Do your communications pass the four-second test?


Karen Wagg, Financial Services

How much time do you take crafting your client communications? Is that time spent in the right way?

Do your communications pass the four-second test?

Did you know that the average person reads copy at the speed of 200-250 words per minute (WPM)?  If it’s online people are a little faster, around 300 words per minute. And yet the average time spent reading a communication is just four seconds*.

Think about how much time you spend drafting the communications that you send, it will be a good deal longer than 90 seconds. There’s the briefing, followed by the initial draft which is circulated to a number of people who will come back to you with comments.

Once these comments are amalgamated, a new draft may be circulated to the same people, or it may go directly to your legal and/or compliance team for their comments.

Eventually you have a draft that has been approved by everyone and is ready to issue. Hours have been spent checking grammar, suitability, technical accuracy and compliance – but what about messaging?

Take a look at the last client communication that you sent. Give yourself four seconds to scan it. What is that communication telling you in that four seconds? Is that what you wanted it to say?

Now read the headline and first paragraph of a newspaper story. What are they trying to tell you? Is it clear?

It is rare that a newspaper story doesn’t tell you everything you need to know in its headline and first paragraph. In just four seconds you have everything they want you to know and you can decide if you want more detail or not. You may think that what the newspapers are doing is different to your client communications but you would be wrong. Whatever communication channel you are using, the need to make your message clear is vital.

At Redleaf, we spend a lot of time thinking about messaging.

We know that successful communications convey no more than two messages – and ideally just one. We know that design has an impact too - in the way that the eye scans a page and in the way that it can emphasise the message you are delivering. And we know that our client’s messages need to mean something to them but also to their audience or they will fail to land at all.   

So, next time you draft a client communication think about the time that is spent putting it together and whether that time is well spent.

Yes, it needs to be technically and grammatically correct. Yes, it needs to be compliant. But, who is looking at the message in that communication? Who is considering if it passes that four second test? And after committing the resources to creating and sending that communication wouldn’t it be a shame if the reason for doing so was lost in the mix?

If you are interested in a messaging audit, messaging development or message training why not contact Redleaf Communications?


* For anyone who did the maths and is wondering why it isn’t 90 seconds, it is because people scan communications rather than read them. Or rather they scan first and decide if it is worth reading after.