By Robert Rose

Watch Your Tone!


The rare times that my wife and I “fight,” it’s usually because someone said something “in a tone.” She reminded me of this earlier last week as I explained why I was rewinding a news report I saw on the television. It turns out Delta Airlines found itself on the wrong end of the tone question. It’s a great lesson for those of us who create customer experiences with content.

When you buy an economy ticket through Delta’s web site, you are reminded just prior to checkout that there are all kinds of limitations to what you are about to purchase. They explain that you will board last, you can’t make change your ticket, and you can’t get a seat assignment until after check-in. When asked for comment, Delta explained that they are simply informing these passengers of what they’re buying. Their attitude? It’s not a bug – it’s a feature.

But as my wife would say, “That may be true, but I don’t like your tone one bit.”

And, as many news outlets headlined, Delta was “shaming consumers” into upgrading.

At what point does the relay of information carry a tone? And at what point does the tone compromise what we’re trying to do, especially as we scale content over multiple digital channels where the context can affect everything?

It’s not just the language that we use. The interface of the channel can affect the tone as well. Yesterday, for example, I received an email from a web hosting company that hosts one of my blogs. The text was innocent enough, extolling the virtues of a new SEO service they wanted me to purchase. However, the interface it came in resembled (to an alarming degree) an invoice. It was titled “ Important Service Notice” (as if I hadn’t paid the invoice) – and the amount of the service was in the “amount due” box.

Yeah, I didn’t like that tone one bit. It not only discouraged me from buying the service, it has now (at least temporarily) broken my trust in every other communication they send me.

If we take Delta at its word – that it was striving for clarity and didn’t mean to shame its customers into upgrading – it seems like there might have been some simple ways to address that in the way they created their content and the experience. Turning each of those bullets into a positive might have been one way.

Regardless, this is an important lesson for us. As we move beyond creating content-driven experiences that are only meant to persuade and convince someone to buy, and more into experiences that are meant to educate, clarify, and be useful, our tone and voice – and how they might change through different interfaces – will be incredibly important.

Especially if we want to avoid a fight.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn and has been republished with permission.

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By Robert Rose
Robert Rose is one of the world’s leading authorities on Content Marketing and an advisor to PublishThis. As the Chief Strategy Officer for the Content Marketing Institute, Robert leads the client advisory, education and training practices for the organization. As a recognized expert in content marketing strategy, digital media and the social Web, Robert innovates creative and technical strategies for a wide variety of clientele. He’s advised large enterprises such as FedEx, Dell, AT&T, KPMG, Staples, PTC and Petco. He is also the co-host of This Old Marketing, the #1 marketing podcast, which pairs him with his friend and Content Marketing Institute CEO, Joe Pulizzi.

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