“Hey, Dude” is not necessarily the way to go!
My recent experience with a talented marketer in Lithuania was both painful and rewarding. He was friendly, exuberant, and knew his stuff. Unfortunately, he couldn’t spell. And he thought that television-speak was standard English. He wrote to me directly because my LinkedIn page mentioned expertise with international communications, and he was beginning to think that he might have just a small problem in that area. I suggested that he send me samples of some of the email newsletters he’d sent out so far. He told me that he thought they were perfect, and he couldn’t understand why his great leads were not converting.
The Target Audience Is Everything
Once I’d had a chance to review the samples, I called him and said, “It looks like you are targeting some pretty sophisticated people at American magazines and other media outlets. Do I have that right?”
“ABSOLUTELY!” he whooped into the phone. “And you are trying to convince them to publish articles by writers whom you represent, is that right also?”
“You got it!” Then he paused and said, “If you got it right away, how come these smart, sophisticated people don’t get it?”
Taking a deep breath, I asked if he had gotten any responses at all to his mailings. “No!” he bellowed. “So, what’s their problem?”
Ouch. He was young, smart, and perhaps just a tad arrogant. Probably good at what he did, but we were about to have a very painful conversation.
The New Yorker or Honey Boo Boo?
Taking my cue from his bold manner, I said that, “You don’t have to write like the ‘New Yorker,’ but you have to do better than ‘Honey Boo Boo’.” Silence. Profound, insulted, offended silence. But he didn’t hang up! Finally, he spoke, saying, “My English is very good! Everyone says so.” Well… not quite everybody.
English Is English, Right?
“Your spoken English IS good,” I agreed. “But not good enough to hit the mark you have chosen. When you are writing in English, you need more than conversational skills. You need to master the basics (like punctuation and spelling). But you need to go beyond that.”
So What’s a Nuance??
“English is a language that can be subtle and full of nuance (shades of meaning). In addition, English idioms like ‘raining cats and dogs’ or ‘under the weather’ might make no sense to someone whose first language is not English. But if you are going to be a star communicator, telling your story to people for whom English is mother’s milk, then you’re going to have to step up your game.”
More silence. Followed by a deep sigh. “I have no idea what you just said, but I need to know if you can help me. What would you charge to just fix up my messages so they work?”
Teach a Man to Fish?
Well, that was progress. He accepted that the problem did not lie with his potential clients. Instead, there was a disconnect between those clients and his ability to tell his story. A misalignment between their language, their style, their rules – and his. They were probably uncomfortable with messages that said, “Hey, Dude!” as if the recipient and the writer were – well – dude buddies?
I asked him if he really wanted me to re-write everything he wrote from now till eternity or if he was willing to invest some time and effort in learning how to do it himself. We agreed to try both options.