True confession: I can be a bit wordy sometimes. While that often comes in handy as a copy monkey, it can also lash you, like Ahab at the mast, with the proverbial anchor around your neck.
See what I did there? A useless verb, self-pleasing literary reference, and a smug allusion to finish things off.
But a couple of true stories…
When I was in school, I loved to read but hated homework. Finishing a report or assignment on time was nearly impossible. Like all noble students, I would gather the source material, read the dust jackets, and stay up all night making things up for submittal the next day. This served me well in philosophy. My professor would read my pieces to the class and grade me by the level of discussion they provoked.
Who knew philosophy had a sense of humor?
My English professor was less forgiving. Near the end of the term, she wrote atop one failing paper, “I’ve never had a student who could say so much while relaying so little information.”
I’ve also long been a music fan, frustrated musician, and believed that my proficiency with language could suit me as a potential songwriter. I once went to see an idol perform – Daniel Lanois. Lanois is known primarily as a producer, having helmed projects by artists like Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, and Neil Young. He produced The Joshua Tree and The Unforgettable Fire for U2. He’s behind So and Us by Peter Gabriel. His own work is equally impressive (Start with Acadie and work your way up).
Lanois was playing to a half-full club and I got to meet and spend nearly an hour with him. I told him of my love of his work as both producer and artist, and of my own dreams in the music world. I told him that I’d been trying to craft lyrics that would translate to song, but found my words becoming more of a treatise than a punchy song that someone would like. He immediately went to the core of my problem.
“You’re saying too much. You’re thinking too much. When you feel it, write it. If you wait too long, you’ll say too much.”
Which brings us to today’s topic: Writing for Business.
The first place most businesses struggle is writing a good tagline or mission statement. Nike cuts right to the chase – Just Do It. Apple issues a challenge – Think Different. Imagine reading this:
“Bob’s Widgets provides exceptional return on investment by leveraging best-of-breed cutting-edge technologies to create cost effective widget solutions for today’s widget users.”
What the heck does that even say?
“Bob’s Widgets. Damned good widgets, and a darned good price.”
When Scott and Cara Dickens owned Glass & Powder, catering to lovers of adventure and board sports, they had shirts printed: “Clothes that Don’t Suck.”
Who wants clothes that suck?
Not to call out one of our own, but one of my earliest Rocket Pop Media challenges was crafting language for a brand-new company that became known as Atrium (Check out our Case Study on the Showcase page). They provide card services that allow colleges and universities to tie everything from student data to dining services to a student ID. Need books? Swipe your ID. Laundry? ID. Are you an administrator trying to set things up? Easy dashboard.
When I went to school, we used a piece of slate and a rock. We didn’t have computers and online classes or card readers. I struggled to understand the parameters of what Atrium was doing and why it was revolutionary. The developers behind the project offered to make things easier for me. They sent me a 262-page booklet with specs, algorithms, and acronyms. That would surely help to clear things up.
After spending several weeks with printed-out sheets and a highlighter, I managed to strip away the code-speak and technological mumbo-jumbo and revealed three sentences:
“Atrium is a revolutionary campus card management solution for institutions of any size. It provides the functionality of traditional systems… re-imagined for the future. Easy and powerful for administrators to use, Atrium is backed by personalized support and a 100% availability guarantee from a trusted name in the industry.”
You want to tell people that you have expertise in what you’re trying to sell. You want to lend the impression that you’re better than the other guys. You want your product or service to sound cool and desirable.
“We’re Bob’s. We make widgets. Damned fine ones.”
If you overthink it, you’ll say too much.