Who you talkin’ at?

by MB Huwe

Some things are hard to write about in the marketing world without coming across like a cantankerous, festering, perfectionist critic.

In my estimation, there are approximately two kinds of criticism.

  1. The tearing-down, cruelly-intended, immobilizing kind.
  2. The constructive, helpful, elevating kind.

Number one is the worst. It is “ew”-worthy. The best example I can think of this is in my college writing class workshop days. SHUDDER. All the undergrads wanting to be *the most clever* (ironic, unexpected, etc.) ready to drop elbows and Cobra Kai everybody else’s asses. TERRIBLE. It was brutal and unrestrained by the “professor,” who I think rather enjoyed the sideshow.

The second version of criticism is still sometimes kinds of “ew,” but it’s actually very wonderful, ultimately. The constructive kind can feel like a blow, but that blow is usually to the Very Self-Cherishing Ego – the part of the self that resists with all ferocity available, plus some borrowed and/or stolen.

This is the self who sings maniacally (and menacingly) after creating something, “This song / copy / piece of art / choreography / site design / fill-in-your-blank is PERFECT. It is PERFECT because I MADE IT THAT WAY.”

And the Very Self-Cherishing Ego is not often that obvious, which makes it harder to recognize. Sometimes it is very, very crafty.

Anne Lamott, a national treasure of a writer, recently encapsulated constructive criticism and the ego response beautifully in a post on Instagram about her editor’s notes:

Each of his corrections and suggestions needs to be addressed by my tiny princess self. I agree with his marks 90% of the time. The other 10% of the time, I decide to break off our working relationship, as he is clearly an obsessive-compulsive sado-masochist. (I have a tiny, tiny problem with criticism of any kind.)

Yes. I can relate that that on both sides of the pen – as writer and as editor.

As an editor, I set myself the standard of constructive criticism. My little notes, suggestions, and explanations serve to liberate the message that is somehow entangled. That’s what editing is about… if you’re not a jerk, anyway.

And that’s the spirit in which I bring the following to the table.

Let’s talk about infantilizing, overly-familiar salutations!

I sign up for lots of email lists, because I love to see how other people are doing what they are doing. If I love the emails, I stay on the list. Very frequently, I unsubscribe.

One of the main reasons for my “click here to unsubscribe” action is the tone of the writing.

Even if the message makes sense, the value is decent, and the offers are moderately interesting, people will jump ship over the tone. Tone alone can turn a curious prospect into an “I-will-never-buy-from-you” locked door. Tone is that powerful.

And one of the places where tone is most consistently and obviously reinforced is the salutation. The salutation is the opener. It’s how you address your reader at the very beginning. It is the difference between To Whom It May Concern: and Dear John.

I’m curious about a salutation trend I’ve noticed among female entrepreneurs with mainly female audiences.

In this trend, the writer attempts to gain an emotional connection with her audience through a familiarity that often comes across as, well… disingenuous, stilted, and forced.

Recently I’ve found myself receiving emails with lead-ins like this:

  • Hey gorgeous!
  • Heeey, love!
  • Hi, sweets!

And here’s what happens to me. I’m irked. I’m not on board. I’m thinking this:

Hold up. WHAT?  

I’m not your love, or your sweets, and you don’t even KNOW if I’m gorgeous or an absolute turd of a human being because we don’t know each other.

And yes, I signed up for your list – so, yes, I’m in your home turf (I’m not very good at the sporty imagery. Am I “in” it, or am I “on” it?) (Prolly “on” it.) and there’s a certain amount I have to just accept. Tolerate. Until I unsubscribe.

Which I think I’m finally going to do. Ain’t your baby; ain’t the projection screen for your unconscious. Am a grown-ass woman. Wouldn’t want a man I don’t know talking to me like that; you don’t need to either, unless you and me are TIGHT. Byeeee.

Now it might seem that I’m championing conflicting messages…

… because I talk about owning your voice. I talk about polarizing your audience. I talk about allowing and encouraging people to self-select.

Couldn’t it just be that I am not the target audience of the people who are calling me sweetie-pie, sugar lump, badass, etc. and that’s why it bothers me? Aren’t they simply polarizing readers, like MBH suggests every other minute?

I’ll give it a “maybe.”

And an “I hope so.”

But I’m throwing this flag because I have a hunch the cutesy salutation is often

  1. Sloppy
  2. Copied
  3. A combination of  1 & 2

The Sloppy: If you’re certain that your intimate salutation is in alignment with your tone and messaging, then fabulous. Alienate me and every other person who doesn’t have an affinity for your tone. Do it with wild abandon!

But please, don’t just grab a random adjective you think sounds clever with no regard for how it fits with your brand identity. That’s sloppy, and it results in unintended tone.

The Copied: Does the forcibly connecting salutation come down people trying to copy Elizabeth Gilbert?

It just might.

In her posts, the author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic refers to her Instagram audience as “Dear Ones.” For example,

Dear Ones: Martha Beck and I are teaching our first ever creativity workshop together… Our intention for this workshop is to make magic and meaning and healing space together — along with you — while also having a stupid amount of fun.

Elizabeth Gilbert has a following of 568,000 on Instagram. She posted a picture of her haircut the other day and it got over 46,000 likes. This photo of her new ‘do got over 2,000 comments celebrating her haircut in some version of, “You look great!” It boggles the mind.

People are gaga over her, and that’s lovely. But is referring to her audience as “Dear Ones” what makes Elizabeth Gilbert Elizabeth Gilbert? I don’t think so. I think Elizabeth Gilbert referring to her audience as “Dear Ones” is Elizabeth Gilbert being Elizabeth Gilbert.

When Liz Gilbert calls her followers “Dear Ones,” she is saying “You are people who are dear to me.” She is not saying, “you are the pretty people.”

There is congruence in the label – there is integrity that she can own. It lines up with her messaging, because she is into the interconnectedness of humans.

Even if, as individuals, her followers are sometimes, often, maybe even always

  • hateful (not loves)
  • ugly (not gorgeous)
  • bitter (not sweets)

… they are dear to her. She appreciates them. She values them.

So, will you referring to your audience as “Dear Ones” make you Elizabeth Gilbert?

NEVER. But it will make you a copycat.

The Sloppy/Copy Combo: The Combo says, “Crap! I need to create a catchy salutation for my emails because that’s what everybody is doing, and so I have to do that so that I can become the next Liz Gilbert, and also I am behind on these other things I think I am supposed to do, so I think I’ll just go for… for… shit, this is taking too long.”

*Asks BF what to do, grabs an adjective, calls it “taking action,” and gets crankin’ out sales pitches.

It’s all just so avoidable. As always, you do you. Just be sure you’re doing you, please – and not doin’ the sloppy copy combo. Those results never deliver anything you want to stand near.

MB Outdoor Headshot

I’m Mary Beth Huwe (pronounced Huey. Obviously.) I offer writing and branding services for business and life.

The “business” part is content strategy for entrepreneurs. It’s intentional content marketing made fun, invigorating, and designed specifically for the entrepreneur and small business owner.

The “life” part is Writes of Passage. It is about crafting ceremonies that honor life’s big shifts – weddings, births, deaths, and other transitions.

These essays are forays into the art and essence of communication. They have not been subjected to the full scrutiny of my editor’s eye(s), and may contain typos. (But you’ll probably never find apostrophe abuse, because that’s just cruel.)

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