Your Complex Message Is Confusing Your Buyer.
I love my wife… that goes without saying, but if you are like most married couples, I am sure there are times you are very confused about what it is your spouse is actually asking you to do. I noticed a good example of this just the other day. It was Friday around 11:00am. It was a half day at our kids school, and my wife, Sarah, had asked if I could pick up carpool at noon because she was stuck in a meeting. I said of course, and was all set to head out, when the other mother in our kid’s carpool sent out a text message to my wife and I offering to pick all the kids up.
Before I could respond, my wife replied. The conversation went something like this:
Other Mom: Hey, do you guys want me to pick up the kids today? It’s no problem for me – let me know.
My Wife: Oh, ok. I forgot to tell you Ben was going to pick my kids up today… whoops. Thank you!
Other Mom: Huh? I’m confused… does that mean you want me to pick up your kids or not?
OK, But How Does this Apply to Your Business?
In this example, it is pretty clear why the message was so confusing–my wife was presented with a direct question, and she replied with a not so direct answer. But, when analyzing the messaging of your own business these problems are harder to spot. This is because you already have such a deep understanding of your product and/or service, it is hard to see what is essential to your message and what is just noise.
The stakes are much higher in business. You will seldom have a potential customer ask for clarification if they don’t understand your offering–they will simply assume your product is not for them and move on to one of your competitors. Worse than that, you will probably never know how much potential opportunity you have lost because of this. Ouch.
A Few Simple Ideas to Help Clarify Your Message.
That said, here are a few simple suggestions on how you can strengthen the clarity of your message.
1) Don’t Get Cute – Be Direct
When I was in high school, my girlfriend at the time came over to my house and presented me with a giant cookie cake. It was in the shape of a cowboy boot and had a large question mark made of icing in the center. I was happy but a little confused. What had I done to deserve such a creative and delicious gift?
As I thanked her for being so thoughtful, I noticed a big look of disappointment appeared on her face. Then she started to interrogate me as to what I thought this gift meant.
I had no clue, I told her. We were both baffled… me as to what she wanted to understand, and her as to why I was so dense I could not see the “obvious” purpose of the gift. After about 15 minutes, of this, she finally came to the realization that I truly had no clue. She then explained this was her way of asking me to the annual Barn Dance. Duh!
Once she explained it, it was obvious to me. But until that moment my mind simply didn’t make the connection. I remember asking her, “why not just write, ‘will you go to Barn Dance?’ on the cookie?” She looked at me like I had two heads… she wanted to add an element of mystery, and cleverness. So to her, being that direct would spoil the fun… well, she was wrong about that!
My point here is, when it comes to getting your message out there, while being clever may seem fun and creative, you are running a huge risk of turning your customers off by confusing them. Be clear about what your products/services do, how it will add value to your customer, and be very direct about what action you want them to take next.
2) Don’t Overload Your Message
Looking back at the text conversation between my wife and our fellow carpool mom, the reason there was so much confusion was because my wife’s response was overloaded with more than one message. In this example, my wife was presented with a pretty clear question… “do you want me to pick up your kids?”, but her response was confusing because it did not clearly address the question. It was filled with unnecessary information that added to the “noisiness” of the response–overloading the message.
Let’s assume she really meant to say “Yes, thank you. It would be awesome if you pick up the kids today!” In this case, it does not really matter that that she had asked me to pick up, or the fact that she “forgot to tell you”. None of that additional information serves to strengthen the main message, which is “Yes!”, and in fact, this additional information is what makes her message so confusing.
The same thing can be said if she really meant to say “No, thank you. Ben is going to grab them today.” That is all that needs to be said. There is no need to explain further or you risk adding information that will only weaken your core message.
3) Don’t Leave Room for Assumptions
In our personal lives, we often become frustrated with our close friends and significant others because they make assumptions about what we say or mean. To us, these assumptions seem totally unreasonable; We believe they should just know what we mean! This happens when there is not enough context built around the topic that is causing the confusion, which opens the door for assumption. If there are missing details in a story, one will naturally draw their own conclusions–often incorrectly.
While this can be annoying in your personal life, it can be devastating to your business life.
When building your message, make sure you give your audience the full context. Don’t leave any open questions that can be left to the listener’s own interpretations or assumptions. This does not mean you need to bombard your customers with overwhelming detail; you can give the listener full context and still do so in a simple way.
The rule of thumb would be, “how would I interpret this message if I had never heard of this particular product or service before?”