Watch the lowest common denominator

I’m old enough to remember when we had only black and white television. There was no cable. We could watch three stations if the rabbit ears (the antenna) that sat on top of the TV were positioned just right.

I also remember the transition from black-and-white to color. I was working at a Philco TV 1960s bwcommercial television station in Cincinnati. Our control room was suddenly filled with state-of-the-art color monitors feed by state-of-the-art color cameras that were about the size of a Mini Cooper. (Whoever could have imagined each of us with a smart phone could carry a television camera in our pocket let alone have the capability to broadcast it.)

Now this transition from black-and-white to color occurred when only five to ten percent of the population had television sets that could receive color. So while those of us in the studio were watching in color, people at home were fiddling with rabbit ears desperately trying to watch the Cincinnati Reds win a baseball game. 

In the corner of the control room was a black-and-white Philco television receiver –– with rabbit ears, of course. That Philco TV was the lowest common denominator. Whatever we did in spectacular full color also had to look good on the Philco. In other words, we had to take into consideration that a vast majority of our audience would only see that.

As marketers I believe we sometimes forget not everyone is where we are — and we fail to think in terms of that lowest common denominator. Familiarity with our own technologies and bodies of knowledge sometimes blind us. We assume others are exactly where we are and we neglect to think in terms of that lowest common denominator.

It’s easily corrected. Your online order entry process needs to consider people who haven’t learned the language of placing a complex order online.

In your designs, you want to consider people who aren’t able to see very small type. Similarly, pages of gray text or body copy may look good to the designer, but many people jump ship because they’re working to hard.

My common denominator as a marketing writer is that I use common, ordinary words. I keep it simple. No jargon. No big words. Shorter paragraphs.

The moral of the story: Eliminate any and all obstacles that could stand in the way of closing a sale.


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