Stakeholders: why you need to write well for them

Anyone who has worked in sales knows that features are what something is, whereas benefits are what it does for you. And that’s easy to incorporate when you’re writing about your product or service. But how do you write successfully when you’re selling something intangible to people who aren’t necessarily customers – but are almost as important?

Often this is what you face when you’re writing communications not for customers, but for what some of us call other “stakeholder” groups (although of course customers are stakeholders too.) If you can’t quickly identify who I’m talking about, think employees, suppliers, share/stock holders, influencers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, community members, etc.

Usually with these groups you’re trying to persuade them to change their thinking rather than buy your product/service. Yet the success of what you write depends on converting features into benefits just like it does when you’re selling cans of beans. Only this time it’s feely rather than touchy, and that’s more of a challenge.

The poor relation of marcoms

Despite our increasing commitment to write honest, “you-oriented” text connected with every form of marketing communications, you still see a lot of pompous, boring “us-oriented” bullsh*t, both offline and online. And nowhere is this nonsense more commonly seen, than in stakeholder coms.

In customer communications, such BS usually gets noticed and chopped out before the message leaves the building. The stakeholder variety of BS, however, often sneaks through unimpeded. It’s not in the frontline of product/service sales. Its impact on the bottom line is not obvious – in fact if anything it’s seen as a cost. Yuk. It’s just not important enough to bother doing properly.

Yet when you think how an organization can be snarled up by depressed, demotivated staff … a drop in share/stock prices … uninformed and unmotivated retailers … irritated, resentful suppliers … angry, offended members of a neighboring community … you see why getting the words right in communications for these groups can be pretty crucial.

What counts is why, not just what

Ironically, the reason why there’s BS in stakeholder coms is only rarely because the subject matter itself reeks of ordure matter. Usually, if you dig deep enough, the argument is perfectly valid.

A problem arises when the writer hasn’t bothered to figure out why the stakeholder reader should change his/her beliefs/attitude towards the subject matter. Yet that, if anything, is what will make those coms work. Not merely the validity of the organization and what it stands for, but also why the person receiving your message should change the way they think about it now.

Startlingly good examples of this problem can be found in:

Corporate documents/reports in which all text is about the organization and its achievements

Corporate websites that are online versions of 1.

Recruitment presentations that glorify the organization and patronize potential employees

Supplier news vehicles focusing only on the organization’s products/services and achievements

1-way employee communications (little or no opportunity for them to feed back)

In-company presentations that don’t relate the subject matter to the audience’s interests

Share/stock holder communications that try to BS their way out of bad news

Etc.

I’m sure you can recall at least one if not more examples of these in your own experience of being a stakeholder. Remember how negative it made you feel towards the organization?

Your objectives = features

In the same way that customers approach renewing their car insurance or trying a new brand of hair conditioner, stakeholder groups don’t see why they should change their behavior, opinion or attitude unless there’s “something in it for them.”

In this case, you don’t have features as such, but you do have objectives. Objectives are usually your objectives, not your audience’s. So in effect they can be considered “features” and once again you need to turn them into benefits, by asking “so what’s in it for them?” The underlined words are what your objective is, the rest is what your audience stand to gain from it…

Inform

Increase their knowledge and awareness

Train

Improve existing skills/gain new ones, so they’re better at what they do

Correct (rebuke)

Learn how to overcome the difficulty and avoid it next time

Complain

Can give even better service next time

Entertain

Enjoy themselves, relax, feel good

Calm

Stop worrying

Sympathize

Know that, despite difficulties, the organization supports them

Reassure

Are reminded that a difficulty is temporary/resolvable/etc

Energize

Absorb and gain from the organization’s zest and enthusiasm

Motivate

Believe in their ability to succeed within the organization

Uplift

Enjoy a feeling of team-based optimism and power

Gain support

Feel a sense of ownership of the organization

Increase esteem

Feel they’re being really cool to support the organization

Prove viability

Feel they’re investing wisely by buying into your organization

…and so-on.

To write powerfully, use these benefits as hooks

No matter how oblique and ethereal your stakeholder marketing objective might be, if you can’t find a real related benefit for the recipient of your message, forget using it in your writing in the first place. It won’t work. Hardly anyone buys anything – especially anything new – without a good reason. So why should stakeholder groups buy a new attitude from you, unless you give them a good reason to do so?

By treating your objectives as features and turning those into audience benefits, you can create powerful writing hooks for your stakeholder comms almost as effectively as you do with product/service benefits in customer comms.

They will be hooks that work, because they give your audience good reasons to change from where they are now to where you want them to be. Hang your document, online text or script on those hooks and you won’t go far wrong.

Now, let’s get you writing well for everybody:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

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  1. BizSugar.com says:

    Stakeholders: why you need to write well for them…

    How do you write successfully when you’re selling something intangible to people who aren’t necessarily customers – but are almost as important? Stakeholders matter!…

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