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The Flavour of Letters
By Jane Watson   Printer Friendly Version

While customizing a workshop for a new client, I had a chance encounter with the vice-president of another company. He had had some dealings with my client and was thinking of signing a major contract with them. I asked the VP what he thought of their correspondence.

His immediate response was, "It's vanilla. Sure, the salesperson confirms our meetings and answers my questions and does it when he promises to. But the letters are bland. There's no warmth or personality. I feel as if I'm being sent form letters. I'm looking for a company to build a long-term relationship with. I want to work with a highly-professional, customer-driven organization. I don't want good service; I want great service. I'm not getting that feeling from these people."

We all know what happens when you serve dishes of chocolate and vanilla ice cream at a party. The chocolate always goes first. The same goes for letter writing. If you put some extra attention, effort and thought-some flavour-into your correspondence, people are more likely to buy into your message. And imagine what would happen if you added some coloured sprinkles and hot fudge sauce-a warm tone-to dress it up and make it more exciting.

However, many writers are focused solely on their own needs, knowledge, and agendas. They are more interested in how fast they get the letter off their desks than they are in thinking about their reader. These are the people who produce dull, boring, form-like documents-plain vanilla.

In a recent workshop, I asked participants to divide into groups and prepare a letter in response to a request for information from a potential customer. The people in group one hurried through the task and prepared a letter that did the job. It answered the questions. It was adequate, but dull. You know, the "We are in receipt of your letter dated..." approach.

However, group two took a more creative approach, spent a few extra minutes and thought about the needs of the reader. They provided the same information, but they did it in with a friendly, person-to-person flavor. It was still business-like but it exuded good will-definitely a chocolate. The entire class-even group one-had to agreed it certainly would have a higher sales/success rate than plain old vanilla.

There are too many writers who produce "vanilla" correspondence. Use this to your advantage-give you and your organization a competitive edge-and make your correspondence more flavourful.

Poor writers forget that the amount of information-hard copy or electronic-crossing a person's desk has increased 600% over the past ten years. Anything you write today goes, in effect, into a competition. It competes for the reader's time and attention, with all the other information received that day.

Writers, who deliver "chocolate" letters take this demand on the reader's time into account and rise to the challenge when they prepare a document. They put their own knowledge and desires on the back-burner and determine what the reader wants to know and what he needs to know. And when trying to persuade or sell, highly-effective writers include not only the features but also the benefits to the reader.

And then the effective writer serves it up clearly, concisely and delivers it with a warm, positive tone-the sprinkles that make it stand out.

These writers write to inform their readers, not to impress them with their literary skills. They use the active voice whenever possible, short sentences and paragraphs, and a positive tone. They use "you" more than "I" or "we," and they include the reader's name at least once in a one- to two-page letter. They write as if they are conversing face-to-face with the reader.

Granted there are times-such as when you are delivering bad news-that the "vanilla" approach is appropriate. But if you require a gold medal ribbon flavor-to inform, persuade or sell-think about the reader, his needs, the benefits to him, and then write in his words. And add that special ingredient to the document-the hot fudge-your own personality and goodwill.

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