Taking the “mess” out of Messaging (part 1)

An email arrived in my Inbox not too long ago with the following subject line:

Design a Monetization Strategy to Enhance Strategic Goals While Protecting Core Assets

Hmmm…a strategy to enhance strategic goals. Alrighty.

The body of the email had more gems. It was an announcement email for a small conference. Here’s part of the header graphic.


Untapped Reserves of Intangible Assets“???

Who speaks like that?

Perhaps patent lawyers or accountants speak that way. I don’t honestly know, but most people I know certainly do not.

What’s interesting about this conference is that I think I understand what they are trying to say, but the language they are using is so abstract that it’s rather funny.

One other funny line from the email, that has nothing to do with the conference topic,  but which indicates a marketing writer running amok is this one:

Cutting Edge Sessions that Provide Comprehensive and Relevant Information!

As opposed to what? Dull sessions that provide incomplete and irrelevant information?

Now I’m not picking on this email specifically, but it’s a great example of what ails a significant part of B2B marketing.

For those of us who spend (at least part of) our time thinking about things like messaging and positioning, reading industry press releases, announcements and collateral (as well as that produced by our own companies), this kind of language is problematic to say the least.

Ever tried reading a company’s website to understand what they do?  Here’s some text from a well known company’s website. Read it and see if you can guess who it is. The text is taken verbatim from their corporate overview page, with the only difference being that I’ve changed the name of the company to MegaCorp.

At MegaCorp customers come first and an integral part of our DNA is creating long-lasting customer partnerships and working with them to identify their needs and provide solutions that support their success. The concept of solutions being driven to address specific customer challenges has been with MegaCorp since its inception.

Wow, customers come first at this company. How unique. They identify customer needs and provide solutions that support customer success. And this is something they’ve done from day 1. Well, isn’t that special. OK…narrowed it down yet? Figured out who they are? No? I don’t blame you.  Here’s another sentence from the same page:

Since then MegaCorp has shaped the future of the Internet by creating unprecedented value and opportunity for our customers, employees, investors and ecosystem partners and has become the worldwide leader in networking – transforming how people connect, communicate and collaborate.

A little better, we know they are focused on the Internet and are a leader in networking. You could probably make an educated guess by now. But what’s this about “creating unprecedented value and opportunity for our customers, employees” etc. More mumbo-jumbo. They might as well be talking about this company!

So the company is Cisco. Click here to see the page. Surprised? I picked Cisco to illustrate that even a well known, successful and focused company can also speak about itself in abstract terms and generalities. But if you look around, you’ll find this kind of language all over the place.  David Meerman Scott calls it “gobbledygook“. I simply call it bad messaging.

So here’s a couple of open questions.

  1. How did we get into this mess?
  2. What can we do to try and get out of it?
  3. Is it even possible to get out of this mess?

I’ll explore these questions in future posts, but before I do, I’d like to hear your thoughts on these questions and the issues you see in product and corporate messaging.


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8 responses to “Taking the “mess” out of Messaging (part 1)

  1. One of the challenges is that it is easy to spend time deep in your product features and those of your industry. When it comes to messaging, it is then a race to get as much jargon out there as possible.

    Your are so deep that you don’t even realize how your messaging comes across as mumbo-jumbo.

    I think the classic test of asking someone outside of your field to critique your messaging main points is a good place to start. They might not understand everything, but if they are completely lost, you may be slinging “gobbledygook“.

    Thanks for the post.


  2. One of my recent favorites (name hidden to protect the guilty)…

    I would like to speak with you about some best practices and strategies for achieving sales and marketing effectiveness in 2010.

    Leveraging our global reputation as a respected third-party analyst and market research firm, ***** & **** is uniquely qualified to create custom multi-dimensional integrated marketing solutions that identify, educate, and deliver highly qualified leads, and increase sales and marketing effectiveness to deliver continuous returns.

    I’m sold! I’ll take five today and four more next month.

  3. Good post Saeed. I think you really described the problem well, and this is a trap that so many well intentioned Product Managers fall into.

  4. Saeed,
    As usual, a good, thought-provoking topic!
    That lead paragraph on Cisco’s corporate overview page could benefit from a good writer – its possibly the victim of committee editing! But a quick glance down the page does promise some clearer and better messaging.

    I’ve seen lots of companies fall into the committee editing trap. A good writer presents some tight, well-crafted copy, and then everybody swaps in their favorite buzzwords and sound bites. What you get is blather.

    Or, a writer without adequate understanding throws together lots of cool, sophisticated phrases and comes up with blather, which no one challenges (see huhcorp) because they were high-priced and recommended by the VP of whatever as an “expert”. Can’t tell you the number of times I’ve called bull**** on that one.

  5. Nice post. Thank you. You’re right. Unfortunately this mess-aging is rampant online. I’ll take a stab at your 3 questions:

    1. Could it be that, as a company’s product lines and # of target markets increase and diverge, it simply gets too difficult to be more specific, so we fall back on generalities that appeal to almost everybody? Many, many, company web sites have this problem.

    2. Since messaging about a product can be more specific than the umbrella company’s message, maybe the solution is to let products develop their own brand, messaging, web sites, etc. which target customers with real, demonstratable value statements. This seems to have been the approach in pharmaceuticals. I mean, how many of us know, or even care about, the manufacturer of the drugs we take? Most of us don’t. We only care about the benefits of the product, so we memorize and seek out the product/brand name. A fair amount of this happens in the beverage industry, too. I remember thinking recently, “What do you mean my new favorite drink is a Coke product?! I thought I had discovered something rare, new and wonderful!”

    3. Don’t try to be all things to all customers. Target your market and make sure everybody (from prospective/current customers to engineers to front-line support staff) understands who your customers are and why your product is selected by your customers.

    Let the products run their brand independently and link back to the parent company, for the few people who really want to learn more about the company (ostensibly these are only investors and job seekers).

  6. Pingback: Taking the “mess” out of messaging (part 2) « On Product Management

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