It’s Not “You”; It’s Me

IMG_2027I have this picture of you sitting with your laptop at a desk or maybe on the couch holding your iPhone. You’re drinking a coffee, reading over these sentences and hoping some insight about life or at least how to fix a toaster will come from the effort. You don’t mind the few minutes it takes to read this since I’m not asking for money, only time and attention. Still, I’m terrified you won’t even get to the end of this sentence.

To advance my cause for your attention, I’ve decided to rely on a common marketing trick. In my time teaching business writing to undergraduates, I read a number of reputable, if dry, business writing textbooks. Alred, Brusaw, and Oliu for example, in The Business Writer’s Companion as well as Dan and Chip Heath in Made To Stick informed me that the best way to engage an audience is to use the second person pronoun “you.”

Dan and Chip especially advise placing readers in a scenario, on a hospital gurney for example, and that this is the best way to engage them in a new product—perhaps brain or heart surgery. The Heaths suggest showing your prospective customer how they would use or benefit from the product. Then it’s more likely that the consumer will take the next step and buy what you’re selling.

What does this mean for me? Well, using Dan and Chip’s technique to my own purposes:

Imagine yourself meandering through this next paragraph and reading this blog to the end. You’ve already scanned a few sentences that you like, but you’re sure that it’s only going to get better, and you’re satisfied that reading it isn’t going to take up much more time than you usually spend folding your wallet.

As I reflect on these words and those in last week’s blog, I can’t help notice one annoying fact. You’ve probably noticed it too. That is, when I go about writing in the second person, remarking on the difficulties of folding “your” wallet or about “you” being a writer and having “your” writing rewritten, the subject matter seems to be more about me and less about you. To be honest, it’s true. All of the previous examples intended to make my points have happened to me. My experiences just seem to be the most convenient ones to draw from.

Which leads me to a sad admission, I don’t know you very well. We apparently have never attended the same parties or Boy Scout camps. Therefore, I may not have included you in this or my previous blog. I may have even annoyed you by assuming certain things. I’m sorry for the presumptiveness. I obviously need more work on understanding what interests you: fashion, music, industrial design, syrup? Let me know when I’m getting warm.

All of which means I’m going to have to do a lot more research about you than I had originally planned. Of course, you could write comments in the comment box below and tell me directly about yourself and your interests, but you shouldn’t have to work that hard. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the business world, it’s that the service provider must provide services and not ask too much of the customer.

So to find out more about what interests you, I’m committing myself to research. I’m going to find out your likes and dislikes, whether through the internet or unobtrusive surveillance. I may have to take some time off from blogging to conduct this research and round out my knowledge, but eventually, I hope to gather enough information to write competently about the subjects that interest you. Just leave it all to me.

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