The Proofreader's Parlour
A blog for editors, proofreaders and writers
I learned a new word yesterday: Truthiness. Try rolling it around your mouth –it's delicious! Perhaps you already knew it. And even if you did, are you embedding the concept in your marketing strategy?
“Truthiness” was Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year in 2006. Comedian Stephen Colbert defined it as "truth that comes from the gut, not books" (cited in Merriam-Webster). He was poking fun at politicians. But so as not to confuse the issue, I'm not here to talk party politics. I'm using it in the sense that Oxford defines it: "the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true".
I'm not the only one who likes it. I won’t bore you with the details of how I ended up reading an abstract of an article published in the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, but, to summarize, the authors present experimental research that investigates how using photographs introduces a “truth bias” – in other words, when you make a claim and attach an image to it, the people assessing that claim are more likely to judge it to be true, whatever the facts. Images “inflate truthiness” (Newman et al. 2012).
What does this mean for the professional editor, proofreader or indexer?
Thinking about the customer ...
Customers searching for editorial assistance want to believe they’re in a safe pair of hands – that you and I will follow through on the claims we make about the services we provide and the benefits they’ll receive as a result. They want to be able to trust us to do the job that they’re paying for.
A customer might search a specialist editorial directory (like the UK’s Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ Directory of Editorial Services, or the Editorial Freelancers Association’s Member Directory). Or they might do a Google search. However they find you, and wherever they find you, within a matter of seconds they’ll decide whether to keep your information on their computer screen, or close the window and move on to one of your colleagues.
Doing everything possible to keep that person engaged is therefore good business practice. It means ensuring that our websites and directory listings (in fact, any of our marketing materials, online or in print) are aesthetically pleasing to the eye, engaging to read, and believable.
Like many of my colleagues, I’ve invested a great deal of time and effort trying to communicate the business solutions I offer my customers. I provide a comprehensive online portfolio that demonstrates my experience, and an array of glowing testimonials from a satisfied client base. I believe they are key elements of an overall marketing strategy that seeks to engender a sense of “truthiness” in the mind of the customer who finds me online – a gut feeling that I’m a good bet. The stronger that gut feeling, the more likely they are to hit the Contact button.
Visual cues and truthiness
Newman et al.’s research asserts that simply adding a photograph can enhance this trust – this gut feeling. And that tells me the following:
It tells me that a thumbnail jpeg of lil’ ol’ me has the ability to embed truthiness in the minds of my potential customers – that I am more likely to be asked to quote for proofreading work than I would be if that picture wasn't there.
It’s not just my face that’s important. Something else to consider is how the testimonials on my website could make even more of an impact if I were to add pictures of my endorsers (with their permission, of course). The point is here that those testimonials are more likely to be believed if the reader can see an image of the person who wrote the words.
Verbal cues and truthiness
Newman et al. go further. Not only do images “inflate truthiness” – so do voices. Some of my colleagues – Nick Jones of Full Media for one – worked this out without reading articles from academic journals, and have been using audio and video testimonial feeds on their websites for some time. For many of us, that may seem like a big step to take, but any serious editorial business owner (particularly one who’s in the early stages of customer growth and business development) needs to at least consider the marketing opportunities available.
Let me be clear. I understand the difference between truthiness and truth. Actual truth is one thing. A perception of truth is quite another. When it comes to marketing, perhaps especially online marketing, perception counts. Adding a photo or another dynamic cue to your website doesn't change the actual truth of the claims you are making. The actual truth will be the same today as it was the day before those additions. What it changes is people's belief in those claims. That's all. That's truthiness.
Effective marketing is about grabbing a potential client’s attention and keeping it. By all means, start with the words, but why not enhance the believability of the story you tell with visual, audio and video cues? Spread a little truthiness and see what happens!
Addendum: I decided to add a short note to this piece after a few readers expressed concern about this concept, both here and on other social media platforms. I'd like to reiterate the point that when we're marketing we're dealing with perceptions. However, once we've captured the customer's attention, got the job, and done a high-quality piece of work, then, and only then, will they know the facts – that their perceptions of our claims were indeed real. Truthiness has transformed into truth.
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