Everyone loves surprises, right?
Hate to break it to you, but when it comes to demonstrating your value to others – whether that’s your boss or your customers – the answer to that is almost always a resounding NO.
In fact, surprising your audience is probably one of the hidden reasons why you don’t seem to get the results you want. And if you want to make your voice heard, get more visible, have more impact…making sure there are no surprises in your communication is going to be a game-changer for you.
Delivering communication for big businesses and global brands, sticking to the ‘no surprises’ rule has been a core part of our toolkit for decades. Investment funds don’t want to get caught with their metaphorical pants down, shareholders want predictability in their holdings, strategists need to be able to plan, and employees perform better in a relatively predictable environment.
(In fact, I had a bee in my bonnet for a long time with managers who didn’t have regular one-to-one conversations with their team members, instead springing their annual ‘rating’ on them in their end-of-year appraisal. How are you meant to improve your performance with that kind of surprise?
So, there are lots of reasons why predictable communication matters in big corporates with their multitude of stakeholders to manage. But it’s vital for your small business too – especially in our online age. Here are just a couple of reasons why.
Surprises mess with your authenticity
When you’re really communicating in your own voice, you’re almost certainly being consistent in everything you say and write.
The reverse of that is just as important if you want to be authentic: when you’re being consistent in everything you say and write, you’re almost certainly communicating in your own voice.
That sounds really simple and obvious – but, actually, you may find that (like very many others) you become quite stuck when faced with a blank sheet or a blinking cursor, the staring eye of a camera lens, or even a room full of expectant faces.
And if you lack communication confidence, or the proven tools to make your message flow, that pressure can push you into a completely different way of writing or speaking. (Have you ever noticed how some people become terribly formal when they write, compared to how they speak? Perhaps you do that?)
The other common reason why you might find yourself writing or speaking in a voice that’s not quite your own is if you feel pressure to do what other people are doing, because it seems to work for them. It may even look like a trend, and it’s hard to stand firm and buck a trend.
You know the kind of trends I mean; fafter all, we live in a time when every other business-help book has a profanity in its title, and people seem to be doing their Facebook lives wearing their dressing gowns.
Now, if you happen to be quite sweary, you won’t mind the books with colourful title. And if you work in a world where your dressing gown is completely acceptable as attire…well, your job sounds utterly blissful and I think I’d quite like it! I’m not saying either of these things are inherently wrong, if you’re doing them for the right reasons and it works for you and your audience.
But if you’re jumping around between different styles, because today’s gurus have urged you to keep it real (or whatever), then really all you’re doing is surprising your audience – and they won’t know which version of you is the one they can believe in.
This first reason to avoid surprises is really important – because it’s vital to your wellbeing to stand in your authenticity. But there’s a hard cold business reason, too, why you should communicate with a ‘no surprises’ rule…
Protect your sales and your sustainability
Let’s talk about your marketing content – such as adverts, social media posts and even lead magnets – and why the ‘no surprises’ rule matters to your sales and your sustainability.
First of all, it’s that tone of voice again. If you look and sound one way when you’re attracting people into your business, and then look and sound completely different when they’re a paying customer, they are likely to feel uncomfortable on some level – perhaps even suspicious.
Consider that trend for proving you’re super-real by dropping f-bombs everywhere: if that’s your style, that’s the audience you will attract and all your communication will be consistent. But if that’s not how you are when you’re being authentically you, that new audience will feel a disconnect.
Similarly, if your style on social media is to be challenging and provocative, you’ll attract people who respond well to that kind of leadership or coaching. But if that isn’t the kind of leadership or coaching they get once they’ve paid their money, it’s going to feel like a low-value experience to them.
And that’s almost certainly the worst possible outcome for your client…and for you.
It’s not just about tone and style; this applies to your content matter too.
Imagine pausing to look in a shop window, and being drawn in by a display of beautiful ceramics. And imagine that you just so happen to be in the market for a new teapot. You have money in your purse, the products look great, and you’re a customer on the brink of a sale. What’s more, you could easily be tempted by the matching mugs, so you’re ripe for an upsell too!
But when you walk into the shop, you find that what they actually sell is plumbing supplies. How do you feel? Confused? Like you just wasted time looking at the display? And how much worse if, say, you’d had to pay something to enter the shop?
People will feel the same about you and your business if what you communicate in your offer doesn’t match what you sell. And they will have ‘paid’ you to find that out – with both their time and their email address.
Email addresses are a kind of ‘real estate’ in an online world. It’s a hard business asset for you, and a closely guarded piece of collateral for them. They give you that connection in good faith when they believe you have something they want.
Are your lead magnets and your content congruent with your product or service, or does your offer come as a surprise AFTER a potential client or customer has started to engage with you? Are they going to get what they think they’ve signed up for?
If so, that’s bad news for your reputation – and reputation is a huge part of your brand. At best you’re missing the chance to make a great impression and at worst people will have a disconnected experience, perhaps even feel short-changed. Either way, you’re building an audience that is not the right audience for you.
That’s a waste of all the resources you’re investing in your communication. It will even create a downward drag on your click-rates and engagement scores too, with can actually damage your reach and your results.
There are plenty of people out there who want and need your service or product – and they want someone who looks and sounds exactly like you to help them. But great communication is the lever you need to unlock that value for your business.
Make sure you’re showing people who you really are and how you can help them …consistently. Don’t bring people in and then surprise them.
Because, honestly, unless it involves balloons and champagne (and preferably a huge slab of cake) no one really likes surprises.
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Until next time,
Lucy & Emma xx