While describing a client the other day, I found myself using the phrase "IT solutions". Instantly met with fits of laughter, I was presented with a whole section in Private Eye dedicated to ridiculing the word.
One of my favourite of Private Eye's examples was perhaps: "Christmas Ornament Storage Solutions", to describe cardboard boxes...
Particularly as this column has been discontinued for 6 years. I found myself shame-facedly confronted with the realisation that I was talking nonsense.
Challenge - Describe your business without using the word "solution"
As with many other industries, though perhaps the biggest abuser, marketers have been flooding their conversations with useless jargon, such as 'personalisation' and 'readability'. Here's an idea, instead of "personalisation", if you want to offer a personal approach, why are you sounding so clinical? And, as for "readability", if you want to be understood, why not use words that are actually in the dictionary? (sadly, it now may be...)
When looking through sites of prospects, competitors and suppliers, I'm often left wondering "what is it, if anything, you are selling?", and to be honest, I'm a little fed up. Do you often have the same thought?
I'm as big an offender as many, and I've found myself a little alarmed. Why are we, as marketers, the supposed great communicators, alienating ourselves from our customers?
So, who, or what is to blame?
Three phrases I often hear, that I believe to be at the route of this problem. Know any offenders?...:
1. "I want something perfect, and I want it now!
I believe that part of the problem is a growing demand for immediacy. Needing to consistently produce ideas 'on-the-spot' has made us detached, and instead we're left repeating a list of "catch-phrases" making us sound like a demented string toy.
Though Twitter is certainly not to blame, the 140-character conversations are reminiscent of 1984s news-speak, and with Google now championing longer articles (for now), are we perhaps seeing a route back to real conversations with real people?
2. "If I use big words, people will believe I know what I'm doing."
Many businesses are fearful of openness between themselves and their clients, though I've often found the opposite to be true. If you're putting the work in, let the clients really see the work that's being done, and let them be part of it as much as possible.
Although of course there is a difference between clarity and the absolute truth - I definitely don't recommend sharing every frustration you are having with a client!
Also, as is so often sadly the case, your clients or customers (not wanting to be seen as the idiot in the room) won't actually tell you they have no idea what you're talking about, leaving you having wasted a couple of hours of your life trying to sell "mobile office solutions", to people who think you are selling them office phones... And there are no winners there.
A total disconnection between your industry and the outside world will leave your business with no new sales, and some very baffled customers (and sometimes team members)
3. "It's not my fault."
Shifting the blame on to others is common, and ultimately pointless. If you find yourself in a situation where you lost a potential sale, or had a difficult conversation with a current client, it can be tempting to boil it down to their ignorance. But if they are appearing ignorant (the true meaning being "lacking knowledge or awareness"), then could this simply be because you haven't explained it in the right way?
Sometimes being more visual, or adding audio cues can help. Before starting my career as a marketer, I spent 3 years at a music college, in which over 2/3 were classed as dyslexic (which really isn't surprising when you think about it).
Believe it ior not, long lists of new words, spreadsheets, and powerpoint slides don't work for everyone (though I promise you, some people love them). Instead, ask them what works best for them. If you can sell to them in a way they understand, and have taken the time out to actually ASK them what that is, you're more likely to connect, and make more sales.
Challenge 2 - speak in plain English
Taking the "What's in it for me" approach is always a valuable one, and I recommend Scott Keyser's book "The winner takes all" for this. Two things that stood out for me as a marketer, and a copywriter, were the "so what?" section (try it - I promise it will be worth your time), and ultimately, the simple exercies to help you to just to write in plain English wherever possible. It sounds obvious, but there it is.
Take the time to read your company's manifesto and omit every unnecessary word possible.
Answering the important questions
- Who are you?
- What do you offer?
- Why are you here?
If we were less afraid to take some time to answer these questions, would we be able to step away from the smog and offer something truly valuable?
Stop making noise. Start making sense.
P.S. Now I'm going to go through this post, follow my own advice and omit everything unecesary (I'm sure there's quite a bit!)