Tuesday, 22 May 2012

To Assume Makes an Ass of U and Me

In the past two or three weeks I seem to have received quite a number of emails and pieces of literature in the post that try to tell me what I think, like, do or want to do.  And it annoys me.  These people are assuming that they know me . . . and they're getting it wrong.

For example, I got an email a few days ago from an internet marketer.  It began: "I bet you take at least one family summer vacation each year, right?" Well, actually, no.  And it went on "But if you're like most ultra busy parents - you probably aren't really going out of your way to create real-world entrepreneurial activities and lessons and unique family bonding?"  Well, I may be ultra busy but I'm not a parent.   So wrong again.  

Now, it so happens that I both like and respect this marketer and I have bought courses from him in the past.  But, if I didn't, I suspect that this sort of thing would lead me to wonder about the quality of what he was selling . . . after all, if he can get so much wrong in a single email, how reliable would his teaching be?

Admittedly, he was promoting "a special event for highly successful entrepreneurs and their families" and he went on to say: "If you have kids (or grand kids, nieces, nephews, etc) ages 6-18 this it a great way to let them get a taste for business".  But what puzzles me is why, with all his experience, he didn't start off with the "If you have kids . . ." bit.  That way he would have avoided alienating people who might assume that he wasn't a very good marketer and would have avoided the risk of upsetting anyone who had lost a child, who had no contact with his or her children as a result of divorce, or who desperately wanted children but was unable to do so.

Writing good copy is not just about capturing the reader's attention and persuading them to buy something.  It's also about being honest and being sensitive to the reader's feelings.  So I believe that it is counterproductive to assume anything about the people who receive our emails.  All we really know about them is that they gave us their names and email addresses via our opt in pages because they wanted something we were offering.  We don't know anything else about them.  And if we imply that we do - and get it wrong - we're in danger of losing them.

We need to be sensitive.  Implying that someone is a parent when they're not could cause distress.  Similarly the phrase "I bet you take at least one family summer vacation each year" could be hurtful.  Although some people do, indeed, take one or two holidays a year, there are still some who can't afford it.  And when we consider that a lot of people who start dabbling in internet marketing do so because they have lost their jobs or because the're having difficulty making ends meet, the assumption that everyone can afford holidays implies that the writer is out of touch with his readers.  Years ago, when I was working in a psychiatric hospital, we used to have a meeting of all the patients on the ward every morning.  One day, one of the women mentioned that she hadn't had a holiday for several years because she couldn't afford it.  To which one of the other patients (a very well-heeled and rather haughty woman) said in an amazed tone of voice "Can't afford a holiday?  I've never heard of that.  I have friends who go to Majorca three or four times a year."  All these years later, I still remember the distress of the first patient.

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