Almost every day, I see an email, ad, direct mail piece or other communication that makes this fundamental mistake: It's focused on what the communicator wants to say and ignores what the audience members want to know.

The result is a communication that screams "me-me-me" or sometimes "we-we-we." Audience members might spend a moment or two attempting to figure out why they care, but most quickly hit the "delete" button when they realize there's nothing in it for them.

The people who create these messages forget that the most effective strategy for grabbing people's attention is to design communication to meet your audience's needs.

That's why, when I saw a dreadful email from a well-meaning team at a major company, I jumped at the opportunity to give it an extreme makeover.   

Because I know you're busy, I won't share the entire (painful) message, just the highlights.

The "before" subject line read: HQ Development Team creates resources to build core capabilities.

And the beginning of the message went like this:

I am pleased to share information about the Headquarters Development team and the important learning opportunities we provide.

The team is comprised of performance consultants who identified the key capabilities employees must possess to support the organization's goals and then designed a curriculum to help employees develop those capabilities.

(Have you fallen asleep yet? The message then went on to describe in detail the team's three main areas of focus--Orientation, Core Capabilities and Leadership.)

Finally, after listing every team member, the message read:

HQ Development hosts a full curriculum of classroom-based learning resources. However, since we recognize that different individuals prefer to learn in different ways, we will add other learning resources--such as mentoring programs, e-learning and self-directed study--later this year.

HQ Development is preparing to launch a new intranet site called Your Site for Development that will serve as a directory for the many learning resources we've developed, helping you focus on the capabilities you need to succeed in the company's matrixed organization.

There's nothing technically wrong with this. The problem is that it's about the folks writing the message, not the people reading it. After a dull subject line, the email quickly degrades into a puff piece about HQ Development and its "important" work.

This might be okay to send to team members' parents ("Mom! Look what I did!") or their alumni magazines ("See, I told you I would amount to something"), but it doesn't work to grab the attention of its intended audience: employees in headquarters who would participate in learning and development.

How would I make this over? First, I'd wait until the intranet site was ready to be launched--otherwise, what's the purpose of the communication?--and then I'd change the focus 180 degrees, so that it's all about the employee.

The "after" subject line would be: New service helps you develop new skills

And here's the made-over message:

A new intranet site--Your Site for Development--has been launched to provide headquarters employees (like you!) the training resources you need.

The site is one of the services offered by the HQ Development team, whose mission is to help employees build skills to become more successful and support the company's goals.

HQ Development offers an extensive curriculum of classroom-based courses. In addition, since different employees prefer different learning options, later this year we will add other options, such as mentoring programs, e-learning and self-directed study. We'll update the site to reflect these new options.

If you have questions or need additional information, reach out to us:

[List of team members and their email addresses]

Thanks for learning with us!

Isn't that better? The message is not only leaner and more attractive; it's also designed to appeal to employees and meet their needs.