This weekend, in a Wall Street Journal article, former chairman of the FEC, Arthur Levitt, suggested: “When an editor wants a reporter to explain something more clearly in a news article, she might say: ‘Tell it to Aunt Edna.’ Aunt Edna is the stand-in for a regular person, someone who has never thought about a cloture motion in the Senate, a municipal bond offering, or some other obscure issue of our public life.” Good advice to all those in the field of communications who are responsible for sharing important information with the public.
The practice of using simple language, however, isn’t always so simple, particularly for those experts in specialty fields, like healthcare or finance, who are tasked with communicating precise and complex information to the general public. Add the pressure and influence of company stakeholders, legal concerns, and a desire to be creative, and it is easy to see why “simple” is not always easy to achieve.
Put yourself in the role of the consumer…
- Will “Aunt Edna” be confused by your message?
- Will she grow frustrated trying to understand the industry jargon you are using, or overwhelmed trying to make sense of the information presented to her?
- Will Aunt Edna grow uneasy or even lose trust in your company?
Now if, Aunt Edna has little patience for jargon and pretentious language, what about “Uncle Walt” (my stand in for the ubiquitous journalist)? Trade publications and academic journals notwithstanding, today’s reporters, producers and editors need to appeal to a broad audience. They are under increasing pressure to produce more, under tighter deadlines.
- Will Uncle Walt need to read your press release multiple times in order to make sense of it? Will he even read your release for that matter?
- How difficult is it for him to find the information he needs on your website?
- Does all of the material and jargon lend itself to mis-quotes and factual misinterpretations?
- Are the key messages you hope Uncle Walt will take away easy to identify?
Understand that looking out for Aunt Edna is not a charitable exercise. Customers like Aunt Edna are more loyal, and even willing to pay more, for brands that offer communications, interactions and experiences that are easy to understand and use. In fact, U.S. Brands Could Gain $27 Billion in 2011 by Bringing Consumers Simpler Experiences and Interactions, according to the findings of the Siegel+Gale 2010 Global Brand Simplicity Index.
So what global brands offer the simplest communications and what is the real pay off? For more tangible details on the value of simplicity, be sure to join BurrellesLuce and Brian Rafferty, Siegel+Gale Global Director, Customer Insights, for a free on-demand webinar on Using the Power of Simplicity to Optimize Brand Communications and learn about the findings of the 2010 Global Brand Simplicity Index.
In the meantime, I offer you this challenge: Take a look at your online press room through the eyes of Aunt Edna and Uncle Walt. How much time does it take you to identify the key points? Is there anything subject to interpretation? Does your communication hold up to the “Aunt Edna test”? Does your competitor? Then, on the BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas blog, tell us what you find out.