This is a problem that we technical communicators face every day: what to communicate and in which order…
Ordering information and pacing its delivery is a crucial part of all writing, with sometimes dire consequences.
If for example you miss the correct order of the steps necessary to cool off an over-heated reactor cell in a nuclear plant, the operator can end up wiping away a whole city!
In commercial writing, if you forget to deliver the core benefit first, you can lose a lot of money. The USP (Unique Selling Proposition) of a product always needs to be communicated upfront and prominently for maximum conversion rate.
Here is a communication piece I received from the electric utility company PEPCO by mail. I think this great piece of direct mail could be improved in a number of ways.
Here are my suggestions as a technical communicator…
1) When we open the main letter, the first thing that catches our attention is the message GREEN… But the whole letter itself is in BLUE… Why miss the opportunity to drive home the message right away by selecting the correct color palette? That was an opportunity missed to make an instant visual impact by the designer of this communication.
2) As we keep reading we realize that the main thing that sets this offer apart is not that we’ll save money, save energy, or “go greener” (since many other products promise the same) but the ability to PROGRAM the new PEPCO thermostat through the Internet! This offer is actually all about selling us a new thermostat.
The “Programmable Digital Thermostat” feature is buried inside the picture caption, and then again down below, in a table cell. If you are just scanning through (as most consumers do) you can easily miss this VITAL selling point.
3) As if they are also aware that the main letter does not do a good job of underlining the core message, PEPCO has also included a SLIP (called a “Lift Letter” in direct marketing) with the letter package, like an afterthought… And it’s in this slip that the REMOTE INTERNET PROGRAMMING feature is stressed in no unmistakable terms.
That ability to PROGRAM via INTERNET, and the BENEFIT that it represents ( more control over expenses for consumers who are away from their homes during the day), is the true USP for this product — not “saving money” (as such), “saving energy” (in the abstract) or “going green” (a cliche which can be used about almost anything these days). And that’s why it should have been at the TOP of the main letter, and introduced as the TOP reason why we should get rid of our existing thermostats and invest in this new model.
4) Once we identify the unique selling feature of this new digital thermostat, we can also select the best image to communicate it. And the STOCK PHOTOS chosen for the slip fail to communicate the “Internet Programmable” idea clearly.
We are looking at a group of good-looking people, half of them next to their lap-tops and the other half not even near a computer… What do these images convey? Hard to tell.
What this communication needs is a DRAWING, preferably a BEFORE-AFTER comparison of a busy consumer losing money because he or she cannot adjust the thermostat through the Internet… versus… a new-and-improved situation in which the consumer can adjust the thermostat remotely thanks to the Internet and thus save money (while “going green”).
And what’s more, this image should not buried into the slip but presented at the top of the main letter, as the MAIN FEATURE of the SOLUTION offered to high energy expenses.
Even a simple sales letter is not as simple as it seems when looked at it from a technical communication point of view. The opportunities for improving our communications and thus our lives are all around us and I believe it’s worth the second and third efforts to clear up the obstacles for happier and more efficient lives.