Why Is Business Writing So Awful? (excerpts)
Nearly every company relies on the written word to woo customers. So why is most business writing so numbingly banal?
What’s bad, boring, and barely read all over? Business writing. If you could taste words, most corporate websites, brochures, and sales materials would remind you of stale, soggy rice cakes: nearly calorie free, devoid of nutrition, and completely unsatisfying.
Who writes this stuff? Worse, who reads it and approves it? What does it say when tens of thousands of companies are saying the same things about themselves?
Luckily, there are exceptions. Wonderful exceptions. These are companies with a personality and a point of view. They care enough to have their own voice. They want to communicate, not just say something. They have a story to tell, and they want to tell it well. They write to be read.
Woot is one of those companies. Woot is a Dallas-based business that sells one item a day at a deep discount. Here is how the company describes itself on its website:
Woot.com is an online store and community that focuses on selling cool stuff cheap. It started as an employee-store slash market-testing type of place for an electronics distributor, but it’s taken on a life of its own. We anticipate profitability by 2043 — by then we should be retired; someone smarter might take over and jack up the prices. Until then, we’re still the lovable scamps we’ve always been.
Indeed, how the company communicates is a big part of how Woot built such a successful business. Woot’s deal of the day sells out just about every day. I especially love the company’s response to the “Will I receive customer support like I’m used to?” on its FAQ page:
No. Well, not really. If you buy something you don’t end up liking or you have what marketing people call “buyer’s remorse,” sell it on eBay. It’s likely you’ll make money doing this and save everyone a hassle.
It’s kind of kidding and kind of not. Some people may be offended, but big deal. Woot isn’t trying to sell to every customer. It’s trying to sell to the customers that can laugh along. Those are the people who understand what Woot is about. The company uses language as a filter.
Another favorite of mine is Saddleback Leather in San Antonio. Dave Munson, the company’s founder, clearly loves his products and his words.
And check out how he explains his guarantee:
All of our products are fully warranted against all defects in materials and workmanship for 100 years. If you or one of your descendants should have a problem, send it back to me or one of my descendants and we’ll repair or replace it for free or we’ll give you a credit on the website (be sure to mention the warranty in your will).
Consider his choice of words. A 100-year warranty that his descendants will honor if one of your descendants needs a repair. And then he reminds you to include the warranty in your will. Who wouldn’t want to do business with this guy? And it’s all backed up with the Saddleback tag line: “They’ll Fight Over It When You’re Dead.” Beauty.
(Read the full article here.)
Jason Fried is co-founder of 37signals, a Chicago-based software firm, and co-author of the book Rework, which was published in March (2010).