Recently, a number of competing developers delivered presentations to a property owner, each hoping to persuade him to sell them 4,000 acres of much-sought-after property. The presentations were nearly identical, so the property owner was unsure how to choose the best developer. A few days later, the property owner received a handwritten thank-you note from one candidate. The property owner immediately awarded the deal to that developer because he had taken the time to write a message of appreciation.22
Often, your competitors are nearly identical to you. Your colleagues and customers will be more easily persuaded when you show interest in them personally, speak to them in personal terms, understand their specific needs, and demonstrate that you are seeking benefits for them. Personalizing your messages is not easy, though, as Michael Maslansky points out:
For all of us, selling ideas or products or ourselves begins with a need to talk about something that we have and the audience should need, want, or agree with. The problem is that too often, we focus on the first part—what we want to sell, and too little on the second—why they want to buy … and yet, our audience demands increasingly that messages, products, and services speak directly to them.23
Creating messages that speak directly to customers and colleagues requires that you use language that helps your customers and colleagues feel the product, service, or idea is just for them.24
One of the primary strategies you can use to personalize persuasive messages is your selection of voice—either you-voice, we-voice, I-voice, or impersonal voice (as introduced in Chapter 2). Table 9.2 offers guidance on choosing the appropriate voice. Generally, you-voice is more effective in external persuasive messages to customers and clients because it emphasizes the benefits they receive from your products and services. From the customer’s perspective, the you-voice shows them that they are the center of attention.
|You-voice||Use in external persuasive messages to emphasize reader benefits.||Presumptuousness—assuming you know what is good for someone else||When you take out an auto loan, you get a variety of resources to help you in your car shopping, including a free copy of a Kelly Blue Book, access to free Carfax reports, Mechanical Breakdown Insurance (MBI), and Guaranteed Auto Protection (GAP).|
|In this example, you-voice helps show direct benefits to the customers. Overuse across an entire message, however, may come across as presumptuous, overbearing, or exaggerated.|
|We-voice||Use in internal persuasive messages to emphasize shared work goals.||Presumptuousness—assuming you share common beliefs, ideas, or understanding with your colleagues||At Better Horizons, we’ve instilled a personal touch into every aspect of our business. We’ve reinforced this culture with face-to-face services. Our tellers welcome members by name. When members come into the credit union, they know we care about them as people, not just as customers. The warm, friendly, genuine, and personal approach we take to serving our members is why I’m so proud to work here.|
|In this passage, we-voice instills a sense of shared values, priorities, and goals. We-voice can instill a strong sense of teamwork. When audience members have different perspectives, however, they may resent that you are stating agreement where it does not exist.|
|I-voice||Use in all persuasive messages sparingly.||Overuse implies self-centeredness||After examining the results of other credit unions, I am convinced that these tools can build emotional connections and loyalty with our members.|
|In this example, I-voice is used to show a personal opinion and shows respect for audience members who are not yet fully persuaded. Frequent use of I-voice across an entire message, however, may come across as emphasizing your interests rather than those of the audience.|
|Impersonal voice||Use in persuasive messages to emphasize objectivity and neutrality.||Overuse may depersonalize the message||The basic difference between credit unions and banks is that credit union members own and control their credit unions whereas bank account holders have no stake or control in their financial institutions.|
|In this example, impersonal voice helps show objectivity. An entire persuasive message in impersonal voice, however, may fail to connect on a personal level with the audience.|
Writing in the you-voice to customers is more than just a stylistic choice. It forces you to consciously consider the readers’ needs and wants. It forces you to personalize the message for them. By contrast, the we-voice in external messages can focus too much attention on your company and de-emphasize benefits to the customer. Notice the difference in overall tone in the two messages in Figures 9.4and 9.5 (pp. 255–256). In the less-effective example, the you-voice is hardly used at all compared to the dominating we-voice. In the more-effective example, the you-voice takes center stage over the we-voice. The extensive use of you-voice in the more-effective message sends a strong meta message: This message is about you.
Another method of personalizing a message is to make your statements tangible. By definition, tangible means something can be touched; it is material or substantial. In a business communications context, making the statement tangible implies that the readers can discern something in terms that are meaningful to them. This allows the reader to sense the impact on a personal level.25 You often can achieve a tangible feel by combining you-voice with specificity. Consider the examples in Table 9.3, from messages that Haniz is working on for the credit union.