Bullet points rarely hit the target

When creating a website, a brochure, or an ad, many people believe the only thing that matters is the raw facts. “Nobody has time for fluff,” they insist. Given their insistence on using fact-based material, they choose to use brief bullet points instead of sentences and paragraphs.

I won’t argue that bullet points are certainly more economical in terms of time and space. However, they deliver a false economy.

By choosing bullet points over sentences and paragraphs, you assume your audience is made up of rational creatures — and that just isn’t the case, even when that audience is made up of engineers or financial analysts.

We like to pretend that humans are rational animals. However, the reality is that even the most scientific among us are ruled by our emotions. When we make decisions — whether we’re choosing a complex circuit board or buying a new car — the process begins at an emotional level.

We think we’re rational, because once our emotional triggers point us in a direction, we start to assemble rational facts that support that decision. Take that circuit board. The electronics engineer who is developing a product won’t even consider using it unless she develops the confidence that it will solve the need she faces. Confidence is an emotional need, not a logical component.

Bullet points speak to the rational animal by conveying facts, but they neglect the emotional animal lurking inside. They don’t sound like people talking, and another human’s voice is one of the most powerful emotional triggers.

Think that sounds strange? Your marketing and communications materials stand in for you when you’re not able to deliver messages in person. To do that effectively, they have to speak with your voice. The voice adds the emotional component that builds trust and familiarity, overcoming objections and moving people to take action.

When you rely on bullet points, your voice becomes little more than a robot spewing out a list of facts. You would never deliver raw facts about your product in a monotone voice to a prospect, but that’s how the brain perceives bullet points. They lack the warmth, the intonation, the uniqueness, and even the passion in your voice when you talk about your company.

Many argue what I’m saying may apply to consumer marketing, but not business-to-business messages. Nonsense! Companies don’t buy from companies; people working in companies buy from people working in other companies. Yes, decision-makers will study the facts, but they respond far more effectively to emotional triggers. Does your product or service reduce their anxiety? Will it allow them to feel more confident? Will it improve the image of their business? All of those things address emotional concerns and issues, rather than rational factors.

It’s true that prospects need the facts about your products or services, but those facts will be far more meaningful or convincing when you wrap them in conversational messages that reflect the way you and your team members talk when you’re in person.

It’s okay to use bullet points as a tool within your message or to summarize what’s elsewhere on the page, but if you rely on them as your sole form of communication, you’re shortchanging your audience.

Not convinced? Take a moment to compare what you just read with the following:

  • Bullet points are popular
  • Users focus on facts
  • Users presume people are rational
  • Decisions begin with emotion
  • Bullet points lack emotion
  • Bullet points don’t sound like you

Don’t use them alone

Not quite as compelling or instructive, is it?