Blog in 12 2012.
The other week we won a CMA award for a Twitter thing we wrote (woohoo!). Here are Michelle and I accepting the little round statue (next to a very bored looking Russell Kane):
The thing was a choose your own adventure story where you’d click hashtags to follow one of many possible plots.
The Twitterverse went mad for it. It got ‘unprecedented’ levels of engagement according to Bruce Daisley, Twitter’s sales director in the UK, who named it as one of his favourite creative uses of Twitter.
And it all started from – boo, hiss – a promoted tweet.
In case you’re not on Twitter, a promoted tweet is a tweet that drops onto your page completely uninvited and (usually) tries to get you to buy something.
It doesn’t work. It can’t work.
Think of any good TV ad. Probably the John Lewis snowman springs to mind. Maybe these Old Spice ads. Or these ads for the iPod.
They all give us something in return for our attention: an emotion, a laugh, a song.
Our Twitter thing gave people a story. So by the time they got to the actual sales pitch they were feeling pretty good about the company behind all this.
So there’s the moral. Think not what your customer base can do for you, but what you can do for your customer base.
(And most of all, never, ever use the phrase ‘customer base’.)
It wasn’t until I started working here that I realised, when it comes to language, I’m a nodder and smiler.
For years I’ve let businesses talk absolute gobbledygook to me, even though I didn’t have the foggiest idea what they were on about. Some people think that, in the big bad world of business, if they don’t talk in acronyms, jargon and buzzwords, they’ll be seen by others as a bit of a plonker.
The problem is, jargon masks the real meaning. If you want something done, just say it how it is. Why do we let people get away with using long, complicated words when shorter, simpler ones will do? Maybe they think it makes them sound terribly important. But really, all it does is mock the aim of actually doing business.
It just seems like one giant cloud of linguistic fog, hiding the actual point they’re trying to make. Because no one was actually ever taught to talk like this – it’s just been thrust upon us by other people in the ‘business’ world. So we nod and we smile, and we copy it – even though we haven’t got a clue what we’re saying. And when new people come in, they nod and smile and copy too.
Now I work here, I’ve realised how silly it all is. If everyone spent more time talking like humans, and less time talking like robots, we’d all get a lot more done.
‘This company is an equal employment opportunity employer.’
That beautiful line is from the website of one of our big US clients. In workshops this week, we’ve been asking their people to rewrite a bit of the website which includes that line, to see if they can make it feel a bit more sincere.
And an interesting thing keeps happening. The more senior the workshop participant, the happier they are to junk that line and try something really different. Quite often people have suggested versions like ‘We want anyone who’s good enough to have the chance to work here’. Nice.
But many of the more junior participants don’t touch it. They might rewrite what’s around it, but they leave that phrase. When I ask why, they say ‘Well, that’s legal. We probably can’t change that.’ And, ‘I thought we had to say that?’
A few of the juniors do change it, though. They say, ‘It was awful. I completely rewrote it. Why do we have to use those lame words?’
Now, this is exactly the kind of minor skirmish we have with legal teams the whole time. While the company might be obliged to get across that content, it probably doesn’t have to use that tone. And at the very least, it’s worth challenging to find out the answer.
So why the junior/senior split? I’d guess there are two possibilities: maybe as you get more senior, you feel more confident questioning the status quo (in writing, and in every other aspect of business).
Or maybe it’s exactly that innate bravery that marks you out as a potential leader. Maybe the very few juniors who cut that phrase and start again will be the seniors of tomorrow. In which case, businesses can save a lot of money on ‘talent identification’ and psychometric testing, and just see which people go furthest in rewriting a paragraph from their website. Introducing The Writer’s proprietary Rewrite Bravery Leadership Correlation Index™.
While doing my lunchtime errands the other day, I was struck by a hero and a villain of retail language.
You can hear both of them in WHSmith (Britain’s big newsagent chain). Their bank of self-service checkouts is called the ‘fast lane’. Now our Laura has already written about the odd tone of those machines, but when the plummy automated voice said to me as I was walking off ,‘thank you for using the fast lane’, I thought it sounded quite good. It made me think I was gliding through the priority security channel at a chic European airport, or something. Whereas in fact I was buying a Twix.
To pay for my Twix, I made a ‘contactless payment’. Dead clever. You just tap your card on the machine and you’ve paid. No PIN, no signature, no fumbling through the fluff-clad coppers of my pockets. But really, ‘contactless payment’? It has the hallmark of all rubbish names: I feel embarrassed saying it. That’s why, when talking to cashiers, I’ve been reduced to asking to ‘do the contactless payment thingy’.
I don’t know whose job it is to name it, really. The shops? The banks? The card people? Us? (Londoners have christened our bike hire scheme the ‘Boris bikes’ after our comedy mayor, even though they weren’t his idea.) Supposedly the mobile phone network Orange triggered an explosion in texting, just by changing ‘SMS’ to ‘text message’. The poor old contactless payment needs a similar rebrand.
So what will it be? The competition starts here. Complete this conversation:
‘How would you like to pay, sir, cash or card?’
Tap it? Zap it? Magic it? Over to you.