In a new book, ex Apple ad guy Ken Segall encourages us to Think Simple. A good call, for there are virtues in cutting out complexity, such as making things easier to understand and speeding up decision taking. A timely call, too, as simplicity’s stock is rising. Across business models and brands, from cooking to cycling – simple is fashionable. But is it everything?
Under Ken Segall’s watch, Apple ran the famous Think Different campaign, which by all accounts provoked a fair few complaints about the slogan’s poor grammar. Yet by lopping off the adverbial tail of the second word, Segall & co not only made the line simpler, but also more characterful. Think Differently. Correct, yes, but less distinctive than Think Different.
So, let’s not only write clearly, let’s write differenter.
Wise words from the man in the 90-year-old lederhosen…
Johannes Gutmann has over the past two decades or so built from scratch a highly successful business based in his home region of Austria marketing organic produce to over 50 countries around the world. Along the way he has become known for sporting the same pair of 90-year-old lederhosen and scarlet shoes pretty much everywhere he does business.
It has been a highly distinctive and memorable bit of brand building. “You just need an idea of how you want to present what you have,” says Johannes. “For example, for someone who sees my lederhosen, they are worth nothing. But they have a high non-material value: they are a story. And that works just as well on the world stage as at a market in the Waldviertel.”
From Austria to Australia, from farming to pharmaceuticals, no matter where in the world you are or what business you’re in – for your brand, stories are priceless.
Touching the heart not the hard drive…
A while ago while wandering the secondhand book stores on and around Charing Cross Road, I picked up for a pound a copy of the Grand Old Doyen of management thinking Peter Drucker’s Technology, Management and Society. It’s a slim volume packed with clear, compelling Druckerisms that are as true today as they were when he penned them back in 1958. Take, for example, his four fundamentals of communication:
- Communciation is perception
- Communication is expectations
- Communication is involvement
- Communication and information are totally different
In exploring these fundamentals, he imparts pearls such as the importance of talking to people in their own terms (“one has to use a carpenter’s metaphors when talking to carpenters”), the pernicious nature of information overload (“it does not enrich, but impoverishes”), and the essential contrast between information and communication – “Information is purely formal and has no meaning. It is impersonal rather than interpersonal.” Communication by contrast is human, emotional, experiential. “Indeed, the most perfect communications may be purely shared experiences, without any logic whatever.” Communication touches the heart; information resides in a hard drive.
All of which put me in mind of the following poetic wisdom from e.e. cummings:
since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you
From low hanging fruit to pushing the envelope, as Rhymer Rigby points out in an article in the FT, there are some pretty tired metaphors out there in the world of business speak.
Yet we shouldn’t write off the form just because many of the examples are poor or past their sell-by date. Painting pictures with your words, through metaphor, simile and the like, can be a great way to make yourself clear in business – as clear as a country creek. And clarity – the characterful clarity of people using everyday words and the occasional brilliant metaphor – is the currency of commercial difference.
As business language trainer Jamie Jauncey puts it in the same article, “Business is ultimately about people and connecting and relationships. It should be using the real language of human exchange, not some Orwellian bizspeak. You can’t take people along with this kind of language. You don’t differentiate yourself and you miss opportunities.”