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Michael J. Katz

Guest Column: You Talking To Me?
By Michael J. Katz

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(Michael J. Katz is founder and "chief penguin" of Blue Penguin Development Inc., a Boston-area consulting firm that helps clients increase sales by showing them how to market to their existing relationships and specializes in the development of electronic newsletters. He is the author of the book E-Newsletters That Work.)

A few weeks ago, I attended a business breakfast to hear a guest speaker talk about the state of the economy. The man who spoke -- the chief economist of a major bank -- was brilliant. He covered some complicated topics -- the stock market, the war, politics -- without even a glance at his notes.

Unfortunately, I don't know what the hell he said.

For 45 minutes, he spoke a form of English filled with acronyms, jargon and economic terms, that had more than a few of us non- economists in the audience scratching our heads. He even handed out a packet of papers filled with unlabeled charts and teeny tiny numbers, so that we could "see first-hand what an economist looks at every day."

(It occurred to me at the time that this was about as useful as my doctor throwing an EKG across the desk at me and saying, "Here, you take a look.")

There's a big difference between knowing something yourself and being able to effectively communicate it to an audience. And, the biggest barrier to making this happen is figuring out who your audience is.

Only then can you craft a message that fits their wants, their interests and their capabilities.

In the case of my economist friend, he gave a presentation that was appropriate for the State Bankers Association but a complete miss when delivered to a roomful of business owners.

Likewise, defining an appropriate audience is a critical consideration in developing an effective e-newsletter. Without a clear definition, you won't know what tone of voice to use, which metaphors make sense, how much detail to provide, or even what to write about. Defining the audience is your starting point.

Here's the best route I've found to accomplishing this:

Think about a specific person among your customers or contacts whom you want to address your e-newsletter to. Not a demographic group, a real live person that you know. Now, think about things like what she does for a living; what her problems are; how much she knows about your industry. As you write your e-newsletter each month, write it to her.

I know that this may seem counterintuitive, because by selecting a single person to write to, we are by definition excluding everybody else.

What I've discovered, however, is that the natural tendency to write to as broad an audience as possible -- in the hope of appealing to a wide variety of people -- results in content that is generic and impersonal, the exact opposite of what you're looking for.

To counteract this, we overcompensate in the other direction by picking a single person to talk to. This in turn leads to focused, authentic, conversational copy: the holy grail of e-newsletter content.

Nice talking to you.

Tip contributed by Michael J. Katz
Blue Penguin Development Inc.

Ezine-Tips for April 22, 2003

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