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Sunday Soundbite

Did you steal someone else’s clothes?

How can you make sure your messaging is true to you?

How often do you read a brilliant piece of content that somehow doesn’t ring true about the company it is promoting? The words are beautifully constructed, full of sound and fury but ultimately, signifying nothing, because you just don’t believe it.

It’s easy to get it wrong because, in the struggle to be noticed for even a split second, language and good writing have been tied up and tortured until they finally agree to be euphemised.

We’re all getting tongue-tied

But it gets worse than that; it may just about be OK to say, ‘I want to vocalise this,’ when we really mean ‘I want to say something’. And I guess I need to get used to the office lift saying ‘Service Condition’ when what that really means is, it’s bloody well broken. It’s not all about you, Mr Service Condition man, it’s about me having to walk up five flights. But it’s not OK to buzz-word your company’s core messaging from a Corporate Bullshit Generator.

Think that’s not you? Guess again. How did we get comfortable with phrases like omni-channel, retail theatre, seamless experience, data-driven decision making? It’s not the words themselves; once upon a time, they meant something to us all, but now they have been co-opted into the mainstream, all sense and meaning have been lost. Now, we are all ticking the same box, which may keep Procurement and Legal happy, but it will not achieve the job of differentiating you from all your competitors.

Plague of euphemisms

It gets worse; we think we are clever when we mash words up; I know I do. ‘Phygital’ is easily the ugliest and ‘athleisure’ isn’t pretty. It’s as if, in the search for meaning, we have ended up at the opaque end of the colour spectrum, but we stick with it because we think that, even though we are drowning in vagueness and euphemism, at least we are all drowning together.

And we are passing this stuff on. The next generation is repeating this stuff back to me rather than admitting that they don’t understand what anyone is saying, and calling for a return to a world where we wrote as we spoke.

Rescue your prose

For me, it’s about reading more good writing. The Economist, although it is not quite what it was, manages this well, as does the FT, although standards are variable. Get some excitement back into your tired prose by reading Ernest Hemingway’s sports journalism, or William Burroughs. And get some sense and structure back by reading George Orwell or Graham Greene.

Then you are ready to listen again to the people who work in your business and develop messaging that it true to them. This is not about products and services, it’s about people and the words and phrases they use. They may trot out a few of the howlers above, but if you have ears to hear, prepare to use them to catch the essential truth of why they do what they do every day.

In the tech industry, this process starts well enough when a small group of people get together to launch a startup, but once the VCs, the creative agencies and the web designers wade in, it can go horribly wrong. Listen to them and you are sure to end up wearing someone else’s clothes; they may fit now, but they’ll strangle you in the end.


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