Talking to yourself is useless

One of my most successful projects began when I received an assignment to rescue a doomed newsletter for companies providing towing services to a motor club’s members. The newsletter wasn’t being read and the motor club didn’t understand why. It was full of valuable and important information, but nobody seemed to be paying attention, and the motor club was ready to scrap it.

Our first step was to get a better sense of what the readers thought about it, so we started with a random survey of the independent towing operators. They didn’t hesitate to tell us how the motor club was falling short. “I don’t read that rag. It’s nothing but PR for your company and junk about which executive is getting promoted.”

So what would you like to receive? “Look, I’m out here trying to make a buck. Tell me how I can do a better job of running my business.”

The motor club was making an all-too-common mistake: they were talking to themselves. Instead of sharing information their audience would find useful, they kept shoveling out the company line and including what the executives found interesting. They weren’t deliberately trying to exclude readers – it just never occurred to them that the outside world wasn’t interested.

I took the newsletter in a new direction. We began to focus on ways successful towing companies were addressing business challenges related to personnel, equipment, marketing, and other issues. Instead of putting the motor club at the center of each issue, we put the readers there. And as the readers began to study each issue, we were able to share the key information the motor club wanted them to know, but in ways that helped them do a better job of running their businesses.

Within a couple years, the publication the motor club had been ready to abandon became so healthy and well-read that companies in the towing industry began to pay for ads … all because the motor club stopped talking to itself and started listening to its audience.

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