Visual, pattern or verbal? And what about your audience?

We were sitting in an art gallery, my friend and I. Art led to life, and that led to the universe and everything, as we sipped our skinny cappuccinos. And then, she came out with something that stopped me in my tracks. “Kevin,” she said, lazily stirring her frothy beverage, “have you ever considered the possibility that you might be autistic?” Autistic, me? Like the kid in Mark Haddon’s runaway success The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time? Or like Daniel Tammet, who can recall Pi to 22,514 decimal places? Um, no. Not really. I could have taken umbrage, but I didn’t. What she was really getting at is that her mind functions very differently to mine. Her spelling is often patchy, but she has a wonderful sense of colour and shape. She’s hopeless with foreign languages, but has a keen ear for English accents. Her comment came after I’d mentioned that for me, days had colours. Monday is green, Tuesday is blue, Wednesday is orange, and so on. Before you get worried, I don’t taste numbers or smell words or feel images. I just do the day/colour thing. That’s all.

I know what you’re thinking (maybe)

I thought about that episode again just recently when I watched Temple Grandin’s talk called The world needs all kinds of minds at TED 2010. Grandin herself thinks in pictures, and says it took her a long time before she realised that others perceived the world in a very different way. She identifies three groups, and gives examples of what professions they’re best suited to:
  • Visual thinkers, who make good graphic designers, photographers and creators.
  • Pattern thinkers, who often go on to become programmers and mathematicians.
  • Verbal thinkers, who want to know everything about everything, and make good journalists or actors.

Minds, audiences, messages

So how does all of this relate to your sales and marketing messages? The mailshots you send, the websites you put up, the brochures you write? Well, it means that you need to really think about your audience. And often, we don’t. We assume they’re visual, when actually they’re verbal. Or that they see patterns, when in fact, they see the whole picture. Or that they’re details people, like we are – but really, they’re not. So what can you do to get around it? Well why not:
  • Use pictures and words. Combine strong graphics that send out a clear, positive message, backed up by enough detail to satisfy the curious.
  • Summarise and give detail. If you use headings and bullets, skimmers can skim. And details-focused people can read the bits in between.
  • Offer them a choice. Looking for technical details? Step this way, sir. Want a marketing overview? Second on the left, madam. If you structure your copy so people can branch off, you’ll keep all the minds happy.
And always remember, that what you think is obvious may not be that obvious. As sure as night follows day. And as sure as Saturday is red (but then, you knew that, didn’t you?). Enjoy. [If you’re reading this in an email and can’t see the video, click here: Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds of minds.]