If you stepped outside your front door and found someone had swapped your car for a bright red Ferrari your first instinct (unless you already had one) would probably be to pick your jaw back off the floor and fall in love with it.
That sense of wonderment would probably stay with you a while, as would the pleasure of turning the odd head with your smart new wheels but, assuming it was your only mode of transport, is there a danger that the novelty of having a dream car might quickly wear off? Is it actually best placed to serve your needs?
Practicality isn’t something you tend to think of when talking about sports cars, but the reason for this analogy is simply to put into focus what I see as a common communication error we need to guard against. In an age where possibilities are endless, we need to be careful not to lazily fall into the trap of fashion for fashion’s sake.
In recent weeks, I’ve seen some impressively clever features on external websites, with wonderful animated infographics, use of video, brilliant clickable pop-ups and swipable content. In many cases, my first impression has been ‘wow, this is amazing’. And it is.
However, after about a minute of playing around it suddenly dawns on me that, bar thinking ‘this is cool’ I’ve not actually taken any of it in. So I begin to ask myself the question, would my target reader actually read this or would they just flick through it and move on?
I believe this is a question we need to ask ourselves whenever we produce content. It should be the first thing on our minds when we consider the media we are going to use and the way we are going to display our messages.
We should never just do something for the sake of it, or because it’s the current trend, or because it looks fantastic (although if it ticks all these boxes as well as being engaging, great). The point is, it has to be right for the audience and the message we want to communicate.
We should always have an eye on the user experience –what they like, the devices they use, their viewing habits – using analytics to help us get an insight into these likes and behaviours.
There is no reason why you can’t have the best of both worlds and, in many ways, that’s the sweet spot we are aiming for. But, if you are including a five minute video and readers are only spending two minutes on the page, maybe you need to make your videos much shorter or reconsider your approach. Is it bandwidth problems or are certain viewing experiences not right for your audience (for instance is it difficult to view a video with sound in a busy office environment)?
I’m in no way saying these options are not fantastic ways of getting across messages. Personally I use them a lot and they’ve given us, as communicators, the chance to add value to stories that we’ve never been able to in the past.
What I am saying is that a Ferrari is a dream car, but it’s not necessarily always the best car for your needs for every given journey.
We need to consider the same thing when communicating. Each communications journey is different, so it’s up to us to choose which is best in each case. Does the one that turns heads also get us to our destination in the best possible way, or does the one that’s less flashy actually do a better job?
Written by Sequel’s editor Jason Dowty