Assume Your Audience Is Intelligent

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Lisa Gerber recently published a blog post which she titled: “dumb your messages down for the masses,” a notion I completely disagree with and think is a terrible idea.

In fact, the first part of her post isn’t even about messaging, it’s about good customer service which I agree with. The second part of her post talks about web usability (adding links as context). Also fine.

But let’s go back to her title, because it’s something that really gets under my skin and is a backwards notion in the modern business world and our current society as a whole. I simply do not agree with dumbing your message down. In a world of infinite choice, this actually makes your brand seem cheap, spammy and untrustworthy. If you are a writer, it makes your message seem banal / unimportant. Unless you are a brand like P&G and built in the era of mass this approach is to be lost in obscurity. To seem cheap. To not win anyone’s hearts or minds.

You absolutely can have intelligent, creative or clever messages and still be perfectly clear to users at all levels of sophistication. ‘Dumbing down’ is the wrong mindset and is to take your brand or ideas two steps backwards. It’s not good marketing, it’s simply to move towards the middle, to blend in and be boring.

But boring is over. We are weird. As Seth Godin states in his recent book:

But what happens when mass disappears? When we can connect everyone, customize and optimize–then what happens to normal?

Normal is so ingrained in what we do every day that it’s difficult to notice that your tendency toward the normal is now obsolete.

You should assume your audience is weird and intelligent. Treat them like insiders not drooling idiots. Everyone knows it’s easily possible to find answers and conduct research so understand that people will get up to speed themselves. The data agrees: US customers now consult, on average, 10.4 sources prior to purchasing. This is not the behavior of unintelligent people.

To dumb down is to put off your best potential customers and be taken less seriously in your industry. Besides, do you really want customers like this?

PS: it is my pet peeve when anyone at a conference dumbs down their presentations, especially in the marketing category. None of this stuff is new, and I’ve almost never, if ever been in an audience at a conference where attendees felt what they were getting was too advanced. It’s always people presenting basic, previously shared or clichéd advice that gets a negative reaction.

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