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Online, there is no nonverbal communication

Hobart Swan 1300x1891Ninety percent of all first-time communication comes through the written word, says Peter Shankman, a networking guru described in Investor’s Business Daily as “crazy, but effective.” Given the ubiquity of social media and online communication, and the increasing sophistication of customer-management applications, Shankman may soon be changing that estimate to 100 percent.

You are what you write

Consider the typical buying cycle. It used to be that potential customers would engage with a salesperson fairly early on in the sales cycle. Today, marketing experts say the average customer gets through more than 50 percent of the buying cycle without ever speaking to a human being. So yes, the written word matters.

Take the words a company uses on its website, its Facebook page, its 140-character Tweets or its email drip campaigns. These words are often the first – and sometimes the only – thing customers use to judge whether or not a company’s offerings are worth considering. If the writing is clunky, boring, stale or incomprehensible, guess what: That’s how the reader thinks of the company.

Alas, the three-martini lunch is long gone

From talking with many Boise web development companies, I know for a fact that web copy is the last thing many companies think about. And when they do, they often assign the writing to a low-level marketing person. These websites make you wonder if the company still thinks it’s the 1950s, when people met face-to-face to do business, shook hands over a deal, and when salespeople regularly made the rounds to visit their customers in person. It that world, another 90 percent figure came into play.

Back in the 1960s, researcher Albert Mehrabian concluded that more than 90 percent of face-to-face human communication was done nonverbally. The figures most often quoted are that 55 percent of communication is body language, 38 percent is the tone of voice and 7 percent is the actual words spoken. Today these things still matter very much at the end of the buying cycle, but only if the customer has stuck around.

The moving image

YouTube, Vimeo and their competitors have clearly become more popular as the use of video – and the business use of video – has increased. But at least two things stand in the way. First, video can be expensive. If you sell skateboards or skis, you can go low-tech and use helmet or hand-held cams and you’re good to go. If you sell complex technology, services, or less action-oriented products, you need higher-quality video. That usually means lights, microphones, a director, editing and more.  You can always try to create what will be the next great low-budget but incredibly viral video. That takes either a spark of genius or the money to hire a very creative ad agency.

Second, video requires that your audience has access to broadband. If a customer has to watch an hourglass spin for five minutes as the video downloads, you have communicated exactly nothing.

Words (the right words, that is) work

Someday, technology will finally find a way around words. In the meantime, the way you will describe your company, your products and your services; the way you reach out and grab new leads; and even the way you slowly convince a prospective customer to take you seriously are all done with words. As Peter Shankman says, bad writing can destroy a business faster than anything else. As old and unsexy as they are, words still matter. Choose them well.

Hobart Swan runs vocalizePR LLC, a Boise-based agency that creates a wide range of content to help companies communicate clearly with customers. He can be contacted at hobart@vocalizePR.com and (208) 331-2861. Visit vocalizepr.com for more information.

About Hobart Swan