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You talking to me?

I’m talking at the Economist’s Big Rethink conference this week, where the subject is consumers: how they’re changing, and how brands need to change as a result. A good place to start would be the word ‘consumers’ itself. If you think of your audience as nothing more than that, chomping their way through ready meals and oil reserves, you’ll not get a very rounded picture of them. Think of them as  ‘people’, like thee and me, and you’re much more likely to be successful.

(At least the world of B2C marketing does think about who they’re talking to, though. Often too much, in fact. I’ve wasted hours of my life behind two-way mirrors watching ‘ordinary’ people getting drunk on cheap white wine, spouting any old nonsense that comes into their heads about potential new names for biscuits, just to earn their £50 and tick a marketeer’s ‘research’ box.)

If the B2C world thinks of consumers as animals to be fed, B2B doesn’t think of them as people either; instead, they’re treated like corporate automata. We run writing workshops where we encourage people to change the language of their bids, websites and the like. Clearly, every brand is different, but most B2B brands would do well to start by ditching the jargon and the utterly predictable, generic corporate blah for something warmer and more natural.

But that scares people. Not because of what their audience will think, but because of how their boss will react and because ‘it’s always been done like this’. Far too often the reason not to change is internal. And when people do think about their audience, they worry about what their audience ‘expects’. Now, I expect I’ll get cut up by a learner bus driver on my cycle to work tomorrow morning; it doesn’t mean I want it to happen. Likewise, people might expect your proposal to be long, formal, and start ‘we are delighted to respond to your request’ (just like everyone else’s). But have you ever found out what they’d actually like to read?

Neil Taylor is creative director of language consultancy The Writer, and author of Brilliant Business Writing