Do you want the good news or the bad news?

My favourite yoghurt, Yeo Valley, has a loyalty scheme where you can save up points to spend on freebies and days out. We get through three or four big pots a week in our house, so I should have enough points to buy my own cow within about six months.

Anyway, I spent a few minutes on their website this weekend typing in the codes from the packs I’ve been collecting. Their writing’s great: upbeat and jolly without crossing the line into nauseatingly cute. In particular, they have an endearingly daft penchant for crowbarring the brand name in wherever they can (for example, you can save up your Yeokens to buy a yeo yeo, or even a yeoven glove).

Even a great brand like this isn’t immune from the odd language lapse, though. When I accidentally switched two letters in one of the codes, a message popped up in red: ‘Sorry, the code you entered is invalid.’ Okay, I’m being really picky here, but I still felt a bit disappointed that they hadn’t thought of a nicer way to say it. (‘Whoops, that code doesn’t work. Try again’ or something.)

It reminded me, bizarrely, of the Labour Party. They got into hot water on Twitter recently for the rather uncomradely emails they sent people they suspected of trying to sabotage the leadership contest (dubbed the ‘Labour purge’).

One supporter tweeted the welcome email he got when he first registered, alongside the rejection email telling him he’s not allowed to vote. The tone of the first email is cosy and conversational. The second is formal, impersonal and not a little passive aggressive.

It’s a common phenomenon: everyone’s nice and friendly when they’re trying to sell to you, but as soon as there’s some bad news, the tone goes out the window.

It’s usually because the good news messages are written by brand and marketing people, who are more likely to have the time and the skills to craft them properly. Whereas bad news often comes from legal, compliance or – in the case of Yeo Valley – IT, who don’t.

There are two ways to get around that. Get brand and marketing to look at bad news stuff as well as good news. Or, even better, help everyone – including legal, compliance, IT and anyone else who communicates with customers – get better at writing.

Because it’s these contrasts and contradictions that break down people’s trust in brands, little by little. No biggie for a yoghurt, maybe. But a disaster for a political party.


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on Sep 03, 2015

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