Explain how the tone and style of persuasive messages impact their influence.
The tone for persuasive messages should be confident and positive, yet at the same time avoid exaggeration or hype. This is tricky! You will no doubt need to make some trade-offs. The more confident and positive you make your message, the more you risk being perceived as pushy or exaggerated. As you reduce confidence and positivity, you risk your product, service, or idea being perceived as weak or unexciting. One benefit of asking colleagues to read your persuasive message before you send it is they can help you decide if you have achieved the right level of confidence and positivity without sacrificing believability.
The writing style of your message should be action-oriented and lively. But again, you risk being perceived as unbelievable or overly enthusiastic if you overdo the language. However, you risk being perceived as dull or unexceptional if you don’t use engaging, lively language. Proofreading by yourself and with the help of colleagues will help you get the right writing style to set your message apart.
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 9.4 and 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.
|Less Effective||More Effective|
|Credit unions save members about $8 billion a year thanks to better interest rates and reduced fees.||On average, credit union members save $400 each year compared to bank customers thanks to lower loan rates and fees.|
|The benefit is not tangible. Customers are not sure what the benefit would be for them personally.||This benefit is tangible; the customers know how much they will save on an individual level.|
|In recent years, many credit unions have lost membership because younger individuals are not attracted to them.||In the past five years, we’ve lost over 200 members—over 10 percent of our membership. And we simply aren’t attracting younger members.|
|This statement focuses on a general trend for credit unions but does not indicate an impact on a particular credit union.||This statement invokes a sense of what is happening right here at our credit union. Identifying the amount (as well as a percentage) helps the reader discern the impact.|
|We provide lower rates on car loans. Our car loan rates are between 1.5 and 1.75 percentage points less than at any of the banks in town.||You pay lower rates on car loans. You can get car loan rates at Better Horizons that are 1.5–1.75 percentage points less than at any other bank in town. Consider the savings:
|This statement doesn’t help the customers understand how much in dollars they would save on a car loan at Better Horizons.||This statement allows customers to easily think about how much savings they would receive by getting a car loan with Better Horizons.|
As you reread your message, keep in mind the following advice from sales specialist Ralph Allora: “Read the letter aloud. If it doesn’t sound like you’re having a conversation with the client over the phone, then you’re not using the right tone.”26 This in part is a test of whether you have personalized your message enough.
In persuasive messages, you have somewhat more license to write creatively. Focus on using action-oriented and lively words to achieve a sense of excitement, optimism, or other positive emotions. Use strong nouns and verbs to add to the excitement of the message. Some sales messages sound dull because of overuse of and reliance on words such as provide and offer.27 Across the entire message or thought, the action-oriented and lively language should emphasize a central theme. See Table 9.4 for examples from documents Haniz is working on for two of her projects.
|Less Effective||More Effective|
|The Betty Williams Breast Center has a nationally accredited program for treatment of breast cancer.||The Betty Williams Breast Center runs a nationally accredited program for treatment of breast cancer.|
|The weak verb has implies little action on the part of the Betty Williams Breast Center.||The action verb runs implies a full-fledged and active effort on the part of the Betty Williams Breast Center.|
|Better Horizons has always been known for its personal approach to our members. Our transactions have always occurred through face-to-face services. Our tellers are friendly to all members.||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.|
|Uses unexciting, weak verbs: has been known, have occurred, are (notice how passive verbs detract from a sense of action and engagement). The central theme of personalized service does not come through. For example, consider the contrast between our tellers are friendly versus our tellers welcome members by name.||Uses a positive, diverse set of action verbs: instilled, reinforced, welcome, care. Uses adjectives and nouns to further emphasize a central theme of personalized service: personal touch, face-to-face services, name.|
As you display more confidence in your idea, your product, or your service, you can more effectively influence your audience. Effective persuaders provide compelling and simple reasons for action. They should show confidence in these ideas, as illustrated in Table 9.5, again with examples from two of Haniz’s projects. Emotionally, the writer’s confidence allows the audience to gain confidence in the message. In internal persuasive messages, expressing confidence in key players, who can make the change occur, is crucial. These key players include upper-level executives who will actively endorse and authorize resources as well as those managers and employees who will put the ideas into motion.28