Friday, September 17, 2010

The secret of business success: good writing

From SocialBeat (via Media Bistro):

Among startups, there’s a tendency to emphasize product technology, rather than fuzzier skills and qualities that don’t “scale”. But chief executive Andrew Mason said today that the success of his popular social buying site Groupon had less to do with brilliant tech and more with good writing, and with unfashionable technology like email.

Yes. Absolutely. The only news is how surprised about this everyone seems to be.

Good business marketing requires good communication. Communication--unless the parties are in visual contact, and so to some extent using body language--depends on the spoken and written word. Words are the province of writers. Therefore, if you want to do well in your business, you should employ good writers. As with most things, you get what you pay. I applaud Groupon for making a smart investment.

I wish I could applaud Cunard.

Today I got my copy of the Cunarder magazine. It's a high-end marketing rag aimed at those who have already taken at least one voyage on a Cunard QUEEN and might reasonably be expected to do so again. (Kelley and I crossed the Atlantic in September 2000 on Queen Elizabeth 2.) It's a luscious layout: drool-worthy photos of food, urbane voyagers dripping with jewels, and no-expense-spared maritime decor. The whole thing is outrageously over the top: pure boat porn. I love it. Usually.

This time, sadly, I got less than halfway through then tossed it in the recycling bin. The writing was awful: tortured, pseudo public school (that is, private school) nonsense. It was so bad, so shocking, that I began to wonder, Can people who don't understand grammar do any better with navigation? Does the company treat customer safety as cavalierly as syntax?

It's entirely possible that Cunard just lost me as a customer. All because they weren't willing to pay for writing professionals. This is a company with rich brand equity and the kind of deep, thoroughly tried experience Groupon can only dream of. And they also have a huge capital investment to protect. This kind of short-term cost-cutting is idiotic, a jaw-dropping mistake.

As I say, in professional terms, you get what you pay for. I can only think that Cunard got caught out by the ferocity of the recession: two huge new ships to pay for and far fewer customers than they'd allowed for. Perhaps they're making panicky decisions, cutting corners, shaving their cost-centres, such as marketing, and so forcing marketing, in turn, to get cheap with their writers. I can only hope, for the customers' sakes, that the company is willing to pay well for crew.

Anyone else got any examples to offer of short-sighted corporate cost-cutting?

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