We craft ourselves a nice piece of content, do proof reading, add graphics, and we’re ready to go – perhaps not knowing that inside every piece of content are little “bombs” waiting to explode. Well, not bombs exactly, but “signals” that directly impact the ways readers respond.
Consider signals as components of content – with each little signal broadcasting its own set of messages to the reader. This can have unintended consequences as we’ll see later. Understanding how signals work enables us to build better content – from the signal up!
When we scan our email inbox, open a blog or read a website page we rapidly scan the material looking for signals of relevance and value. Our brains process each signal as it would a traffic light – green continue reading, yellow prepare to stop, and red stop reading and move on.
Here’s an example – an email I received a few weeks ago.
From: Amresh Kadam [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 9:49 AM
To: [email protected]
Subject: RE: Datamatics: Request for Teleconference
Before reading further, let me note that I don’t know Amresh Kadam. This is unsolicited email, so the first signal I receive is that someone wants something from me. Call me jaded, but at this point my “traffic light” is yellow – he’s got to work hard to turn the light to green. The subject “Datamatic: Request for Teleconference” confirms my suspicion. The title itself has no value to me whatsoever. It’s just a request for my time with no stated benefit.
I’m being asked give up time – a cost to me – with no hint of a return on the investment. With my traffic light set to yellow, I read on.
I hope you are doing well.
My Name is Amresh Kadam and represent Datamatics, a leading Marketing & Demand-Gen Life Cycle Management services provider. We help Marketers / Data teams increase their Return On Investments by resolving challenges faced across various areas as mentioned below.
At this point I’ve received enough signals to make me stop reading. The errors in the above paragraph are powerful signals in themselves and I’ve still not learned of any benefits that would make me read further. I scan the rest of the email confirming my original impression. My traffic light is now red – end of engagement for me. Brutal perhaps – but that’s how readers process the carefully written content that you produce.
Let’s look at another example.
I recently ran a small test with a few CIOs to record their reactions to marketing signals.
I entered the keyword term “server down time” in Google and right near the top of the results was this IBM web page:
IBM System x3650 M4 Express® server is highly capable and affordable. Equipped with the latest Intel® Xeon® processor, it offers better performance and can help you manage more workloads on fewer systems. So, now you can improve productivity without compromise.
IBM System x3650 M4 Express server:
- Is designed to deliver 84% greater performance1 and handle as many workloads as 25 prior-generation IBM System x3650 systems2.
- Is equipped with up to 768GB of memory in a 2-socket x86 system.
- Provides support for 1GB and 10GB Ethernet for network flexibility.
- Is an ideal platform for web and infrastructure workloads as well as collaboration support and virtualization.
- Comes with the expertise of IBM Business Partners who can help you configure your system to run your business-critical workloads.
I asked the CIOs to image they had arrived at this page after entering the term “server down time” in a search engine as a result of a recent system crash they had experienced. I then asked them to read the web page and speak aloud their thoughts as they read the page.
Here’s what was recorded:
“It’s telling me what it thinks I need to know – but it doesn’t answer any of my questions.”
“Doesn’t everyone say just that?”
“Ha ha, it’s like a dozen other pages I read this week.”
“I didn’t read past the first paragraph.”
“I like the bullet points, it makes it easy to read.”
“Okay, I’m being cynical, but I was half expecting ROI to appear at any minute.”
“It’s short and clean.”
“The first sentence is motherhood and apple pie – everyone says that.”
“I like the fact that it’s IBM, because I know them.”
Twenty four hours later, I contacted the CIOs again and asked what they remembered – most could recall that the page referred to IBM hardware, but few could remember the content.
Here are a few responses:
“Yes, IBM servers in the cloud. I remember that.”
“Ah, you’ve got me – something to do with a fast new processor.”
“How to find a business partner. Am I right?”
“Data, how to store data on IBM equipment.”
Clearly, something didn’t work here – the signals the message had intended weren’t picked up in this little experiment. Instead, a host of unintended signals were received.
The signals broadcast by your content say a great deal about you. To read more on this topic, read last week’s article, titled: “Marketing Messages: Be Familiar and Be Remembered“.