It’s ALL Customer Service: Welcome, guest. May we help you find a SKU?

There’s been a spotlight on the dangers of pompous, impersonal, and jargon-filled business writing recently (including here on this blog) and I’ll admit it can be difficult to rein in. However, those writing for a consumer audience have no excuse. They shop, eat, and listen to the radio, too, right?

Most stores don’t have customers anymore, because “care team members” serve their “guests.” Apparently, this is cozier. For some reason, use of jargon has gone the other way.

Retailers now casually refer to SKU’s, and you may have a choice between a “blister pack” and “hanging assorted” at the store. We get cash from ATM’s when we don’t have time to visit retail banking for a debit transaction.

When preparing a frozen dinner, instructions often say, “Remove product from its overwrap,” and “Be careful, contents will be extremely hot.”  Mmm, yummy.

But here’s what inspired me to write this post: I was online looking for a restaurant location, and their website had a nice interactive map. The instructions? “Click on your market.” I knew we had something special.

Can You Read Me Now?

Katya Andresen’s Non-Profit Marketing Blog post today is on the importance of “cognitive ease.”  It’s titled Three little tricks to be more persuasive, and though the title is a little on the Manchurian Candidate side, I definitely like the message.  I wrote about complicated language in my post Utilizing Effectuated Methodologies (What?), so I’ll just address legibility here.

Katya writes:

The Nobel-prize-winning [Thinking, Fast and Slow,] author Daniel Kahneman talks about the importance of cognitive ease.  Things that are easy to read and easy to remember can be processed with cognitive ease.  On the other hand, things like instructions in a poor font or faint colors or complicated language cause cognitive strain.

It shouldn’t take a genius to know people need to be able to read something in order to get the message.  Apparently it sometimes does.  (Bonus: try to convince your kids this applies to homework, too.)

I frequently pass two different restaurants that have their owner’s signature as the sign.  I’ve gone by them countless times, and I still sometimes glance over as I’m driving by and think, what is that?

So before you analyze your website or blog’s colors, content, functionality and whatever else, make sure visitors can actually read it.  Then do a web search on accessibility.

You Kiss Your Mother With That Mouth? Authenticity and Your Online Self

toothbrush mouth
Photo credit: Marshall Astor on Flickr

Most all internet denizens have puzzled over how much to let their hair down on the web. On one hand, we know once something’s out there, it’s out there forever. On the other hand, we know if our audience is made up of potential donors, volunteers, customers, or other people we want to connect with, it’s important to be authentic.

So what’s authentic? On social media, a lot of people seem to equate being authentic with cursing like a sailor. (No offense to sailors, thank you for your service.) One well-known social media blogger included an “adult entertainer” on a list of successes we might emulate. I’m curious what his wife thought.

I was reminded of that yesterday when I searched “Think Productive game GTD”* and Google suggested “Think Productive game WTF.” I’ve even seen a rabbi write WTF on a LinkedIn post. What’s that about?

I propose being authentic as a person or an organization means talking about things you care about and find interesting, being honest without spilling everything, and letting your emotions and humor show once in a while.

What do you think?

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* Getting Things Done by David Allen.

Inspiration and the Power of Instant Feedback

I know a young writer who feels so good when he’s inspired, he can hardly write at all when he’s not. Most of us don’t have the luxury of waiting for inspiration for much of anything, but sometimes it does come.

One source of inspiration for my blog was the invitation from Talance to write a guest post. It was a good opportunity to hit the ground running, or at least jogging a little bit, plus I’m a sucker for flattery. Which recently landed me in a community theater production of Fiddler on the Roof as the Grandma Tzeitl, but that’s another story.

In an article in Productive! Magazine The Power of Less author Leo Babauta likens blogging, posting art online, and releasing beta software to street performance. Here’s what struck me most:

If a street performer isn’t good, people won’t watch. But making a small change in the performance, like a better setup or better patter, can make huge changes in audience reaction and payment. And here’s the thing: they see the effects of those small changes immediately. There’s no wondering, “Will this work? Will it be an improvement or make things worse?” Because they know if it works, if it makes things better or worse, right away….

Whatever you want to do, if you can do something publicly, even in front of a small group, and get instant feedback, that’s pure gold. There’s no better way to improve. There’s no better way to evolve a method or creative process or business model than through this simple technique of constant iteration and natural selection….

There’s no better way to get amazing at something.

Granted, he didn’t say how long it takes to get amazing at something, but I guess that’s the fun part.

Can you add more instant feedback to what you do?

Utilizing Effectuated Methodologies (What?)

Every day when I surf around the web, I notice how many people have a hard time writing in a clean, clear way. Here are some key concepts I try to use:

  1. Decide what to say and make the most important points first, in case your reader gets bored or distracted and wanders off mid-read. We all do it.
  2. An oldie but goodie: use subheadings, bullets, and numbered lists when you can, in case the reader is skimming. We all do that, too.
  3. When reviewing a draft, imagine you’re a cranky, very impatient person – say, your mother’s aunt – and ask, “So what?” after reading each bit. If there isn’t a good answer, cut it.
  4. Don’t use big words when small ones will do. They slow things down and increase the likelihood your reader will go find something better to do. “Gigantic” is more evocative than “big,” but “utilize” isn’t better than “use.”
  5. Avoid words like “evocative” if you don’t know what they mean. There are many free dictionaries on the web.
  6. Skip the trendy terms and expressions, like “planful,” or “that said.” They can have more than one meaning, or be just plain wrong. Some readers will stop to ponder, or be confused, or even go look it up. Keep them with you!

All of these points assume you will take time to write a draft or two. Or three. Do it! If possible, have someone else read your draft, too. If you can’t do that, take a long break, preferably overnight. In the morning, you’ll likely notice phrases that are unclear or unnecessary, and catch a mistake or two.

Last, notice I said, “key concepts I try to use.” Don’t drive yourself crazy chasing perfection. One can’t effectuate that no matter what methodology is utilized.