The articles in management consulting news often have gems that relate generally to customers and customer experience. I saw another excellent example in this interview with author Tom Sant. Here's the paragraph that made me stop:
"I think many people are afraid to put important messages in writing, or they don’t feel confident that they can write well. The mistake they make is that, instead of trying to communicate in their own voice, they try to use somebody else’s voice. They lapse into what I call pseudo-language, a nonfunctional way of communicating which they think is somehow superior to what they could produce themselves."
Doesn't that just sound like so many marketing letters you have seen? Especially the ones vetted by something called the brand council, or similar committee whose job is to extract all meaning from letters sent by big companies to their customers.
When you go through your stack of mail today, see how many examples of this you can find. I guarantee they'll be in abundant supply.
But no one wants to read this stuff. We don't have the time trying to tease meaning out of paragraphs thick with marketing speak.
Sant identifies four types of pseudo-language. I'm sure you've seen all of this, as I have:
- Fluff -- vague generalizations and assertions. Phrases like "best of breed products." Non-specific and lacking any supporting evidence
- Guff -- big words, long sentences, convoluted construction and passive voice -- all designed to show how smart and sophisticated the writer is, and difficult to extract meaning from
- Geek -- jargon and acronym-filled writing that assumes insider knowledge -- people who either don't care, or are just too lazy to try to say something in simple language
- Weasel -- qualifiers like "might be," "prudent to," and other approaches that lack a clear statement of recommendation
There may be no cure for the brand council but there is a cure for this kind of writing.
Stop yourself and say out loud the things you are trying to communicate. Now write down what you just said. Now you have something to work with. Force yourself to limit the number of words you add, especially qualifiers and meaningless adjectives.
If you get writing like this from someone else, ask them to just tell you what they are trying to communicate.
When you look at the result, it might not look like a typical corporate communication. That's a good sign you are on the right track.
People love to have key metrics, so here's one to try: track the number of people calling in to get a real explanation of the letter. If there aren't very many, you're on the right track.