How to Avoid Information Overload

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If you have ever tried to choose cereal at a supermarket, you know what information overload feels like -- a whole aisle of colorful boxes with flashing coupon dispensers, sales signs hanging from the ceiling, promotional decals littering the floor.


Even the mere thought is exhausting. And that is just a few minutes out of the day. From the moment you wake up till the moment you go to sleep, you are processing an endless stream of information coming at you from all directions. And for many people, it is simply overwhelming.


The result? Your marketing messages get lost in the noise.


While you cannot do anything about the larger problem of too much information in our society, you certainly can do something to help your marketing messages cut through the clutter and communicate clearly and persuasively.


Here are just a few ideas:


· Think before you write. Don't just barrel ahead hoping that something sensible will reveal itself. Plan and outline. Reflect on the point you want to make. Determine the tone or emotional feel. Know where you are headed before you start.


· Make clarity your No. 1 objective. You cannot persuade someone to act if that person does not understand your point. Simplify your message. Make it easy to read or understand. Say what you mean to say. Good advertising messages should be like a clean pane of glass in a storefront -- you do not notice the glass, but you can clearly see what you want on the other side.


· Create meaningful copy. Empty hype is soon forgotten. Copy based on prospect needs is remembered and acted upon. If you are struggling for words when writing copy, you probably lack meaningful content. Dig a little deeper and find tangible things to say.


· Link information with familiar ideas. If there is any chance for misunderstanding, use a simple analogy to something your prospect is already familiar and comfortable with. For example, if you say your software utility program is like a doctor checking your computer for viruses and other software illnesses, it is easy to understand what the program does.


· Inject emotional content. Ideas are easier to understand and remember when they are linked with emotional content or intense feelings. If you are raising funds to change the American tax system, don't just explain economic theory and reel off dry statistics. Talk about how the Internal Revenue Service takes money from our wallets, how we work two hours every day to support a bloated government, or how frustrating it is to fill out all those confusing forms every April. People process emotional ideas more easily than intellectual ones.


· Avoid counterproductive associations. Clever analogies, puns and wordplay might make you look bright, but they will sabotage clear communication. This goes for gratuitous graphics, effects and images that are used because they are trendy. One ad I have in my "bad ad" file shows a clown giving work to a guy sitting at a desk. The headline makes a pun about the boss being a clown. But the ad is actually about office equipment, which you discover only when you read the tiny body copy.


· Avoid interfering messages. Do not dump too many messages on your reader at once. Start with a simple, big idea. Then build and reinforce, adding information paragraph by paragraph, always coming back to that one big idea.


· Present clear benefits. A list of clichés will not rouse many people to action. "Low prices. Quality service." That says nothing. Give clear, tangible benefits that are meaningful and valued by your prospects.


· Increase the reward for reading and involvement. People always ask, "What's in it for me?" Give people useful information. Make it interesting, though not necessarily entertaining. Your message is probably unsolicited, so give people a good reason to read, listen or watch.


Now, if you have had an "overload" day, it is possible that these ideas sound like just so much noise. So let me try one more time.


Imagine I am your customer in the cereal aisle. To make sure I choose your goodies, know what you are selling. Be clear, meaningful and familiar. Get me excited. Don't try to be clever. Don't try to say everything all at once. And give me a good reason to read and to buy.


Of course, a prize is always a nice bonus, too.


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