Why You Should Never Talk Down to Customers

Communication is its most persuasive when you meet your audience on the same level.

When crafting a message — through design and words — we want more than anything for it to speak to people. People are more likely to respond well to messages that show respect for them and their needs, but also that they’re capable of understanding what you’re trying to communicate. What we don’t want to do is talk down to them.

For instance, our work with Imperial Oil involves creating various marketing materials that are designed to inform and communicate with various audiences. Whether the audience could be defined as “blue collar” or “white collar” or a mix of both, we need to make sure the imagery and language we use connects with them in a way that makes them feel they’re being respected.

Assuming an audience needs things explained to them because of their apparent lack of sophistication is a surefire way to alienate people. If it is presented well, surely they will be able to understand it. For instance, most people can grasp that the properties of oil change as temperature changes. You don’t have to go into the depth that a chemical engineer would go to, but most audiences can understand this fact as it relates to your message. There’s no need for a grade-school chemistry lesson.

This brings us to the next point: When no explanation’s required, don’t give one.

Good marketing avoids explaining things that the audience already understands. This wastes their time and attention with details they already know, giving you less chance to draw their attention to something they don’t already know about your product or service.

If you have doubts about your audience’s prior familiarity with a particular topic, you may be able to preface such information with: “As you may already know…”

You can also allow people to decide for themselves how familiar they are with the material. Try organizing content based on “beginner”, “intermediate”, and “expert” sections. This helps ensures those who would benefit from some added guidance have the information they need without alienating more clients who are more knowledgeable.

Just as it’s important never to talk down to customers, it’s just as important to make sure we don’t talk above their heads. Using industry jargon and not providing enough information makes customers feel overwhelmed, confused and unequipped to make informed decisions.

And this lesson goes beyond design and marketing. Whenever communicating with customers, it’s important not to belittle them by explaining too much or confusing them by assuming they already have a base knowledge of what you’re telling them. In other words, give them enough information to make them feel comfortable without overwhelming them or making them feel inadequate.

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