence is that companies should not just be polite, but that they should meet a customer in a mutually agreeable place. That they should even expect to compensate a consumer for listening to their advertising message. For a great Super Bowl spot, it might simply be that the ad is beautiful or entertaining. For a timeshare pitch, they put you up for free and buy you some meals. Ever get those requests to take a survey about a company’s customer service? How often do you complete them if you’re not angry about something? What if a company offers you a freebie or even a little cash out of respect for your time? Knowing the company has thought about your needs and tried to approach you in a way that respects them goes a long way.

You know why selling your products is good for you. Now, how can you talk about them to me in a way that makes me welcome what you have to say? That shows me how they benefit me?

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