This article is about avoiding corporate bullshit. It is written by Richard Howes, vice president marketing and communications at FAD Equipment Store.
There are a bunch of fun corporate B.S. generators available online. I had a play with one before writing this article:
- ‘Assertively extend cloud-ready action items’
- ‘Continually right-shore multimedia based scrums’
- ‘Conveniently drive high standards in processes’
Excuse me while I hurl.
The trouble is this nonsense is getting spoken in boardrooms around the U.S. even as you read this. Worse, it’s being put into taglines, advertisements, and press releases. I read an announcement recently that said something along the lines of, ‘…with a superior track record of customer satisfaction’.
One of the many fun things about my assignment with this equipment store is that we keep stuff simple. Our boss, David Ayling—he’s former owner of load cell manufacturer Straightpoint, pre-Crosby acquisition—insists on it. And it makes sense. We sell product directly to end users that need to understand what it does before they buy it. Duh!
We’ve all been in those meetings—I have worked at large media companies, myself—where someone in a senior role says something that sounds great but doesn’t really make sense. I was told to, ‘Unleash real-time SaaS’ once. I was new to the job and, honestly, I lacked the conviction to call it out for B.S. I wish I had. Instead, I took the easy option and nodded along, as if to say, ‘That’s a good idea—I wish I’d thought of it, myself’.
People take it to another level, though. It’s one thing to swallow, ‘Synergize bricks-and-clicks infrastructures,’ but a step further to then use it yourself in a subsequent meeting. It should be a double dare to approach someone who said it and say, ‘Your bricks-and-clicks infrastructures comment really got my blood pumping in that meeting’. But these conversations really take place. They snowball. Before long, agendas are being drawn up to discuss things that nobody in the company understands, let alone the poor target audience.
David Ayling called it, ‘word spaghetti’ the other day. I get it.
‘Let's take this offline,’ I replied.
No, of course I didn’t!
Become an expert in avoiding corporate bullshit.
To market, to market
As a marketeer, I’ve had a gut-full of spiel. But I do sympathize with fellow marketing professionals because there’s more pressure on them these days to generate buzz phrases and slogans. I remember when a marketing team might have a month to think about the text for a new product advertisement that was being placed in a trade journal. Now, they need to think about multiple posts for Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Reddit, Pinterest—and that’s before lunchtime. Then there’s the banner for the email signature. Then the live interview with the research and development gal. It really is no wonder that we’ve got widgets that sound capable of inspiring world peace.
Reassuringly, I was told when I was growing up, ‘It’s the quiet ones you’ve gotta watch’. And there’s a lot to be said for the person that waits until they’ve got something useful and concise to say before interrupting a conference call or meeting. Productivity is greatly diluted if everyone around a table takes it in turns to say something because they feel that they must. We’d get farther, faster, if we only interrupted when we didn’t understand something.
I like author and speaker Simon Sinek’s take on this. Despite his stature (and millions) he’s never afraid to be the stupidest in the room. One of his anecdotes is easy to find online; it’s about a time where he was contracted by a company and invited to sit in a meeting. A person handed out paperwork and started to explain it to the group. Everyone was nodding along until Simon, himself, said, ‘Sorry, but I don’t understand this’. Only then did the other attendees, one by one, start admitting that they didn’t understand it either. If Simon hadn’t put his hand up, they would have all sat there. They’d probably still be inviting the same person back to speak even to this day.
Don't be afraid to call it out as B.S.
The Emperor's New Clothes
How many people at your company are walking around in The Emperor's New Clothes? You know the story:
A couple of swindlers pose as weavers and offer to supply the emperor with clothes that are invisible to those that are dumb. When the emperor and officials check on progress, they see empty looms but pretend otherwise to avoid being thought a fool. Even when paraded in public, the townsfolk uncomfortably go along with it until a child points out that the emperor is wearing nothing at all. People then realize that everyone has been tricked.
It’s the same with corporate B.S.—you’ve gotta be the person who calls it out.
Tell it like it is
I’m lucky enough to work with several entrepreneurs, many of them provide product for sale on this equipment store. They tend not to talk in riddles. They tell it like it is. I understand them. There are many famous ones too:
- ‘My goal wasn't to make a ton of money. It was to build good computers’ — Steve Wozniak
- ‘We made the buttons on the screen look so good you'll want to lick them’ — Steve Jobs
- ‘Great companies are built on great products’ — Elon Musk
- ‘My goal was never to make Facebook cool. I am not a cool person’ — Mark Zuckerberg
I don’t know what Wozniak, Jobs, Musk, and Zuckerberg all did in their formative years, but I know that many entrepreneurs I’ve met have been driven to do their own thing because they became disillusioned by corporate B.S. David Ayling, for example, is obsessed with simplicity, which is why, as I wrote earlier, his equipment store communicates in the way that it does.
Do you talk rubbish or explain things clearly?
I have built a (modest) career on answering, as efficiently as possible:
I can probably answer all of them at once in less than 30 words for most material handling products I’ve been asked to promote. Oh, way to go, Rich, you say. No, it isn’t about me, but my point is that clear answers to these questions are important to people.
What does, ‘Being delighted to announce the launch of a game-changing…’ tell the prospective buyer? Ten words, wasted. Up in smoke.
Add in, ‘…brought to thrilled customers by the manufacturer with a superior track record of customer satisfaction…’ and another 15 have gone.
By now, the reader has disappeared before they even found out what they were reading about.
Take our store’s Crosby Speedbinder, for example. It’s a tie-down tool, operated using a cordless drill. Boom! I’ll take one.
Our Crosby Speedbinder does what it says on the tin.
Our mantra: TAYA
There are countless other examples of products that we sell because we do a better job than anybody else of explaining what they do.
David Ayling recently wrote about the book, ‘They Ask, You Answer’ (TAYA, we call it), by Marcus Sheridan. It is a current text about taking a revolutionary approach to inbound sales, content marketing, and today’s digital consumer. It acknowledges that customers now turn to the internet for everything. 'If I had a question, I went to Google and asked,' Sheridan writes. The power, therefore, must be in having the answers.
We deal, quite literally, in brevity and simplicity.
The principle can be applied to any industry. What’s in your bio if you own multiple retail outlets in every state of America with an online business that’s giving Amazon a run for its money? What would you tell people at parties you did? Here’s a good one: shopkeeper
Here at FAD Equipment Store, we’re continually harnessing 24/7 sources.
I mean, we’re open.