Friday, December 11, 2009

Pain English

I suspect the reason business people so often resort to gobbledygook in their writings is not just laziness or habit, but that they're afraid specific language is too confining and restrictive. Ambiguity seems more inclusive. It relies on the reader to fill in the blanks of meaning. These would-be communicators fear that explicit, precise, and detailed writing might not tweak every reader's interest or encompass every possible interpretation.

Problem is, it doesn't say anything either.

You don't have to look hard for examples. As I started to write this, IBM spammed me with an email they hope will draw my attention to an article in their newsletter. They say the piece is about how that company helps "organizations make strategic decisions that enhance competitive advantages, create new sources of value, improve revenue growth and develop the change programs necessary to meet business or mission objectives."

Well, who wouldn't be interested in all—or at least some part of—that? Aren't those things that all businesses want to do? But the email doesn't give me a clue what IBM's consultants really offer, or how they deliver it, or what they've done for somebody else.

On the contrary, the message I get—loud and clear—from their spamMail is that IBM doesn't know a thing about my business or me. They think of Bob Kalsey and Bravura Films as just another organization with problems and issues no different from those faced by any other. By trying to offer everything, they offer nothing at all. That's the ROI for ambiguity: nothing.

These thoughts are inspired by a question today on LinkedIn, where I occasionally try to contribute to the conversation. Loren Hicks referred there to a help-wanted ad that includes the phrases “The role will leverage all aspects of the offer matrix” and “ … will include presenting and evangelizing xxx’s offering …”

Loren asks how people respond to such a thing and whether they'd apply for the job—whatever it is.

My response was:

I would be pleased to apply for a role that leverages all aspects of the offer matrix and proud to present and evangelize the company's offerings, especially if the aspects are of the unique, cost-effective and robust next-generation aspect type.

At the end of the day, though, the matrix would have to be flexible, scalable and optimized in terms of metrics that deliver value added outcomes, and the offerings would, hopefully, be easy to use, world-class and unique—as well as focused on high performance innovations from a leading provider of new and improved feature sets. Heck, the bottom line is, I'd give 110 percent commitment—or more—to such a win-win partnership of all stakeholders. Wouldn't you?

I have to give credit for many of the buzzwords I used to David Meerman Scott and Dow Jones, who created and provide (under Creative Commons) a list of the things. Just in case you've forgotten some of them and don't want to leave any out of your next spam.

Scott is as ferocious about blather and baloney as I am, and you might want to read his Gobbledygook Manifesto, in which he points out another reason business writers default to those words: they don't really understand their products, or how customers use them.

Shame on them.