Resistance to change: the tendency to revert

Do you remember the Borg in Star Trek intoning "Resistance is Futile"? Yup, well that doesn't happen in real life - unless you consider the decision makers as the Borg... so why did they invest in a microcopy specialist?

(How can one resist this singing nun?)

If there is one thing I learned, right from the beginning, change is difficult, especially for the decision makers in an organisation. Yes, they attended an excellent lecture on microcopy and were sold on the need. Yes, they raved about the microcopy you produced after your brainstorming sessions. But still, quite a bit of it isn’t incorporated into the product because it is too “different” from other sites.

One of the reasons we have microcopy is to give a brand character. We try to find the “voice” of the brand and through it project the brand’s personality. What we don’t want to sound like is computer generated text. Most copy out there is extremely bland and leaves the user cold. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear the occasional chuckle now and then? To really feel that there is someone who cares behind the app or website?

This is how Kinneret Yifrah put it in her book “Microcopy: The Complete Guide”:

Good microcopy changes the connection between the interface and its users into a mutual relationship that can be rich and even moving. Microcopy will create a dialog with your users that is full of character, such that it makes them want to work together with the application, and return another day. Microcopy can make your users fall in love.

Why are our clients so resistant to change? Well, the two main reasons when relating to microcopy are:

  • A fear of being different – no-one was ever fired for using business language.

  • The executives know the language and believe that they can write good copy, so whatever we offer meets resistance until it is close enough to what they originally had in mind – which leads us to revert to the norm.

How can we mitigate this resistance (assuming of course that the proposed microcopy is great and fits the brand and target audience)?

  1. This first one doesn’t always work, but the professional literature gives it high grades. Make sure to involve everyone in the process. Make them feel that they contributed to the final texts.

  2. Build trust in the goal of microcopy and your ability to provide the best, most appropriate microcopy.

  3. Make sure they realise that you have listened to them and fully understood their product, the brand, and the target audience. The best way to show this is in a Voice and Tone Guide.

  4. Work closely with them, even after delivering the texts to see that they weren’t changed during the update. This is an actual quote: “What, I agreed to that? What was wrong with…?” Yes, not only did you agree to it, you were really enthusiastic.

  5. Throughout the process keep reminding them about the goals of microcopy and how they’ll benefit.

  6. Make sure they are committed to the process.

Having said all that, remember that the decision makers ultimately decide what is right for their brand. It is our job to explore with them the consequences of not making the change.

I create microcopy for English-language apps and websites.

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