That day I noticed that I read differently

Hojka Drozg / / Inbound Marketing

My life is full of lessons I more or less always pay for dearly. The last one was: Don’t eat Christmas cookies in April. You can imagine that it was priceless. The one before that happened at work. It hit me like a cold shower and came with an extra “duh” on top. What am I talking about? That today’s readers read differently.

I know, I know, “duh,” right? But okay, seriously, when you’re writing something for digital publication, do you picture your reader sitting in a quiet, nicely lit room, sipping tea, and chewing on your thoughts word by word with full attention and interest? Or are you actually aware that readers most likely read your copy on just one of their currently active tabs, while chatting with a coworker on another screen and constantly checking for new e-mail down in the right corner of their screen?

Yes, technological innovations have radically changed our reading habits and ultimately the ways we think. But nonetheless I’ve noticed that these changes have still not managed to “move” most content creators of either marketing communications or other content to reconsider how this content is shaped, which has a fatal impact on all of our communication goals. Just like that tree that falls in the forest or not, it also doesn’t even matter in the end whether we have communicated our messages at all if the receiver doesn’t understand them.

You’ve only performed your role as a communicator well when the readers understand your message exactly the way you wanted them to.

FrodX’s blog already contains many posts on how important it is for people to hear the right message at the right moment and in the right context. However, we haven’t yet discussed the forms of these messages which, in order to be effective, have to adapt to an environment that in this day and age is largely defined by technology. It’s like how product packaging is important. The product could be of the highest quality and placed on the most prominent shelf in the store, but if its packaging doesn’t attract attention and evoke some sort of affinity in the customers passing by, the purchase will most likely not take place.

As you know, Marshall McLuhan already talked about how the messages we communicate are subordinate to the media or technology that govern the present day. The same subordination can also be ascribed to our reading habits. Does that mean our smartphones are responsible for the average online reader’s attention span being shorter than the memory of a goldfish? Probably. Does that mean that younger generations will in fact have shallow minds that will find it hard to become fully immersed in one thing, but will know at least a little something about everything? Definitely. But I still find the following much more important: how will you adapt your communication to the new challenges of environments that not only change constantly, but also develop unpredictably?

If readers don’t understand your message, you might as well not have sent it at all. Click To Tweet

Short catchy copy, the use of visual elements and hyperlinks, and abstracts that summarize the main message in simple sentences—in general, all of these are useful tips for digital content creators that want to keep up with the times, but they are definitely not enough to guarantee success always and everywhere. The path to success is (yes, you’ve guessed it) much longer and more complex than that. And you have to get to know your readers extremely well on the way.

Tell me how you read and I’ll tell you who you are.

What applies to the content and context also applies to the form. I think that any communication without knowing your reader well is just “dumping” on them (or just giving them marketing messages that go straight in the trash). It’s sort of like shooting in the dark, hoping to score.

As an anthropologist, I’ve got the professional flaw of constantly watching people. So a couple of days ago, I was watching my boss reading (or better: massacring) received e-mails on his cell phone in the car. There is only one traffic light on our way to the client’s office and because it turned red right when we got to the intersection, we had to stop there for a few seconds. While waiting for the green light, Igor deleted about thirty e-mails from his inbox, ones he decided he wasn’t interested in. He made this decision in a matter of seconds and most likely solely based on their subject.

I wonder if the writer of any of those thirty newsletters that ended up in the trash thought about guys like Igor while writing his copy. Did he think about the fact that his message had to survive the first selection at the traffic light, and then the next one Igor makes while drinking his afternoon coffee, and ultimately make it to his precious “Read in the Evening” folder? Some writers manage to achieve this and others don’t. The difference between them is definitely that the former know that fighting for attention is increasingly more challenging and that Igor’s criteria are getting increasingly stricter because he’s becoming less tolerant of marketing content by the day. This is how his reading habits have changed. As simple as that.

Tell me how you read and I’ll tell you who you are. Click To Tweet

The best weapon in the battle for attention is knowing the readers well, whereby it’s vital that you:

  • Know what stage of the buying process they are currently in,
  • Know what they are interested in and why (if at all), and what has proved useful for them,
  • Know how they read content. This means you have to identify the forms of content that the readers will notice, recognize, and be able to read.

With the first two points, the strategic use of marketing automation can provide effective help. The only reliable way you can find out the things described in the third point is to do field work: talk to people in your target group, read, use, and analyze the content targeted at this group, identify and know your competition, have the courage to do something different from what your competition is doing, and ultimately use the resource that may unfortunately be neglected the most: talking to your team members.

Don’t underestimate the fact that even the smallest hints coming from your team can be of great help in revealing the wider framework of your communication, even if this involves a (seemingly irrelevant) hint provided by an IT colleague a decade younger than you, who tells you that today’s Generation Z uses the word “super” only as a filler (Thanks, Rok! :)).

If you open your eyes wide and prick up your ears, you’ll soon realize that you can find this type of information all around you—but in order to hear, you need to be quiet first. Lesson learned.


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P.S. If you’re ready to make changes and ready to adapt to present-day challenges, we recommend that you read our manual How to Market in a World where Marketing No Longer Works.

If you’re one of those who prefers chatting to reading, you’re warmly invited to have a cup of coffee with us.