You Must Plainly Say What You Really Mean

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"Call the law enforcement officers. We're being robbed."

Not a likely scenario. What the average person is much more apt to say is: "Call the cops. We're being robbed."

Unfortunately, marketing people are not average people. Marketing people are much more likely to elevate their

language until, in some cases, the words lose their meaning.

A senior marketing person at United Parcel Service asked me what I thought of the company's new trademark.

"I like it," I said, "but what UPS really needs is a motivating idea or rallying cry, something like 'UPS delivers more parcels to more people in more places than any other company in the world.' "

"UPS," he said, "is not in the parcel delivery business."

"Huh. That comes as a big surprise to me. We're a customer and I always thought that UPS was in the parcel delivery business."

Logistics business?
"No. UPS is in the logistics business."

He wasn't joking. UPS is in the process of repainting some 88,000 vehicles with its new theme: "Synchronizing the World of Commerce." (Sounds like UPS might be thinking of going into the watch business.)

This tendency to upgrade or inflate the language is a serious impediment to communications. No aspect of life is left untouched by the upgrade police. Not only does a term have to be politically correct, it has to be as long and as complicated as possible. For instance:

  • Maintenance men are now physical plant managers.
  • Janitors are now custodial engineers.
  • Garbage collectors are now sanitary engineers.
  • A business strategy is now a business model.
  • Accounting firms are now professional service firms.
  • The purchasing department is now the procurement department.
  • The personnel department is now the human relations department. (At Electronic Data Systems, the HR department has become the Leadership and Change Management department.)
  • Fireworks are now pyrotechnics.
  • A jail is now a correctional facility. ("Anyone setting off the pyrotechnics will be sent to a correctional facility.")

It would be amusing if the problem hasn't become a serious impediment to marketing. Many firms, for example, call themselves "financial services companies." What's a financial services company?

  • If you want to buy banking services, you go to a bank like Bank of America.
  • If you want to buy insurance, you go to an insurance company like State Farm.
  • If you want to buy stocks, bonds or mutual funds, you go to a brokerage firm like Merrill Lynch.

"Let's go to a financial services company to get our finances serviced" is not the way people talk. People talk in terms of specifics, not generalities.

Specific to general
It's easier to go from the specific to the general than vice versa. People know that a drug store sells a lot more than just drugs -- toiletries, candy, soft drinks, stationery, photo supplies, etc. Should a drug store (pardon me, pharmacy) describe itself

as a "personal services" store? I think not.

Boston Chicken was a huge hit when it first opened. It was the first fast-food restaurant chain to focus on rotisserie chicken for the take-home dinner market. But then it added turkey, meatloaf, ham and other items to the menu and changed its name to Boston Market.

'Market' dinner
Everybody knows what a chicken dinner is, but what's a "market" dinner? No wonder the company went bankrupt.

The same principle holds true among marketing companies. You probably know of many famous advertising agencies and many famous PR agencies, but how many famous "marketing communications" agencies do you know of? Name one.

When in doubt, use the narrowest possible term to describe your category. Let the mind do the upgrading, not your marketing.

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