What you are about
to read will probably sound familiar. Indeed, it has been said many
times before. However, I believe this formulation is original and
may help you better apply it in your marketing communication. I
immodestly call it Yaffe’s Law.
Yaffe’s Law If you give people
what they want first, then they are likely to accept anything else
you want them to have. If you give them what you want first, chances
are they won’t accept anything at all. This is simply the classic
principle that you should write from the reader’s point of view.
And of course we all do this. Or do we?
do we interpret writing from the reader’s point of view as
telling people: “What I have to say will be of benefit
to you, so you should pay close attention”? When we do this,
we are in fact writing from our point of view, not theirs.
We may sincerely believe that our message is important and
beneficial to our potential readers. But unless they agree—and
agree almost immediately—the argument is lost.
We have all been guilty of such self-serving logic, and some
of us do it more often than we would like to imagine. This
is why this new formulation of the classic principle is potentially
so useful. It forcefully reminds us that the readers are king.
And like royalty they must be served first. Only after readers
have sampled what we have on offer and find it palatable will
they be truly inclined to listen to what we want to say. Assimilate
it. And hopefully act on it
The power of Yaffe’s
Law lies in the fact that it is more than just a reminder. It
is in fact a formula for ensuring that you will always write from
the reader’s point of view. The trick is first to apply the formula,
then check how well you have applied it—and, if necessary, reapply
consists of three steps:
1. Determine what your readers really want to know, rather than
what you want to say.
2. Give this to them--first.
3. Link what you want
to say to what they really want to know.
Here are a few examples of how Yaffe’s Law works in practice.
Corporate Image Brochure I was
once commissioned to write a corporate image brochure. Two things
are certain about these expensive, glossy booklets:
• Almost all companies of any size feel compelled to produce them.
• Virtually no one ever reads them.
By applying the formula, I created a brochure that people not only
read. They called the company to request additional copies to give
to friends, clients and professional colleagues!
How? I started from the assumption that no one would want
to read anything about the company itself. So I asked myself: What
things does the company do that people might really want to read
The company’s basic activity was producing vaccines. We are all
naturally interested in health and virtually everyone knows the
importance of vaccination. Here were already two things people might
want to read about.
I was able to define seven areas of the company’s activities that
could be naturally attractive to potential readers. However, it
didn’t stop there. If all this interesting information were mixed
up with company publicity, people would still probably not read
it despite their natural inclination to do so. The brochure was
therefore laid out in seven double-page spreads, i.e. each of the
seven areas of activity would be allotted two facing pages. However,
the text would be rigorously segregated.
The left side would be pure science; the company’s name would
never be mentioned.
The right side would explain how the company used the science
to produce vaccines.
In short, I gave the
readers what they wanted first (scientific information), then what
the company wanted them to have second (company information). When
I proposed this to the company, the reaction was one of shock. “You
mean people could read the brochure left side only and never ever
see our name?” Exactly. But having learned about the basic science,
wouldn’t they naturally want to learn how the company was using
It took a while for management to accept the idea, but finally they
did. When the brochure was ready, they couldn’t print enough of
them. Of course, not all companies would be suitable for this particular
type of corporate image brochure. The important thing here is not
the specific structure of this specific brochure, but the thinking
process that led to it.
Stand Specific Video
I have done considerable work for pharmaceutical companies. This
often included attending medical congresses. The first couple of
times I did this, I noted something strange.
Pharmaceutical companies regularly erect exhibition stands to inform
specialist doctors about new drugs and new applications of older
drugs. I noted that many of the stands had several video monitors
at their edges running videotapes. I observed the behavior of the
doctors. The vast majority of them watched the tape for only a minute
or two, then went away.
I asked an international
marketing director why he was using these monitors and tapes. “To
attract attention to our stand,” he said. “But the doctors stay
in front of the monitor only a couple of minutes, then leave.” “Yes,
but they were attracted to our stand. They know we are here and
may come back.”
Frankly, this didn’t make much sense to me, but being young and
inexperienced I accepted it. A couple of years later, when I felt
I knew better what I was doing, I made a suggestion. The videotapes
ran anywhere from 10 - 15 minutes, then automatically recycled.
The problem was, doctors who began watching after the tape had started
never knew how long they would have to wait for it to finish and
restart. Moreover, hardly any were likely to stand in front the
video monitor for 15 minutes or more, even if they had known how
long the presentation was.
The tapes were so long because they had not been conceived for medical
congresses, but for a totally different purpose. They were used
simply because they already existed.
I suggested making a “stand-specific videotape”, which would concentrate
all key information about the company’s product into no more than
90 seconds. The fact that the tape ran only 90 seconds and then
automatically recycled would be prominently posted, so that the
doctors would know exactly how much time they were being asked to
invest in it.
Consider the benefits:
1. Virtually all doctors who started to watch the tape stayed for
it to recycle.
2. Because they got all the key points, many who wanted more detailed
information immediately came onto the stand.
3. Those who were interested but were short of time probably came
4. Even those who were not certain they were interested nonetheless
went away with a complete picture of what the company’s product
was all about.
In short, virtually 100% effectiveness!
There was no way to gauge the effectiveness of the previous system.
But if it had been as much as 10%, I would have been shocked.
Interactive Stand Animation System
Another thing I noticed at medical congresses. Doctors would come
onto the stand, pick up the brochures and scientific papers, put
them in the congress bags, then move on to the next stand and do
the same thing. The problem is, pharmaceutical companies could never
really tell if doctors actually read the materials they take away.
Estimates are that up 95% of it ends up in the hotel’s wastepaper
basket without ever being opened.
Using the method of Yaffe’s Law, a few years ago a colleague and
I created what we call the Interactive Stand Animation System. It
is applicable not only to medical congresses, but virtually every
other kind of professional trade show.
There is not room here to describe how it works, but I can tell
you its results. With this system, you are certain that your brochures,
data sheets, etc., are being read, because people read them right
in front of you on the stand. Even better, they actually study the
documents, then discuss, debate and compare notes with their colleagues.
At the same time, they provide you with valuable market research
information that would be difficult to obtain in any other way.
This can be very important for determining the best ways of presenting
your products, which features to emphasis, which aspects may require
change for later versions, etc.
I once described this system to the international marketing director
of a major pharmaceutical company. He was very sceptical. Basically
he said: “I have been in this business for nearly 30 years and I
have attended dozens and dozens of medical congresses. What you
are telling me just isn’t possible.” He maintained this position
until he went to a congress where we were running the system for
another company. His reaction: “I’ve seen it, but I still don’t
believe it. I never would have imagined anything like this could
possibly be true.” But it was.
Editor’s Note Philip Yaffe is
a former reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal and
a marketing communication consultant. He currently teaches a course
in good writing and good speaking in Brussels, Belgium. In the “I”
of the Storm: the Simple Secrets of Writing & Speaking (Almost)
like A professional, his recently published book, is available from
Story Publishers in Ghent, Belgium (storypublishers.be) and Amazon
For further information, contact: Philip Yaffe 61, avenue des Noisetiers,
B-1170 Brussels, Belgium
Tel : 32 (0)2 660 0405, [email protected]