Monday, May 18, 2009

plain language

so i've been thinking lately, amid all the grousing about obama's notre dame speech in which he didn't really say he was a pro-choice advocate, and people's lack of understanding of the word "pandemic," and a cool thing that i just saw today on rohit's blog .... it was time for a monica-style rant on the value of plain language.

it's true. a few posts ago, i was the one arguing for more attention to product naming, and now i'm the one arguing for less attention to language, especially if that means you're going to go out of your way to try to sanitize, spiff-ify (that's prounounced "spiff-if-eye," not "spiff-iffy") or otherwise take a perfectly good, simple, clear message and muck it up with words or phrases that sound like they were written by your pr department -- or worse, your lawyer.

look at the simple difference between a paragraph from GE and a paragraph from Apple talking about their technology innovations:

GE: Advanced technology – Model ES44C4 delivers sophisticated traction control technology with its patented Dynamic Weight Management System that continuously monitors traction at the axles and automatically adapts to maximize performance on heavy trains. This system – similar to traction control on an automobile – limits wheel slip at start up, on inclines and in adverse weather conditions, ensuring optimum performance and less wasted energy. In addition, this latest Evolution locomotive has a higher top speed than traditional DC-powered locomotives.

ok, well... i used to have to write about this kind of stuff and actually, this is not bad as far as B2B news releases are concerned. an analogy to traction controls in cars, which we all know and understand. features and benefits, differentiation... it's all here. everything they taught you in pr101.

now, Apple's: The iTunes Store is the world’s most popular online music, TV and movie store with a catalog of over 10 million songs, over 40,000 TV episodes, and over 5,000 movies including over 1,200 in stunning high definition video for rent. With Apple’s legendary ease of use, pioneering features such as iTunes Movie Rentals, integrated podcasting support, the ability to turn previously purchased tracks into complete albums at a reduced price, and seamless integration with iPod and iPhone, the iTunes Store is the best way for Mac and PC users to legally discover, purchase and download music and video online.

what's the difference? the same things are true as in GEs; there are features, advantages and benefits ... but additionally, apple's words give me a very clear sense of scale because there aren't just words -- there are numbers, too. GE's "maximizing performance" perhaps should have been made more specific to deliver this kind of scale -- e.g,., "22% more efficient," or instead of "optimum" and "less wasted energy," they could have really made me understand the magnitude of their offering by putting some quantitative detail behind it. plus "maximizing performance" just makes you think of various ED products, doesn't it?

the B2B people are screaming at the computer now, saying things that all start with "yabbit" ('yeah, but').

"yabbit, apple has a cool consumer product and GE's talking about a train."

"yabbit, GE's audience understands what they're saying and that's all that's important."

"yabbit, it's just a news release. GE talks differently on its website." (and they do, by the way.)

ok, i do fault apple for the use of the tech-speak "seamless integration," mostly because it's overly techy and also because i was among the first people to use that phrase commercially, and it pisses me off that i didn't do something more to ensure i got a royalty everytime someone else used it.

"yabbit".... indeed.

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