Continuing this series (click the links for part 1 and part 2), let’s look at the following question:
- How can we get out of this mess?
Given the problems cited in part 2 – laziness, review committees, truthiness – it’s not easy. There are many other reasons of course, and the combination of them makes it difficult to change the behaviour of an entire industry.
It takes effort, skill and planning to create great messaging. Like many other things, it’s difficult to describe what makes great messaging, but you know it when you see it (or read it, or hear it)!
Messaging should be a weapon of differentiation for companies. Tied very closely to positioning, messaging can impact audiences in ways that no technical achievement can. The now famous 1000 songs in your pocket message for the original iPod was simply brilliant.
Why? It was completely focused on the value to the customer. It spoke directly to them, was conscise, appealing and spoke about the iPod in a way completely different from any of it’s competitors.
Watch the video, and observe the story it tells.
The “dude” is sitting behind his Macintosh, listening to his music and clearly enjoying it. He then transfers it to his iPod, puts on the earphones, selects a song on the iPod with the thumbwheel, and within seconds is enjoying the song again. He then tucks the iPod in his pocket and dances out the door. The voiceover comes on and in only 6 brief words, speaks volumes to the audience:
iPod. 1000 songs in your pocket.
In 1 minute, Apple demonstrated how easy it was to enjoy music on their portable player, and focused the audience on the 1 thing they wanted the audience to remember. It worked amazingly.
Now, someone else — not as savvy as Apple and their advertising agency — would probably have promoted the iPod as follows:
- Comes in 2 models with 5 GB and 10 GB hard drives
- Capable of holding 1000 or 2000 songs respectively (in 160Kbps MP3 format)
- Patented thumbwheel interface
- 2-in backlit LCD display
- 60-mW high output amplifier
- Battery life of 10 hours (your mileage may vary)
- Firewire port with 400 Mbs transfer speed
- 3.5 mm headphone jack
In fact, if you looked at how other competing music players were advertised, they actually were marketing technical specs. Instead of benefits, they actually spoke about things like the amount of RAM they provided or the audio formats they supported.
It amazes me that in the 25 years (yes it’s been about that long) since the original commercial that introduced the Macintosh to the world, very few technology companies have been able to match the simplicity, clarity and effectiveness of Apple’s messaging.
And the obvious question is, yet again, why?
Rules for getting it right
It takes culture, commitment and command in the craft of communication for a company to create consistently compelling commuiques like those of Apple. For the rest of us mere mortals, we can try something a little more mundane to mend our messages. 🙂
For whatever reason, people seem to think that in business writing, all the rules they learned in school are no longer needed. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Follow these rules (created by none other than George Orwell himself) and see what a difference they make:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive voice where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
If you want more detail on any of these, check out this article.
And here’s the original essay where he first wrote these rules (way back in 1946).
For business writing, one other rule is needed.
Apply the “So what?” test to everything you write. If what you’ve written doesn’t provide a good answer the question “So what?”, rewrite it, and ask the question again.
I’ll stop there. 🙂
In the next part, I’ll discuss whether the industry can ever fix the messaging problem for good.