Consider yourself in a time machine that has whisked you back to high school English.
Remember your teacher hammering home the point that effective writing “shows” the reader as opposed to “tells” the reader.
It’s the showing that underpins true storytelling.
The same holds true in business communications. Nobody wants to read — or believe — that XYZ Company is innovative or a pioneer or a leading provider of _______ (fill in the blank). Instead, the idea is to walk the reader through a narrative in which he or she concludes on his or her own that XYZ company is indeed innovative or a pioneer or a leader.
Companies struggle like hell with this concept. Whether the objective involves selling a prospect or wooing a job candidate, “telling” dominates business communications.
With Christmas in our sights, I decided to conduct A/B testing using the classic Santa letter. In case you find Johnny’s handwriting difficult to read, the typed text of each letter follows.
I encourage you to compare and contrast the two letters asking yourself which approach is more persuasive.
Johnny, The Teller
I know it’s a busy time so I’ll get right to the point.
I’ve been a nice kid this year.
Joey and Billy, my two best friends, even mention things to me like “That was a nice thing to do.”
I would say I’ve been super nice, but I don’t want to brag.
I’ve also worked really hard at not being naughty. I even got an award in class for most improvement at not being naughty. I put the certificate next to the fireplace so you can see it when you drop by.
Speaking of dropping by, you’re probably wondering what I want for Christmas.
Let’s make it an Xbox.
Johnny, The Shower
I know you’ve got a lot on your plate. Please don’t worry about me.
When I reflect on the past year, the word that comes to mind is “enrichment.”
With my family struggling, what I earn from my paper route — yes, there are still a lot of people over 50 who read paper newspapers — goes toward paying our apartment rent.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say there are times I wish I could take some of that money and buy an Xbox and some beef jerky. But there’s no better feeling than seeing the look on my mom’s face when I sign over my monthly check.
Say hi to Rudolf and the gang.
It’s still early days in the testing, but I took these two letters to the Santa at Oakridge Mall in San Jose.
With no preconditioning, I asked him to read the letters and pick the one more likely to snag an Xbox for Christmas.
Within a millisecond of reading the letters, he pointed to Johnny, The Shower.
Again, I know this test isn’t exactly statistically sound.
Still, the early returns indicate that showing trumps telling when it comes to persuasive communications.
Of course, this doesn’t address the core issue.
It’s easier to brag.