You can’t please all the people…

Bill Bernbach

Reading one of Nick Cave’s excellent Red Hand Files reminded me of the Bill Bernbach quote that I shared on LinkedIn back in 2016.

Fast forward four years and – right now – being bold feels like a dangerous activity. Cave himself hits the nail on the head with this quote:

“…what songwriter could have predicted thirty years ago that the future would lose its sense of humour, its sense of playfulness, its sense of context, nuance and irony, and fall into the hands of a perpetually pissed off coterie of pearl-clutchers? How were we to know?”

Barely a day goes by without an example of public bear-baiting on social media – despite calls for restraint in the wake of Caroline Flack’s death.

The way people orchestrate something akin to a digital lynching when someone expresses an opinion that doesn’t appear to conform to the mean is reprehensible.

However, I have also seen remarkably reasonable debates on both Twitter and Facebook between people who completely disagree on an issue – one about Quentin Tarantino’s alleged misogyny manifesting itself in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood sticks in the mind.

But the world is built on people swapping stories and ideas, which more often that not come with a difference of opinion.

We are human. We think. We don’t all have the same opinions. We should be comfortable that sometimes people don’t agree with us.

What we must guard against is how (and possibly where) we choose to discuss and evaluate those ideas.

By and large, I have found myself unwilling to voice an opinion online. And if a straw poll among friends is anything to go by, I know I’m far from alone.

Meanwhile in the comfort of a group I know, I’m willing to put something potentially contentious out there, safe in the knowledge that I won’t become Public Enemy No.1.

I’ll leave the last word to Nick Cave again…

“I would rather be remembered for writing something that was discomforting or offensive, than to be forgotten for writing something bloodless and bland.”

Is personalisation really any good?

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A tweet in my time line caught my eye last week. Someone I follow was calling out Sainsbury’s for giving her an offer for pork sausages, despite her having bought kosher margarine recently.

What surprised me more was Sainsbury’s explanation.

Their claim that vouchers are generated randomly smelt distinctively of the horseshit variety.

Holy grail

The holy grail of modern marketing is being able to send such hyper-targeted communications and offers to customers that they continually return to your brand on a never-ending, subliminal journey of discovery and purchase.

The reality – as the above example shows – is somewhat different. Continue reading “Is personalisation really any good?”

When ‘tone of voice’ goes wrong

Among the many ‘buzzphrases’ that you hear in content circles, ‘tone of voice’ comes near the top. (Hell, I even wrote a post about it earlier in 2013)

And if you take a straw poll of most, big, public-facing organisations, the way they want to seen (which is reflected in their tone of voice) usually includes the words ‘friendly’, ‘warm’, ‘chatty’.

Unfortunately, what a lot of the very same companies fail to take into account is the situation in which they communicate with their customers.

Lack of empathy

Virgin Media's poor tone of voiceTake the social media complaint, for example. We awoke this morning to discover we had no broadband connection at home…

A phone call to Virgin Media casually told us (via a recorded message) they were carrying out work to improve our service.

Leaving aside the fact they hadn’t pre-warned us about this, or the merits of carrying out standard improvements (not emergency, I hasten to add) first thing on Monday morning, my homeworking, self-employed partner took to Twitter to bemoan Virgin’s poor performance.

Within a short time, she received a return tweet delivered in that ‘chatty’ tone I mentioned earlier (see photo above right).

In case you can’t read it, it says: “Hi, now and then we need a little time to make the services better for the future. noon is just around the corner!”

What the (I’m sure very nice) customer service person on social media failed to pick up on is that a genuine complaint doesn’t warrant a patronising, ‘chirpy’ response.

A half-day broadband downtime is a big deal if you’re self employed and rely on fast response.

In this instance, the complaint requires an apology that attempts to sound sincere and at least tries to empathise with the complainant.

I’m sure this was just (or can be passed off as) an idle, one-off error of judgement, but the push for companies to ‘do an innocent’ and pretend they’re your friend when they talk to you will lead to many more poor exchanges with customers.

Guidelines required

This is why tone of voice guidelines that encompass differing scenarios are vital, not just a general 3-paragraph.

It’s really important to make sure you know how a brand will communicate with its audience in as many situations as possible, both difficult and easy. In other words, not just the fluffy, fun stuff.

A great (and probably over-used) example of how to do it is Mailchimp, who have even published their tone and voice (note the ‘and’) on a separate site.

Brands may not need to go to that length, but it’s a great benchmark to start with.