I recently received this letter from Jonathan Jay and felt it was so good, it had to be shared. So with their permission I include it fully in today’s post …
Like the rest of the country, I was sad to hear on Sunday that Sir Terry Wogan had passed away.
He was one of the few constant forces in many people’s lives – an enduring figure that was always there, chirping merrily in the background.
And it got me thinking, what can we…as entrepreneurs…learn from his success?
I guess there are several lessons. Knowing your audience is one.
Exploiting a winning formula, year after year, is another.
Then there’s playing to your strengths. He was good on TV, but great on radio, so by the mid-90s he was back doing what he did best…ploughing his stock trade. That’s something we can all learn from, for sure.
But there was one lesson that stood out for me:
The personal connection
Think – 8 million listeners would tune in to his radio show every day. And every one of them felt he was talking to them, one to one. There was no sense of him being up on a pedestal, talking down to a crowd.
Both his tone and his language were naturally intimate.
Every broadcaster should do this. In fact, it’s Step 101 in their rule book – use the personal touch, multiplied. But far too many presenters…especially on TV…are ignoring this now.
Example: watch BBC Breakfast tomorrow morning, and you’ll see that one or two presenters open with
No, I’m not being petty by picking up on this! The second a presenter uses that phrase…“Hello everyone”…they shatter the illusion of intimacy. Yes, Richie Benaud got away with it, because his tone was so calm and relaxed. But generally, this kind of wording puts up a barrier, and the viewer becomes detached from the experience.
Of course, the personal connection means more than avoiding phrases like “everyone”.
It also means using personal words and the active voice – like saying “I’ll do it” instead of “It will be done”. And it means informality – using the simple everyday language we use in conversation, not the stiff and formal language we were taught to use in school.
I hope you see what I mean. If not, let me put it another way. If you know any French, this is the basic difference between ‘tu’ and ‘vous’. Both words mean ‘you’, but in different ways. ‘Tu’ is a familiar form, reserved for friends and peers in one-to-one conversations…while ‘vous’ is impersonal, used in more formal settings or when addressing a group.
Every broadcaster should be thinking ‘tu’…and never ‘vous’.
So why do you need to know this?
Well, exactly the same rule applies when you’re writing copy. You need the same intimate, informal style – whoever you’re writing to. And I do mean, whoever. It doesn’t matter if they’re 18 or 85…an office junior or captain of industry…man or woman…I don’t care. They’re all people, and they’ll all respond to warm, human tones – because that’s how we’re programmed.
Sure, you might vary your tone a little from one audience to another. If you were meeting your customers in person, you’d temper your natural voice for the corporate giant, and adapt it another way for the dogsbody…but the change is very slight. It should still be naturally you, because anything feels distant and phoney.
If this sounds complex, it’s anything but. Think of your natural voice as a dial that goes from 1 to 10. You already use different points on the dial for different people in your life – your boss, older relatives, friends, customers…they all get natural you, but very slightly different versions.
It’s nothing more than that.
So when you’re writing to your customers or prospects, choose a suitable point on the dial – but don’t get formal and abandon your natural voice altogether! With that in mind, I’m setting you another challenge this week:
Go through your website and sales materials, and get ruthless. Pick out everything that feels distant or formal, and replace it with simple, easy sounding copy that mirrors the way you talk.
If in doubt, just think of Wogan. Keep it simple, gentle and lyrical, and you’ll have people nodding along…staying with you for the whole message.
It worked for Sir Terry. It will work for you too.
To extraordinary success,
Author of “1001 Ways To Get More Customers”
P.S. Just to be clear, this is not my opinion – it’s a matter of fact. Generations of copywriters have tested one tone of voice against another, and concluded that informal or semi-formal language always beats full-blown formality.
Test it and see. Run 2 versions of a sales letter or web page, using different writing styles. All other things being equal, I can tell you now which version will get the better response…
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