Help! What Happened?


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Let's be honest, when you're writing sales material for a product, there are a frightening number of things that can go wrong, aren't there?

Remember Murphy's Law: what can go wrong will, and at the worst possible moment. Well, we're going to try to gain some control over events and the best way to gain control is to know what makes things tick . . .

The Communication Process

There are four recognised steps in the communications process:

1. The message originates as an idea or concept
2. The sender transmits the message
3. The message is sent
4. The message is received

(Academics get paid thousands of dollars to come up with earth-shattering findings like these!)

As with most things in life, the system can break down at any one of these stages.

The Idea

In marketing, the source is usually a product (or service) concept that the sender wants to tell potential buyers about. The key point at this stage is to be certain that your product is going to meet the needs of your target group.

Some time ago, a manufacturer of cake mixes came up with a mix that he was certain would appeal to busy housewives - all they had to do was to add water and they could bake a perfect cake every time.

The product failed miserably. Follow-up research indicated that women felt guilty that they were not giving their families nourishing food - all they did was add water to what looked like flour.

The cake mix was re-launched, but this time consumers had to add an egg as well as the water. The product sold for the same price, it cost the consumer more to make the finished product, but, it was a runaway success.

MORAL: It doesn't matter how great your idea for a product is, if it doesn't meet the consumers’ needs, it won't sell.

The Sender

Very often in advertising, it seems that the message is more important than the product - beautiful images, clever jingles and flashing lights often have little to do with your product. How many times have you sat through a brilliant piece of advertising, but had no idea what was being advertised?

We all have; the trick is to make sure that your marketing always focuses on your product and how it meets the needs of your target market.

Another problem that can originate with the sender is the use of misleading claims; you just cannot say that your product cures baldness, smoothes wrinkles, eradicates onion weed, gets rid of cockroaches or will make you walk again, if it doesn't. Nor can you imply, by your marketing, that it does this, if it doesn't, because this is false advertising.

At the moment here, there is a case of false advertising against a certain fast food company because a consumer claims that the burgers he has purchased at different outlets bear no resemblance to the burgers pictured on advertising boards outside the stores.

MORAL: Tell the truth in your marketing, and you'll not only stay out of trouble, you'll also be able to sleep at night.

The Transmission

These days we're all subjected to a continuous bombardment of information (and misinformation) from a variety of media - we wake up to an alarm radio; maybe have the telly on for the morning news; listen to the car radio on the way to work; have a radio playing in the work place; read the paper or a magazine in our lunch break; do a few chores on the way home and glance at the ads on the shop fronts and in the stores; empty the letterbox of all the brochures and flyers; listen to more radio or watch telly; settle down for an hour or two on the Internet after dinner and note all the banner ads . . .

Is it any wonder that we often block out all this clutter from our lives. It's called selective forgetting, and it's a survival mechanism we all call upon in order to cope.

MORAL: Don't let your message get lost in the cacophony of the advertising world; keep it simple so that your message can be understood.

The Receiver

If you get it wrong in any of the previous three steps, it's no surprise that it will be wrong at this end of the process, too. If customers think your message has no relevance to them, they'll ignore it, however great your product might be.

I have no interest in welding, so it doesn't matter to me that you have the best deals in welding gear this side of the black stump; it won't matter how many glossy brochures you shove into the letter box, or how many snazzy coloured ads you run in the pet lovers magazine I buy, I just don't care about your product.

So if you don't do a bit of research and find out where your potential buyers are, you may as well just donate your advertising budget directly to my Running Away Fund, and at least one of us will be happy!

The other problem with this stage of the process is credibility. If you're a racing car driver, trying to sell me spare parts for my car, I'll probably listen to you; if you're trying to sell me crochet patterns, I may not listen at all.

MORAL: Since your business depends on the receiver accepting your message, you must put all your efforts into ensuring that the right message reaches the right target.

Look at your writing in terms of this communications model and make any necessary changes before you invest any more of your time or money.

If the spelling of words like “recognised" in this article worried you, please read this:

Jennifer Stewart offers Home Study courses in writing and professional writing services from her site:

For those who want their own writing double-checked for accuracy, Jennifer offers proof reading and full editing services. Click now for your Writing Tips newsletter:


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