Author Archives: sophiefanning

About sophiefanning

I'm Sophie, consultant, communicator, digital diva and word wizard. I'm an import from 'across the ditch'. I cut my digital content teeth on NZ Post's intranet. From there, I’ve taken on the content management. In 2002, I washed up on Melbourne's shores. You just can't beat the shopping here. Since moving to Melbourne, my portfolio has included content strategies for BUPA, MYOB, ANZ, ASIC, Simply Energy, Origin Energy and Energy Australia. More recently I've helped Swinburne University and a large Australian insurance company tame their digital content. I am a skilled communicator and can help you: * Talk your customers' talk * Manage your content * Tailor your communications * Enjoy your working day with a little light humour

Want people to take your seriously? Say what you mean.

As a radio presenter, my job was to communicate clearly and to say what I meant.

Then I got a corporate job – in a government department marketing team. You can imagine my confusion. No one said what they meant. In meetings, emails and even face to face, people talked in circles.

My role was change communications for a round of redundancies – management called it ‘right-sizing’ and ‘rationalisation’. The 1,000 people who were ‘let go’, and those of us losing colleagues and friends, called it something else!

Since then, I’ve worked in a lot of large companies, in NZ and Aus, and I still find the language challenging.

Everyone’s ‘shifting paradigms’ to ‘create synergies’ so they don’t ‘boil the ocean’.

It may sound knowledgeable and ‘managerial’ but really, it’s just hiding behind buzz words.

By using jargon and buzzwords, you stop people questioning you. How can you debate with someone if you’re not sure what they said?

You may ‘win’ the conversation, but you also may lose your colleagues’ trust and buy in.

Want your colleagues to work with you? Drop the jargon and say what you really mean.

Scary? Yes it can be. Effective? Always


The hidden power of context

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

Context. Such a simple word. But, one with hidden power. Often, it’s the only difference between clear communication and complete confusion.

I was at a networking lunch today, listening to a guest speaker presenting his take on effective marketing. The audience was really engaged – I could tell because they kept taking pictures of his slides with their phones.

Then… he lost us. We went from an interesting talk about a new way at looking at customer experience and marketing to a sales pitch.

Not an open “Like what you see? This is how we can implement it in your company or work with you to implement it with you clients.” But a blunt “Here’s some figures of ROI improvements for our clients. Any questions?”

You could see the mood of the room change. He’d lost us.

We thought we were listening to a presentation on a new concept. He thought he was spruiking his business / software.

Because the presenter didn’t give us a clear context for his presentation, he lost his audience (and possibly some profitable business).

Context! If you want to clearly communicate a concept, sales pitch or proposal – you need to set the context.

Good customer experience isn’t just digital

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

I’ve read a lot about “CX” recently. (That’s customer experience if you speak English, not ‘abbreviation’).

It’s fascinating to see the different interpretations of CX. Customer experience – the step by step, emotion by emotion experience your customer has when they interact with your business.

Pretty simple right? Apparently not.

Given many customers experience your company in the faceless world of websites, apps and call centre IVRs, it is hard to ‘know’ what they go through.

To me, that’s half the problem. When I read about ‘CX maturity’ and ‘optimising the customer experience’, what I see looks more like a digital strategy than a customer one.

Yes I know, we’re all online now. Everyone’s glued to their devices 24/7 (even me – Miss iPhone, iPad, laptop, Kindle girl).

But does that mean the only experience customers want is digital?

I don’t think so. I think for every time-poor, smart-phone addicted online native, there’s a human being wanting to walk into a shop or pick up a phone and TALK to someone.

So my customer experience strategies include off-line options. Call it omni-channel if you want to, but give your customers choice.

Can you handle (telling) the truth?

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

Have you watched a Youi ad recently? The clean-cut young man interviewing customers on ‘how they use their car’ and ‘why their home is important to them’. Then ‘finding out’ how much they saved by choosing Youi for their insurance.

I find those ads fascinating.

It’s great that ‘Chris from Sydney’ saved $236 on his car insurance, but what is that saving based on? Did he move from another insurer and Youi’s premiums are $236 cheaper? Or did he just choose the cheapest Youi option – and the most expensive option would have cost $236 more?

That “what are they not telling me” feeling undermines any positive messages I get from the ad.

As marketers, we don’t have the luxury of telling half-truths if we want our campaigns to cut through. Customers want to know the whole story, not just the positive bit you want to tell them.

Stephanie Klein said “Tell the truth, or someone will tell it for you.”

Who do you want telling your truth?

Why are we still ‘Clicking here’?

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

If you Googled ‘Click here’ in the early 2000s you got the download page for Acrobat Reader. In those days, every website had screes of PDF documents on their pages and obligingly included a link to download the reader – just in case this was the first PDF you’d downloaded. The text for that link was invariably “Click Here”.

We’ve come a long way since then. Most of our web content is in HTML, not PDF, and we confidently assume that most browsers can read PDFs if we need to include one.

But we still love ‘Click here’ and its friends ‘Read More’, ‘More Details’ and my personal favourite ‘More’.


I know we’re all tailoring our content to be Mobile First and satisfy our smart phone addicted millennials and Gen Zs. But are we also assuming they have psychic powers and can guess what content we’re hiding behind our one-word, generic link labels?

I don’t want to use the word lazy, but when I see these generic link shortcuts, I am sorely tempted.

Do your readers (and me) a favour. Splash out and – write link labels that actually describe the pages they link to.

The lift in usability, conversion and NPS for your site will be your just reward.

Customers are smarter than we think they are.

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

I’ve been reading about Trivago’s run-in with the ACCC – if you haven’t read about it Trivago got fined for making misleading price claims. This is a typical case of a company treating customers as revenue, not thinking people.

Sometimes it seems that advertising is just promises to pull in customers – without thinking about the plausibility of those promises.

“If you find a better price on the same item, we’ll beat it by x%” – when you’re the only seller of that product.

“Permeate free milk” – when most milk doesn’t have permeate in it anyway.

And don’t get me started on the iddy biddy Ts and Cs at the bottom of the screen!

Persuasive arguments, on the surface. But more and more customers are looking beyond the advertising to the actuality beyond.

As a consumer and a digital marketer, I have this request. Don’t wait until you get slapped on the wrist. Look at your messaging and make it honest.

Show some respect for your customers’ intelligence and tell them the truth. Find the REAL benefits of your product offering and promote them.

Do it right and you can avoid prosecution and gain loyal, profitable customers.

The pluses and minuses of email

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

I’m an email addict. I love getting them and I send more than I should. (This is at work, at home it’s all Messenger, emojis and face to face time.)

There’s something seductive about flicking off an email. Think a bit, type a bit and Send. Another task off your plate and somebody else’s problem.

But are we creating more work, not less? How do we know our email is read and actioned? Sure there’s Read Receipt but putting that on every email, would be creepy, and you’d still have to follow up each unread email.

Time consuming.

Surely it’s quicker to walk to a person’s desk and talk to them? OK, so they may be in another building/city/country but you have a phone, don’t you?

When I want something from a person at work I:

1. Talk to them – face to face if possible or on the phone.
2. Follow up with an email – so they have a written record.
3. Thank them in person when they’ve given me what I wanted/needed.

A lot of work? Maybe, but I build networks and good will, and my communication is clearer and easier. And as I build my network, each interaction takes less time and goes more smoothly.

And I’m racking up steps, walking around the building!! So the smart watch is happy too.

Silence really is golden

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

Want to sound smart? Stop talking.

When I was a little girl, I loved to talk. Every thought that came into my head went out of my mouth. I was the youngest in a family of strong personalities, so getting anyone to listen was a big win. I learned to make the most of every gap in the conversation.

Talking became my ‘thing’. I was chatty, talkative and the life of the party. I even turned my love of talking into a career – I became a radio presenter and documentary maker for New Zealand’s public radio.

Now I’ve left the world of radio for a corporate life, I’ve learned how to really control the conversation… stop talking.

I spend the bulk of my working hours in meetings, workshops and endless conversations with my colleagues.

You’d think a chatty girl like me would be all over these opportunities to talk, but I find the less I talk the more I get out of a conversation. I learn more, argue less and can steer the conversation – with a few well-chosen words.

By being quiet, I have more impact when I speak. By listening, I have a better idea of where the conversation is going and how to steer it where I want it to go.

If you want to have impact in your next big meeting or workshop – try not talking. Or at least not talking until you can speak with impact.

When communication becomes a sugary drink

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

When you work in PR or marketing it’s very easy to ‘drink the kool aid’ of your company – in other words, get sucked in by your own marketing messages.

It happens to the best of us and it can be amusing to the outsider when it does – just watch any speech by Donald Trump and you’ll see what I mean.

I saw a closer-to-home example today. An insurance company (we don’t need to say which one) has the caption “we make your world a safer place” on their reception wall.

I looked at that for quite a while, thinking “Do they?Really?”

“Surely you just pay up when something bad happens.”

When I dug deeper, I realised the caption is linked to a series of safety messages across their channels. But, in isolation, it comes across as a bit Trumpy.

We all get a little kool aidy when we work in corporate (or even small business) comms. We need to believe in what our company stands for and be able to talk up the products and services.

But, it’s wise to maintain a balance and stay credible. Too much kool aid can lead you in Trumpish directions.

So the next time you’re working on a pithy one-liner for your company’s big campaign – ask yourself “Does makes sense all by itself – or am I sipping kool aid?”

Hitting the mark with humour

Sophie’s campaign for clear communication

I have a very quirky sense of humour. It keeps me entertained and it can be very useful in business situations. But not everyone gets my jokes.

So I have to do some careful ground work to make sure my one-liners warm the room, rather than fall flat at my feet.

Humour is a powerful communication tool – when it works. It can break the ice in tense meetings, put new people at ease when you meet or brighten up a boring presentation.

When it doesn’t work, you can end up feeling like a right prat.

A lot of communication is like that. What you’re thinking in your head is not necessarily what comes out of your mouth (or keyboard) and certainly not what ends up in the minds of your listeners (or readers).

So the next time you share a gem of a yarn with those around you, take a moment… and follow the same steps you do with your ‘serious’ communications:

  1. Think of your audience.
  2. Ask yourself what message you’re trying to get across.
  3. Decide on your desired outcome.
  4. Shape your message with these things in mind.

Make sure your audience get the FULL story and can enjoy your humour as much as you do.

Next step – Saturday Night Live!