Conversation is the new Television

Further to my thesis that technical writing and marketing (not advertising!) need to converge, I dug up an older article, Conversation writing kicks formal writing’s ass, from Kathy Sierra, blogging for Creating Passionate Users. In it, Kathy points out that in studies performed by the Journal of Education Psychology, perfomed in 2000, participants who used trainging materials in a conversational style “produced between 20 and 46 percent more solutions” than subjects who used documentation in a formal style. She goes further:

(…) one of the theories on why speaking directly to the user is more effective than a more formal lecture tone is that the user’s brain thinks it’s in a conversation, and therefore has to pay more attention to hold up its end! Sure, your brain intellectually knows it isn’t having a face-to-face conversation, but at some level, your brain wakes up when its being talked with as opposed to talked at. And the word “you” can sometimes make all the difference.

This makes perfect sense, of course. Humans are pack animals, and are built to crave authentic, human, interactions. Put that thought beside what Bob Garfield at AdAge says in his article “Listenomics“:

“…and that native authenticity is out there, like Arctic oil, just waiting to be tapped. Pitiful as this may sound, there are people all across this great nation of ours who give immense amounts of thought to, for instance, the Whopper Jr. They�re not in it for the money, either. They just plain care.”

They sure do. They’re creating unsanctioned television ads, writing unofficial user guides, mashing up logos and trademarks into new works that express how they feel, and what they want to get out of your products. Garfield gives the great example of Skin So Soft, which was known as an effective insect repellent. I know this to be true, because I was treeplanting in the late 80’s and we all used it instead of Deet. Of course the company hated this – it wasn’t part of the story they were trying to tell around their product. It took them a decade to bring out the product we all really wanted: a “Skin so soft” optimized for repelling insects. Have you ever driven 15 miles in the cab of a truck with 6 sweaty treeplanters covered in heavily perfumed body oil? Ugh.

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