Our friend the question mark
If you're of a certain age, you may remember a film they showed us in school: Our Friend the Atom. The message (as I remember it, anyway) was, Sure, nuclear holocaust is a scary thought -- but nuclear power can do a lot of good, too!
In marketing and fundraising, we have something that's powerful and dangerous like the atom: The question.
The well-put question can pump life into your copy, deeply engaging the reader and making the communication stronger and more interesting. A recent article in Direct magazine by Ernest Nicastro looks at this power: Three Questions to Get More People to Read Your Copy. Nicastro recommends three especially good question approaches:
- Did you know . . . ?
- You hate it don't you?
- Can you say, with absolute confidence . . . ?
When properly framed, these questions are intriguing, engaging, and can make readers into donors by placing your cause squarely in their world.
But what about the destructive down-side of questions? A well-asked question is tough to pull off. Many attempts blow up in our faces, blasting all the motivation we may have to bits.
Questions to avoid
Here are some question approaches that really don't work:
- Simple yes or no. Have you ever driven a motorcycle? You really want the answer to your questions to be yes. If there's a good chance the answer is no, you're off on the wrong foot.
- Boring yes questions. Have you ever eaten in a restaurant? A yes isn't worth much if it's a boring answer. Your question needs to evoke passion in some way.
- Well, duh. Are you against small children dying of painful, preventable diseases? Another form of the boring question. You get an easy yes, but probably not much passion. You can sometimes turn this type into a good question if you add an unexpected twist.
- Head scratchers. Have you ever wondered if our capacity-building initiatives are sustainable? The question shouldn't be hard to understand. Make sure you're speaking your readers' language and framing the issue in ways they care about.
But really, give the question mark a try.