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Home > Blog > Oh why cahn't the marketers ... learn ... to ... speak
Out of Our Minds
Tuesday, January 18, 2005 8:40 AM
Oh why cahn't the marketers ... learn ... to ... speak
David Weinberger on Humor

An AP article run by the Boston Globe yesterday points out that marketing-speak in the tech world is abysmal, singling out the words 'enterprise,' 'scalable' and 'solution.' The same article could have been written ten years ago, which is less a criticism of the article than of tech marketing.

It does continually surprise me how badly marketers communicate. I was struck the other day by this when I went to Autonomy's site after interviewing its articulate and provocative founder for an article. I went precisely to see how Autonomy describes what their about since it's hard to characterize an innovative company. And there, dominating the home page, was the headline: 'What does Autonomy do?' Wonderful! Then there's the answer: 'Autonomy is the leading provider of software infrastructure that automates operations on unstructured information.' All too typical, I'm sorry to say.

In every twist of that sentence you can hear the marketing committee meeting. I know. I've been to too many of them. They go like this:


Scene: A windowless meeting room on the 6th floor of Integgrity, Inc.'s headquarters. Bodron Humpert, Marketing VP, is standing at the front. Behind him is a white board blank except for the upper right which has scribbles marked 'Do not erase!' that have been there for 19 months.\n\nHumpert: I just came back from a sales call and the sales guy couldn't explain what Integgrity does without getting into the bits and bytes. We really need to go up a level. This is our chance to define ourselves and our market. We get this right, and we lock the Other Guys out. They won't even be in the same playing field. So, go ahead and do it. I'd help but I have to go to a conference on how to make bloggers say nice things about us. \n\nBetsy: Ok, so, what do we do? Our software helps people remember their appointments. \n\nAl: (snorting derisively) Puh-lease! 'Remember their appointments'! It's not just appointments. It's meetings. It's travel times. It's dental appointments. It's business, Betsy! It's life!\n \nMac: Besides, remembering appointments isn't a benefit. \n\nAl: Right. The benefit is organizational efficiency. Bottom line: Lower costs, higher revenues.\n\nHerb: That's good, but it doesn't get at the emotion of our product. We make anti-embarrasser systems.\n\nMac: A love affair with time. We're sexy!\n\nAl: Going down the wrong road, Mac. Save it for the trade show both. What are we a leading provider of? We have to leadingly provide something.\n\nMac (massaging temples): Yeah...Leading...Leading...Leading provider of on-time-ness...\n\nHerb:...for enterprise-class punctuality systems...\n\n[Four hours pass] \n\nAl: Ok, almost done. Let's see how it looks: \n\nAl writes on white board:\nInteggrity is the leading supplier of enterprise-scalable solutions that maximize time leverage in today's global economy of time-based business. \n\nMac: Don't forget the benefits\n\nAl: Oh, right. [He adds 'making business more efficient and effective by providing significant ROI and global competitive advantage in today's global economy.']\n\nMac: That nails it.\n\nAl: Yeah, I have to say it really sings. \n\nBetsy: But it doesn't say what we do.\n\nAl [Shooting her a pitying look]: It not only says what we do, it says what we are. What we stand for. How the world embraces us and how we embrace the world. If I may quote from the cover of a Whitman sampler, It sings our body electric. And that is what marketing is all about. Now, from the pounding on the door, I can tell that our meeting has run over by several hours and we must relinquish this room, confident that we have created a new room, a new space, if you will, for our beloved company, Integgrity: The World's Leading Supplier.\n\nCurtain comes down as the audience is peppered with buttons that express the company's new self-description in 4 point type.


8 comments

Geoff - 1/23/2005 11:59:56 PM
I really enjoyed the post, having endured similar meetings (I'd like to think that I fought the good fight to avoid this sort of gibberish). Here's an article (not specific to market-speak) called: 'Fighting the Death Sentence' that anyone having to write anything should probably read.

http://www.theage.com.au/cgi-bin/common/popupPrintArticle.pl?path=/articles/2003/10/31/1067566083688.html
shel - 1/22/2005 4:34:46 PM
David,

You have the result of the marketing committee right, but the process all wrong. First, marketing folk always have windows in their offices. The windowless rooms go to tech support in foreign countries. Second, the committees never meet. Someone drafts a positioning statement and passes it on to 11 people who need to add comments, adjectives and hyperbolatives. All these peopole are senior to the originator, so he/she incorporates nearly all of them. Then the statement gets passed still further up the organization where an executive reads it, can't understand it, but doesn't have the courage to admit it--so he emails back, 'It's good but you need to make it more exciting.' So the originator then writes the same statement with its long trail of hyberbolatives in larger font and bold face. IOne you need to understand is that no two of these people are ever in the same place at the same time. There is never any conversation.
Mindwalker - 1/19/2005 11:10:35 AM
AL: 'What are we a leading provider of? We have to leadingly provide something.'

David, I started laughing out loud when I read that. I worked for a PR firm at the height of the dot.com boom and I can't tell you how many times this came up. I can't tell you how many times I would write a press release, submit it for approval, and then have it come back from the client with an instruction to add a positioning clause.

- 'XYZ.com, the industry-leading provider of .'

- 'ABC, the industry leader in ...'

Dreadful, I know.

Positioning is one thing, but exaggeration is quite another! *laughs*

But why can't they learn to speak? Good question, Professor Higgins. I think a lot of it comes from a follow-the-pack mentality. Every marketer wants their product/service to be perceived as the top dog, A-#1. What ends up happening is that marketers fall over each other trying to the be the best to the point where they all sound exactly the same.
Dave - 1/19/2005 5:47:11 AM
I became aware of this gobbeldy-gook corporate speak about ten years ago. The magazines that printed excessive amounts of this nausea were lopped from my reading list. When I hear it today it simply tells me that the tower dwellers have widened the moat and increased the disconnect.

It is truly good for the soul to hear a recognized media person like yourself, David, talk about this subject. But honestly, I'm about ready for a fifty-millimeter edit button to obliterate it altogether.
Elisa Camahort - 1/18/2005 7:40:17 PM
Well, at least we have 'irony' firmly defined!

Although in blogging such errors are so common. I'm not sure, therefore, that even were you posting about bad grammar, your error would have had the requisite unexpected quality required for something to be truly ironic.
David Weinberger - 1/18/2005 3:22:22 PM
Oooh, Laura, you found a grammatical lapse in a blog post! How exquisite! Had I been criticizing tech marketers for their grammar, that would have been ironic. As it is, it's just a human mistake. My pledge to you: I will continue to make 'em just about as fast as I can write.

jennifer - 1/18/2005 10:17:23 AM
Another reason companies -- especially tech companies need diversity on their advisory boards and executive teams.........

Laura Bergells - 1/18/2005 9:49:29 AM
'I went precisely to see how Autonomy describes what their about...'

Brilliant!

'It does continually surprise me how badly marketers communicate.'

How ironic!

But not in an Alanis Morissette kind of way....

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