“Communication is the key to success” reads a lazy strap line above one of those ubiquitous mobile phone accessory shops, on Kirkstall Road in Leeds.
After scoffing at this vacuous commercial bilge, I conceded that whoever wrote the copy was a copywriting genius, able to distill a universal human truth into six words. Or at the very least, had alluded to a thought-provoking sentiment.
Most (if not all) human misunderstanding is caused by poor communication. Failure in the transfer of meaning from one person’s brain to another. And the older I get the more often I find it at the root of most problems.
Take this recent email exchange for example
I replied to a named individual at a large high street retailer with details they needed to refund me. Almost a week later there was no reply or refund.
Assuming my details were incorrect, I rang to pester the individual who acknowledged the details and revealed they were waiting for a supervisor to give internal approval for the refund. I just “had to be more patient.”
You’re right, I know, email is an erratic and incoherent medium of communication at best. But did you spot where the problem started?
Communication broke down and we both made assumptions about what the other person knew. And that resulted in two frustrated humans.
It’s easy to forget that other people won’t understand you if you don’t articulate meaning clearly and unambiguously.
You can’t assume other people know what’s in your head. Like how the named individual assumed that I’d know refunds need authorisation. Or how I assumed my details were incorrect.
This fantastically petty experience of modern life underlines how much of our communication is implicit. The unspoken or assumed meaning we fail to convey without actual articulation.
It’s especially relevant to copywriting as well
If you expect people to read between the lines in your copy or decipher too much of your sophisticated marketing message then you’ve only done half a job.
So try to be explicit in your calls-to-action and avoid assuming the obvious when copywriting. And remember the ‘what is it you’re trying to say’ part of your copywriting plan.
Then say it. Directly if you can.