Thursday, March 15, 2012

"I Won't Even Read That"

The other day I was part of a market study by a well-known financial advisory group. They wanted feedback on a change to the reports given to customers. I admitted I liked the format and that they finally got the chart type right.: time-based data was finally shown with a line chart instead of a bar chart.

Then they asked about a sample message on a summary page. "I missed it, because I'm not looking for messages." They asked if it was put in a box or a different color would I read it then. "No, I won't even read that, or the next page which is pretty much like an advertisement."

I explained that the purpose of the report is to show me how the investments are doing. The purpose is to communicate the data. It's not a newsletter. If they want to tell me about other services, or even a congratulatory note about achieving a milestone, it should be separate from the monthly report.

Putting messages, unrelated to the data, in the report is a good way to have the information get overlooked. I've  known special messages to be printed on the bills. That's a corollary to the business axiom "if you want to hide information from the employees, put it in the handbook": if you want to hide information from your customers, put it on a bill or invoice when they're focused on the numbers. From the audience's (customer's) perspective, the report's purpose is to answer a few questions. Providing answers to unasked questions is a waste of effort.

Put that effort into a form that will get read because your audience will be looking for it.

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