As part of my job, the occasional press release crosses my desk for conversion to XML and release on the corporate web site. Today's release had a heading which contained the phrase "(company) helps (customer) reverse shrinking profit margins", while the subhead said "(product) helps increase profit margins". Sorry for being obtuse with the references, but I would prefer to keep specifics out of this blog. In essence, the subhead was not much of an elaboration on the main header, but was in fact just a restatement.

The main header (H1)'s phrasing gives us a lead-in with negative connotations. I'm not sure why we would want to lead with a negatively-biased statement like that, even if we restate it immediately afterward in a positive sense.

Marketing 101 taught us that things should always be phrased positively, but this seems to go beyond breaching that concept. The writing here winds up being awkward and inefficient, thus obscuring the meaning we were trying to convey.

Issues like this should be enforced either with a good editorial process, or through some kind of linguistically-intelligent automated process. While natural language processing has a ways to go before coming into the hands of average business users, Deloitte Consulting has made a great first step with their Bullfighter tool.

Bullfighter is an add-in for MS Word and Powerpoint which generates a composite "bull index" based on the writer's reliance on so-called bull words, combined with an analysis of sentence length and complexity. Bull words are something we are all familiar with: enterprise, leverage, solution, value-added, and many more. They are made-up terms that can obscure meaning and, yes, even mess up search engine optimization. Wonder how that works? Ask yourself when was the last time you Googled for a "digital entertainment solution" as opposed to "mp3 software".

My employer's corporate site is in the midst of a minor cleanup of these terms. "Solution" will be downplayed in favor of "software", according to my plan, but of course there are always compromises to be made. Bull terms are an addiction. People feel intelligent when they use them. As a result, I am approaching the problem from as many angles as possible - changing the culture of the writers producing the content. Of course, a written style guide, along with a loud enough bark and a tough bite to back it up, are necessary to keep everything accessible and easy to understand. Bullfighter is another important tool in my arsenal, because now that the button appears on everyone's Word toolbar they feel compelled to use it and compare scores. Nothing like a little self-competition to improve results.

Bullfighter wouldn't have prevented the head/subhead conflict I mention above, but as these tools gain acceptance it's only a matter of time before such capability comes along.

Now if only Typepad would incorporate Bullfighter for my blogging use .... ;-)

Posted on September 10, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack