I’ve been enjoying Josh Bernoff’s blog, Without BS: be clear, be brief, and don’t be boring, where he parses corporate communications to separate the brisket from the balderdash. However, over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself reacting to his posts with mixed emotions. At times, I fist-pump and cheer, “Preach it, Josh!” More frequently, though, I catch myself wondering, “Why are we still talking about this issue?”
The Cluetrain Manifesto is sixteen years old. Why Business People Speak like Idiots is ten. And David Meerman Scott’s, Gobbledygook Manifesto, turned eight. Haven’t we spent enough time on this problem? Shouldn’t we have licked it by now?
Evidently not, and so we’re left with the question: “Why didn’t these seminal works initiate change?
I see three hurdles between us and clear corporate communications: the status quo, hard work, and the economics of agencies.
1) Obfuscation is the incumbent
People are creatures of habit, and since gobbledygook is the norm, they see no reason to change.
2) Murky writing is easy
Writing is hard work. Clear writing is harder. It requires authors to find the essence of a message and deliver it in the fewest number of words.
Clear writing, on the other hand, is as simple as playing the word game MadLibs. Just fill in the blanks with words like “world-class,” “cutting-edge,” and “ecosystems” and you’re well on your way to an easy to use writing solution. <– see what I did there? (:
3) Clear writing risks retainers
The largest barrier between us and clear corporate communications is the fear of losing money. Until companies believe that the truth will set them free, agencies have no incentive to change their behaviors. As a result, being “clear, brief, and not boring” will continue to be viewed as more risky than being vague, wordy, and dull.
Revitalizing the Reformation
And so we’re stuck in a never-ending episode of Spy vs. Spy, where Agent PR encrypts messages for Agent Journalist to decode, and Agent Customer uses DVR-based countermeasures against Agent Advertiser’s weapons of mass interruption.
We need to break the cycle. The Marketing Reformation that began 16 years ago is alive but not well. Our predecessors may have brought awareness to the problem, but awareness alone hasn’t changed corporate behavior. We need different methods. Josh Bernoff is opening a can-o-whoop ass on those who seek to obfuscate. Ann Handley is teaching us how to write. And we are teaching the art of story.
Hopefully we’ll make a difference, because if we can’t, corporate communications will remain, in the apt words of MacBeth, “…a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
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