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Are Your Customers Tuning You Out?

Is your communication too noisy? Here's how to reduce it and get your audience to hear you.
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It’s a noisy world out there. Add to it with unneeded, poorly targeted communication, and you’ll be tuned out. Or worse, you’ll be viewed as simply a source of irritation.

I was reminded of this fact when I boarded a plane on a recent trip. A flight attendant at the front of the cabin noticed that a passenger just three rows down had incorrectly loaded their suitcase such that it would not allow the overhead bin to close.

Instead of walking the three feet to talk to the passenger personally, the flight attendant got on the PA system and announced that “passengers should mind how they put their suitcases in the overheads, and that they should make sure the wheels are facing out so that the bin can close properly.” To make matters worse, or perhaps because the flight attendant was concerned that he would be ignored, he added “all improperly stowed baggage will be removed from the overhead, checked and sent to the baggage hold, causing a flight delay for everyone.”

The targeted person didn’t respond, and neither did anyone else.

So the attendant waited a minute or so, then repeated the same announcement…four times. While most passengers were able to tune him out, there were some like me for whom the announcement began to feel like a verbal version of water torture. No, I didn’t cry out begging for mercy, but ultimately I was carelessly interrupted five times.

The careless flight attendant’s message never hit its intended target. What it did do is cause the passengers to simply tune out as best they could. And therein lies the lesson.

Asking for the public’s attention, or anyone’s attention, is a delicate balance. Get it, but don’t respect it, and you’ll be tuned out, or perhaps worse, you’ll be viewed as nothing other than a source of irritating noise.

Thus, my rule is to always make sure that what I have to say has value to the audience. Note that I didn’t say “value to me.” If you have a message intended for a few that would likely interrupt many, come up with a different message delivery method. If not, your audience will tune you out the more you try to drive home your messaging.

In my business, it has been our philosophy to avoid calls to action. Phrases such as: “Try one today.” “Get yours before they’re all gone.” “Act now.” Instead, we’ve focused on doing things that are worth giving you a reason to act.

Which do you choose in your own marketing and communication efforts? Shouting too loudly to many with requests or urges to take action, not caring if the message is relevant or welcomed, or communicating directly and simply to those who are interested in what you have to say? If your message has any real value, the only option is the latter.

And the improperly loaded suitcase? Once the aisles were cleared of passengers finding their way to their seats, the flight attendant simply took the suitcase out of the overhead, turned it around, and successfully closed the bin. After all, that was his job.

Ask yourself: Are you doing yours?

Last updated: Dec 23, 2011

GREG KOCH | Columnist | Co-founder and CEO of Stone Brewing Co.

Greg Koch is co-founder and CEO of Stone Brewing Co. in Escondido, Calif. Since Greg started the company with his partner Steve Wagner in 1996, Stone has become one of the fastest growing and highest rated breweries in the world.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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