Why postman Keith should’ve written for the reader

Postman Keith falls into the common trap of writing copy for himself not his frustrated readers.

Postman Keith’s under a lot of pressure. He and his staff are expected to deliver more mail but with less resources and staff at my local Royal Mail delivery office in Leeds.

These things are important to Keith but not to frustrated customers who turn up wanting their parcels from 8.00AM as it says on their missed delivery cards.

Keith tried to preempt his customers’ frustration by writing this helpful notice:

Notice in a Royal Mail office
Keith’s helpful notice

Buried somewhere beneath the passive voice and convoluted language is a message. I interpreted it to be this:

Collect your mail here after 10.00AM. This is a temporary change by Royal Mail and we’re sorry your delivery card was wrong.

Why is this new copy better?

Firstly it gets to the point more quickly because the most critical information is right at the start. Even if you read no further than the first sentence, you’re still told what you need to know.

Secondly, it’s empathetic to the reader’s frustration and takes clear responsibility for the problem. You could argue the reader deserves more explanation but these technicalities are best described by polite staff. That’s instead of nebulous references to ‘automation’ and ‘national agreements’.

Not only is my copywriting simple and clearer than before, it’s better because it’s written for the reader and tackles two important priorities for them:

Their needs: “How do I get my mail?”
Their feelings: “I’m frustrated because my delivery card is wrong.”

Poor Keith fell into a common trap

I expect Keith and his Royal Mail colleagues face legitimate pressures and have valid concerns, it’s just that an instructional notice for customers isn’t the best place to air them.

Keith’s error was to write for himself in terms he understands but not readers. He also hid meaning beneath jargon to avoid the difficult issue of responsibility and let his priorities dictate the content not the readers’.

To get your message across successfully always write for your readers about what matters to them.

If all else fails, buy some Tippex.

By Chris Kenworthy | Coach

I'm Chris. I'm a coach. I help practically-minded do-ers, makers and thinkers find their place in the world.

If you feel lost or stuck; like you're not realising you true potential, apply for a coaching place to fix things on your own terms, once-and-for-all.

2 replies on “Why postman Keith should’ve written for the reader”

Nice post, Chris – couldn’t agree more. I would also add that the notice is pretty worthless unless it’s bobbed through the letterboxes of the households in the catchment area; catch ’em before they set off and avoid further disappointment.

In this context, it’s a little like the ‘road closed’ signs you get at the end of a mile-long stretch that really could have done with a diversion sign at the earliest possible junction.

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