I learned what irritates business people most a few weeks ago. It's jargon. In fact a few years ago I read that over 25 per cent of business executives admitted to using jargon they didn't understand in meetings.
No wonder, then, that when it comes to selling technological things, so many messages dissolve into a sort of linguistic swamp.
Here's a good example from an e-mail someone sent me:
At Blah-co we have just developed an email stationery online software package that allows one in house member of staff to deploy all email users with a professionally designed Email stationery template, designed by one of our team of designers to all users and to include their unique contact details, meaning not only will the presentation of their emails improve but equally as important all be consistent throughout your organisation. (whew!)
Because of the way the templates are constructed our solutions avoid all types filtering ensuring your mail always arrives.
Well, I think I understand the beginning and the end and recognise all the words but I'm damned if I know what they mean when put together.
Here's another series of examples extracted from mailings sent by another firm.
"Are you one of those lucky few who have bedded down IT operations?"
"Would you realise a significant increase in business agility, accelerated decision making, employees pursuing a common agenda and a heightened awareness of your strategy?"
"Miss or ignore priority system availability or leadership messages"
"Adopting a new change driver that communicates change and strategy in a high impact and engaging way"
"Intranets suffer the limitations of pull technology"
"A controlled feedback channel enables you to capture a snapshot of employee morale in real time"
"Cascade this down to your people"
They actually have something great to sell, so we tried to translate their stuff into English.
Every day, you send tens, hundreds, maybe thousands of e-mails to people who want or need to hear from you.
Maybe they're your colleagues, your customers, your employees or your prospects: many may actually have asked to hear from you.
Then what happens?
Your "wanted" messages get lost in a sea of Spam. So the poor recipients go through the infuriating task of fishing out what really interests them from all that rubbish.
A **** sends your messages on a different route. One that avoids the traffic jams. It's a desktop alert that jumps onto your screen no matter what you're doing. You can't ignore it; it appears whether you're onscreen or off.
And that's why firms as varied as Sky, Arsenal Football Club. Kelloggs and Warner Brothers use them.
Winston Churchill said, "Use simple words everyone knows, then everyone will understand."
This is important especially if you're selling a financial or technical product or service. Use a bit of jargon to reassure the anoraks, but put the rest in plain English.
Confucius said that if language is used incorrectly, what is said is not what is meant, everything goes to pot and "the people stand about in helpless confusion".
If you wish for a few text-book cases, consider the National Health Service or the police force.
On the other hand, if you actually relish a little chaos, you need the economy bullshit generator. Click here and give it a go. It will add a welcome touch of drivel to your meetings.
It was inevitable with a name like ours and the increasing popularity of franchises of a certain chain of donut makers that our website would take some hits from people searching ‘Marketing Donuts’.
I have an interesting tale to share with you all as to how one of these franchises has gone about announcing their arrival in Bristol and marketed their donut products.
Last month I watched the England versus Slovenia match in the centre of Bristol at the Football Fan Park facility. This is essentially a square in the centre of Bristol that has a giant screen and a fenced off arena where football fans can congregate to have their hopes and dreams of national sporting glory dashed once again.
During the second half of the encounter which saw us secure second place in our group and prolong the inevitable demise, there were people walking into the arena with boxes of sugar glazed ring donuts. The more people that came in with donuts, the more people left to seek confectionery
Outside the arena there was a van packed full of trays of donuts and a sizeable but orderly queue of people receiving a free box of donuts. By the time the final whistle had been blown, the crowd inside the arena raced to the exit to join what became a sickening display of greed. The scenes were reminiscent of an aid convey arriving in an earthquake ravaged town. (Responsibility for the welfare of the public on the part of the company was tossed in the air like the final few boxes of donuts as the polite queue fast became a scrum of over one hundred people.)
The cost of this exercise may have been sizeable for the company but the clever part has been the size of reach that they will have achieved. Hand out a single donut and you make one person happy. Hand out a box of twelve and you empower that one very happy person to do the leg work for you in sharing the product and news of the soon-to-be-open new store with others. Seeding the public with samples of donuts has raised awareness of the new addition to Bristol. Word of mouth never tasted so good.
How do you encourage word of mouth with your existing customers?
Drayton Bird is a renowned direct marketing teacher, speaker and author. Find out more about him on his profile.
Why I started the Donut
I’ve always found small businesses compelling – what makes them work and the challenge of going it alone are to me the most interesting questions in business. And after 19 years of running my company, BHP, I admire SMEs more than ever.
Running your own show is tremendous fun, especially if you know what you’re doing and can manage the 101 challenges that come your way every month. Which is where BHP content comes in.
We’ve been producing our expert how-to guides, sponsored by blue chips and government organisations, for nearly two decades. But, of course, as an entrepreneur, I wanted something new to do. In a (rare) idle moment online, I scouted about for a really good marketing website for small businesses. There wasn’t one.
So we decided to do it, launching on 20 April 2009. We built small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) their own site with everything they needed to make their marketing thrive. Founding partners Google and Royal Mail backed us all the way, as have our ever-growing list of sponsors such as Vodafone and Yell.
What we’ve achieved in a year
As well as Marketing Donut, we launched two more Donut websites to cover starting up and law. We’ve just announced that the fourth site to launch will be IT Donut, scheduled for the week commencing 23 August.
We use 300 top people to provide the expert advice on the Donuts, but, for me, the real experts are also the users. Before we started work, we asked people running small businesses what they wanted from a site. They told us they needed fast, practical and accurate answers to their questions. The Donuts give SME managers that, free. Tools, templates, checklists, the lot: plus the news their business needs to know.
All the Donuts report live on major small-business happenings - we were the first business advice site to break news of the rise in minimum wage on Budget Day. MyDonut, the e-newsletter, now goes out to tens of thousands of people a month – next year numbers should top 100,000. (This is in addition to the 300,000 subscribers to the SME newsletters that we publish for our clients. Life at BHP is one big deadline.)
Since the launch a year ago, the Donut sites have fast become a key player in the UK small-business scene. Our Twitter accounts have over 40,000 followers and our Twitter team picked up two national awards last year.
Local versions of marketingdonut.co.uk, startupdonut.co.uk and lawdonut.co.uk are syndicated to our partners, both nationally and in the regions. Thirty-five organisations already have their own Donut websites and more are coming on stream every month.
The Donut is a strong business model, because it is a win-win for everyone involved. Crucially, BHP had already invested several years building up the strategic relationships and the content before launching the first website. As with most successful SMEs, we always knew that the Donut project would not be a sprint to success, it would be a marathon.
2010-2011: what’s in it for you?
As we expand the core "answers to your questions" pages of the Donuts, we will continue to cover news and key topical issues for you. For instance, this month the Law Donut explains how to cope with recruitment and redundancy as the economy remains fragile, as well as what to do when all your staff want time off for June’s World Cup.
We’re currently building the IT Donut, which will be a comprehensive resource for demystifying IT, troubleshooting and trading online. It will become the first place any small business turns to when they have a tech problem that needs sorting fast. We're currently recruiting experts who will rid us all of pesky IT stress forever, I hope.
We’ll also be providing a local service for users, thanks to our partners. Law firms, chambers of commerce and enterprise agencies are all getting involved. This is really exciting, as it gives users the best of all worlds - a huge library of constantly updated advice from experts throughout the UK, combined with local content.
An SME owner's work is never done, so I'm signing off to tackle the above. Before I go - thanks to you, our users, and all our partners and experts, for a great year.
Each of the three major political parties has now unveiled the election slogan that will underpin its campaign. This is a vital piece of their election toolkit – it’s the platform on which the rest of their messaging will be built. In marketing terms, it’s their USP. But do they work? And what makes a good election slogan anyway?
I’ve done some thinking of my own and I asked your opinions, too, via the Marketing Donut Twitter account.
The Labour Party slogan recalls its great founding principle, equality - presumably because they feel it’s the key distinction arch rivals, the Conservatives. The phrase itself has a poetic, but archaic quality. Rather than looking forward to a progressive future, it seems almost a requiem for an ideal that has never been achieved.
This is what you thought:
@the_shopkeeper Surely this should be “A fair future for all”? Rolls easier off the tongue, in my humble opinion.
@Web_D Sounds like there's going to be a rollercoaster and dodgems.
@JanMinihane Sounds like Labour are planning a fair, how wonderful.
The Conservative Party slogan has the virtues of directness, simplicity and it’s memorable – all key elements of a good slogan. On the other hand, it doesn’t tell you what they want to change or who will benefit from the change. Is it us? Or is it them? They seem to rely on a public appetite for something – anything – different.
@benparkatbjs Does anyone know the Tory election slogan? “Spare any change?” isn't it? Something like that.
@runninginheels7 Conservative could mean change in any sense or subject?
@dpoyser Would have to be the Conservatives; most descriptive with the least number of syllables and it makes the best soundbite.
@JanMinihane Conservative Slogan: "Time for change" - what, 20p, 50p, 5p?? Bit too snappy and short for my liking.
Of all the slogans, the Liberal Democrat one feels most designed by committee. It’s a mouthful, two slogans tacked together - two slogans we’ve already seen, in fact. The Lib Dems truly are finding a middle way with this one; they have the promise of change (Conservative) AND the promise of equality (Labour) all in one rather unwieldy mouthful.
It is, however, the only slogan that actually speaks directly to you, the reader. This alone was enough to help it find favour with our Twitter following:
@mathewhulbert In simplistic terms you might think the Tories is the best, but the Lib Dems speaks to two different groups.
@Web_D I like this actually. It’s the “for you” that wins me over.
@JanMinihane My fave, seems more personal somehow.
@twistandshoutuk That Lib Dem one seems a bit weird and wordy. The Labour one sounds like part of a poem. Conservatives is brief and snappy.
In a sense, each of the slogans does exactly what we might expect of each of the parties: the Labour slogan treats us a collective; the Conservative slogan commands us; the Liberal Democrat slogan tries very hard to appeal to everyone – but at least they are personable about it.
When I asked how you would rewrite the slogans, I should have known I was inviting trouble:
@benjamindyer How about “Write me a letter if you like, but I am too busy knocking back Martinis and attending garden parties to care.”
@Web_D I’d vote for any party that admitted the truth: “We're in the s**t... It will be tough, but we'll get through it in time.”
Despite this cynicism, I’ve had a go at adjusting the slogans to address the criticisms and this is what I came up with:
Labour: A fairer future for you
Conservative: Changing Britain for the better
Liberal Democrat: Your only REAL alternative
I reckon they might just work. What do you think?
An interesting tweet relating to Hubspot’s findings that those with a Twitter avatar displaying a photo stand to gain ten times as many followers as those without, kicked off a healthy debate which prompted me— the Marketing Donut Twitterer — to question whether I should come out from behind the logo and show my face. If it wasn’t already conflicting enough to know whether ‘I’ am in fact a ‘We’ during commercial tweeting hours, this dilemma hits me. It was almost enough to induce a psychotic episode.
There are valid reasons for presenting the Marketing Donut as a face. It could produce tangible gains in number of Twitter followers and the quality and quantity of interactions. But when you communicate with @MarketingDonut - or any of the Donuts for that matter - you may not always be talking to the same person. Holiday leave, sickness and just being plain busy can often mean a personnel shuffle when it comes to Twitter. Without blowing the lid on the Twitter Magician’s code here at Donut Towers, we try to maintain the same team member on each Donut account for reasons of continuity and to give each Donut its own distinct personality. But, as the theatre waiver goes, the performance may be subject to last-minute cast changes.
On the whole, it is me - James Ainsworth - behind the tweets and if you were to DM the Marketing Donut, characters permitting, I would sign off as ‘James’. But I hope you enjoy following the Marketing Donut Twitter account for a plethora of reasons, not least for the content we share but for that little sparkle of personality that comes through every day.
The salient point from the discussion was made by @benparkatbjs, “Surely it depends. If a one-man band, tweeting with your own pic is fine, but if you're a donut, surely donut logo better?”
In a recent blog post written by Jan Minihane on the topic, she rightly points out that face value is better for individual accounts. But Jan also concludes from further discussion with her Twitter following that corporate accounts with multiple staff should “Use your logo as you are promoting the corporate brand, not an individual. (unless most of the brand value is you, in which case you may want to go with a picture of yourself).”
And what of the deliberate tactic deployed by @web_D, “I have used really small text and oversized logos to encourage people to click and see the full version”?
Should the Marketing Donut — as a publisher of resources for small businesses — be identifiable by the branding that has been created already or -as a mainly one man Twittering band - should I have my world-weary face as the avatar, bedecked with some kind of Marketing Donut insignia or, if you please, a Twibbon?
If you really want to see me on Twitter then you can follow me here but don’t expect such useful small business marketing advice. You have been warned!