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Expressives: Craving The New
Tom Ahern

April, 2006

Why are newspapers, news shows and newsmagazines so appealing, day after day? Why do our ears perk up when we hear words like "secret" and "confidential"?

Meet the Expressive.

The Expressive is the part of your personality that is easily excited, that craves hearing about new stuff. Warning, though: it is also the part that is quickly bored. Tell me something I DON'T know? Oh, goodie. Tell me something I ALREADY know? Sorry: been there, done that.

Quick recap: there are four distinct personality types in every human brain (including your brain, I hasten to point out). In prior issues, you met the Analytical (the little voice in your head that says, "I doubt it") and the Amiable (the part of you that smiles back when someone smiles at you). Next issue, you'll meet the Bottom-Liner. On today's menu: the Expressive.

If you want your communications efforts to be amazingly successful, there's no way around it: you have to have something to say to all four personality types. Miss one, and you risk missing 25% of your audience. Miss three, and three-quarters of your potential audience will find something better to do.

So what does the Expressive respond to?

The word "new." Or anything that suggests new.

Expressives want to learn about all the fresh, exciting things that your organization is up to. Expressives respond to bold statements (AND bold graphics), new directions, initiatives, bright ideas. They want to learn secrets ("What doctors REALLY say about your likelihood of prostate cancer...").

Have you ever suspected that you have a mild case of Attention Deficit Disorder? Maybe it's really just the Expressive part of your personality taking charge from time to time. My point? Expressives burn hot and cold, so keep it lively. (Hint: Exclamation points can be your friend!)

Newspapers, newsmagazines - and YOUR newsletter - all face the same problem. All three have to convince people instantly that the new issue is different from last issue, and hence worth reading.

Spread out a few issues of your newsletter on your desk.

Is every issue chock full of things that speak to the Expressive? Or is your "newsletter" really an "old-letter" in disguise, filled with stuff that looks suspiciously familiar? Worst case scenario: the reader browsing your newsletter thinks, "Didn't I see the same thing last issue?" Because who's going to bother to read the same "news" twice?

Here's a common trap: Do you devote your newsletter's front page (the place that is supposedly reserved for the most important news you have) to chestnuts like "From the executive director's desk..." or "A word from the chair..."??? Too bad. Because the Expressive takes one look and yawns: BOR-RING. Same old, same old.

Now there are exceptions to this rule. I have in my files a series of newsletters written by Pastor John, director of Community Emergency Service in Minneapolis. He commandeers the front page of every issue. And yet every issue brings in thousands of dollars in gifts. What's the pastor's secret? He's a great storyteller! I'll bet his readers actually look forward to his next column, he's that good. Alas, I've seen dozens and dozens of front-page efforts from other executive directors, and Pastor John is one of the few great storytellers I've met.

In our time-deprived, multi-tasking, message-rich world, people often assign incoming information to one of two piles: (1) stuff I want/need to read; (2) stuff I can safely ignore. Anything that smells of "Same old, same old" will end up in pile #2.

Dr. Jerry Panas, a leading fundraising consultant, has found in his donor research that newsletters are often thrown away unread. One reason I suspect this happens is because so few newsletters really offer anything new. Disappoint the Expressive's craving for news and face a quick trip to the trash.

Tom Ahern is recognized as one of North America's leading authorities on how to make nonprofit communications consistently effective. He speaks frequently in the U.S. and Canada on reader psychology, direct mail principles, good (and not very good) graphic design as applied to fundraising and nonprofit branding. He is a writer and president of Ahern Communications, Ink., a consultancy specializing in capital campaign materials and other fundraising communications. Recent clients include a local Boys & Girls Club, a regional hospice in Maryland, a DC-based black HIV-prevention and treatment center, a national agency for low-income elderly housing, a North American Jewish education association, and one of the country's largest community foundations. He has won three prestigious Gold Quill awards from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). Gold Quills are given annually to the best communications work submitted by leading corporations from around the world. Tom is also a magazine journalist. His article on the devastating treatments for prostate cancer won a 2001 Sword of Hope Award from the American Cancer Society. He has his MA and BA in English from Brown University, and a Certificate in Advertising Art from the RI School of Design. His offices are in Rhode Island and France.

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