Often, the problem with corporate communication is that it’s too, well, corporate. We must remember that communities and groups of people cultivate their own language with time. Similarly, over the years, commercial organisations have developed their own particular way of speaking to each other and the people who work for them.
Most cultures naturally gravitate towards a simple and efficient way of communicating. The reason English is the world’s common language is that it’s fairly simple and lacks the grammatical complexity of, say, French or Arabic. Or at least that’s part of the reason. Equally, platforms such as WhatsApp and Twitter also owe some of their success to this.
Muddling the message
However, the business world has gone the other way. A recent survey by CEB-Gartner reveals that only 32% of employees feel that the corporate content used by their organisation is “clear and easy to understand.”
If you’ve ever come across a sentence that sounds like “We are utilising our deep analytical capabilities in order to provoke a more rigorous approach to client engagement that is truly best-in-class”, for example, then you probably feel their pain.
Part of the problem is that corporations believe the work they are doing is important and valuable, and rightly so. But, rather than making sure these important messages get through, they go the opposite route. Instead, they attempt to convey importance and urgency through complexity, and by “leveraging” the most convoluted words and expressions available.
We’re only human, after all
What they’re forgetting is that, ultimately, the individuals reading the memos are people. And not just people, but time-pressed people with stressful jobs. People who like to read and hear things clearly, rather than having to strain to understand the meaning. They’ve got enough on their plate as it is.
In an ideal world, corporations would have a chief humanising officer on the payroll whose only job would be to translate ‘business talk’ from the communications or marketing department into good old-fashioned plain speaking.
If such a person were to exist, here are some examples of what they might come up with:
“We are undertaking a strategic human capital optimisation programme.”
In other words: “We will be firing people.”
“We are driving operational performance and cross-site best practice throughout our organisation.”
Translation: “We are trying to improve how we work.”
“Evaluating the complexities of the modern B2B Sales & Marketing landscape.”
Or: “Understanding how companies sell to other companies.”
“We deliver a unique, customer-led approach.”
Meaning: “We listen to our customers.”
“We are witnessing a process of optimisation throughout the automotive value chain.”
That is to say: “The car industry is using its resources more efficiently.”
Simply does it
To sum up: while phrases such as “human capital”, “optimisation programme” and “best practice” probably sounded impressive when people first began punching them into keyboards many moons ago, including them purely for the sake of it doesn’t convey anything particularly meaningful or intelligent.
As Mark Twain once famously said, “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.” Coming from arguably the most successful American writer of all time, it’s good advice to live by.
Like Mr Twain, at Narrative Labs, we value clarity and simplicity. So, whether on internal or external communications projects, we work with our clients to help them find the clearest, most readable and most engaging way of saying what needs to be said. Contact us today to see how we can help you.