Taking the "mess" out of messaging (part 2)

truthinessIn Part 1, I provided a couple of examples of very poor messaging. The first was from an email that I received that contained lines like:

“Design a Monetization Strategy to Enhance Strategic Goals While Protecting Core Assets”.

The second was from Cisco’s corporate overview page where they described themselves in such information-free language that it could have been virtually any company.

I then asked the following open questions.

  1. How did we get into this mess?
  2. What can we do to try and get out of it?
  3. Is it even possible to get out of this mess?

There were some good reader comments related to these questions. Here’s question 1.

How did we get into this mess?

1. Laziness

Aaron had a response to this question.

Could it be that, as a company’s product lines and # of target markets increase and diverge, it simply gets too difficult to be more specific, so we fall back on generalities that appeal to almost everybody? Many, many, company web sites have this problem.

Who is the audience for the message, particularly on something like a website? It’s not “everybody”. To me, “falling back on the general” as Aaron states, is a form of laziness. Many companies don’t put effort into understanding who their target audience is, and specifically communicating to them, so they generalize.

The main people any technology company should be thinking about when writing for their website are prospects and customers.

Provide clear, straight forward language that is easy to understand and your prospects will actually give you credit for it. Why? Because you’ve made their life easier.

Prospects are looking for information about you and your products. The easier you make it for them, the more likely they’ll contact you or click on one of your calls to action. And believe me, a clearly messaged website will almost immediately differentiate you from most of your competitors.

The next group that you need to pay attention to is customers. You’ve already sold them something. In theory they are using and like your product or service. Help them when they come back to your site by making it easy for them to find what they need. Maybe they are looking for add-on products. Maybe they need something to help them sell your product internally in their company.  Regardless, they are your allies, so make their life easy as well.

For everybody else – analysts, investors. shareholders etc. – they can and will get the information they need through other means of communication.

2. Review Committees

Linda believes one source of the problem are review committees:

I’ve seen lots of companies fall into the committee editing trap. A good writer presents some tight, well-crafted copy, and then everybody swaps in their favorite buzzwords and sound bites. What you get is blather.

Unfortunately this is quite common. Everyone has an opinion on what should be said or what one word implies vs. another or not wanting to leave any “stakeholder” out of the wordsmithing process, and you get mumbo-jumbo. Everyone can write, but only a few people write really well. Unfortunately good writing is not something you can measure explicitly, and is subject to a lot of (poor) interpretation.

3. Truthiness

The issue of “truthiness” also comes to mind as a reason for messaging problems. This is not the Stephen Colbert truthiness — about knowing (or believing to know things in one’s gut) — but truthiness as messaging that has some truth in it, but also contains a lot of implied meaning that is left to the interpretation of the audience.

Often, “wiggle-words” are used so that the company can appear to make claims about the merits of their products, or can hide gaps and deficiencies they know exist.

The word “support” is a common wiggle-word. Many companies claim support for 3rd party products such as operating systems, databases etc. But for those of us who’ve worked on the product-side of the house know that the details matter.

Another wiggle-word is “enables”. What does “enables” actually mean? Two sticks (used properly) enable someone to create fire, but it’s not a great way of doing so.

There are lots of example of ambiguous or meaningless language (e.g. create customer value) that can be placed under the banner of truthiness.  But truth be told (pun intended), companies are doing themselves and their customers a disservice by not speaking clearly and concisely.

BTW, I’ll cover questions 2 and 3 (listed at the top of this article) in future posts.


Also in this series:

Support the Cranky PM at BoS 2009

While there are many places I’d love to be in mid-November, there’s definitely one place I really want to be (but can’t)  on Tuesday November 10, 2009.

And before I say anything else, let me tell you this is not a paid promo piece from the PR firm that promotes the Cranky PM. 🙂

Where would I like to be on Nov. 10? I’d like to be in San Francisco where the Cranky PM will appear live (from 2:30-3:00)  and speak at the Business of Software conference.  Last year, Steve Johnson was the big hit at the conference. This year, let’s help the Cranky PM!

As readers of our respective blogs may have noticed, We’ve had an ongoing, healthy online conversation(!) over the last couple of years. Here are a few from this blog:

And here are a couple from hers:

Now, I’m sure there will be people who go to the CrankyPM’s session simply for voyeuristic reasons. What does she look like? Is she a she at all? Do her legs look like those in the picture? Is she as funny in person as she is on her blog? etc. etc.

I think people should go there to support her. I’m pretty sure that being a popular anonymous blogger has it’s benefits. But being a frequent speaker at conferences is NOT one of them.

So here’s a tip of the hat to the Cranky PM, and whether she decides to reveal her identity or not, try to support her by attending her talk.

And for those of us who can’t be there, please live blog or tweet it if at all possible! 🙂


Variety in Product Management Blogs

We’ve compiled a pretty extensive list of Product Management related blogs. There are almost 60 of them so far.

It’s interesting to see some of the patterns in the blogs and how they’ve positioned or differentiated themselves from each other. Here are some of the 50+ blogs in our PM blog roll, and some comments/advice for some of them.

Named Blogs

A bunch of bloggers named their blogs after themselves: Let’s see now… Carl has a blog. So does Roger. As does Grant and Joao, Rob, Tim and Tyner…. er, I mean Scott. 🙂

OK, am I alone, or did a lot of you at first think Tyner Blain was a person? BTW, did I miss anyone?

Hmmm..there must be some female PM/PMM bloggers out there with blogs named after themselves. Or are most egomaniacs men? 🙂

<Adjective> Blogs

First there was Good PM, and the Cranky PM. Then came the Purist PM. Now, there’s the Brutally Honest PM.

  • Good – Jeff, good to have you blogging again. When’s the next post?
  • Cranky – more frequent posts please or is the crankiness subsiding?
  • Purist – good blog, but why are there no date stamps on your blog posts? Is that a Blogger “feature”?
  • BHPM – I’ll be brutally honest. You’ve only had 1 real post. It was on October 4, and it’s about cloud computing. Let’s see some more frequent honest brutality.

Product Management <stuff>

There are  a number of blogs with some what similar titles. And in another striking similarity, they are all quite good! I have a soft spot for Product Management Zen because it’s tagline contains the word balance, which is one of the words I use to define Product Management.

We’re Strategic

Strategy is a big part of Product Management, so of course we have the following:

We podcast

I really enjoy the podcasts on both of these blogs. And, full-disclosure, I’ve been in podcasts on both blogs.

  • The Heretech – my podcast with Tom Grant where we have a long discussion on important topics related to Product Management, yet never utter the word “agile”.
  • Product Management Pulse – my podcast with Michael Ray Hopkin, where Michael and I discuss what makes a great Product Manager.

Blogs from Around the World

I’m happy to see PM and related blogs from many different countries. I’m sure there are many more out there, so if you know of some, or write one(!), go to the Blog Roll page and let us know about it in the comments. We’ll add it to the list.

BTW, in this case, “around the world” means NOT in the United States! 🙂 At the end, I will give a bit of a shout out though to my Canadian blogging pals. There’s a bunch of us up here and we need to stick together. Otherwise, in alphabetical order by nation:

And the Canadian Contingent:

Take look at the Blog Roll and let us know if there are other blogs we should add.


6 Engineers, a CEO and a PM

In light of the recent posts on Bill Campbell (1, 2) and some of the comments debating when to hire a PM, I was pleased to read the following in Entrepreneur magazine, about the early days of a company called RingRevenue and why VC’s decided to invest in them.

“Part of our secret sauce is that we know how to cost-effectively acquire and manage large groups of phone numbers,” Spievak says. “We build platforms that allow affiliate networks to bring on higher-margin products like financial services, and track the calls that result from those ads. It’s a win for advertisers, affiliates and affiliate networks.”

The company was also running lean, which is always appealing to investors. “Here’s what I liked,” Suster says. “They were six engineers and a product manager and a CEO, and nothing else.”

The last line speaks volumes: a CEO *and* a Product Manager. Who knows what will happen in the future, but at least, they’ve started out the right way!


Product Management Parody Playlist

Tom Grant has a post a couple of weeks back with a Product Management/Marketing playlist. As Tom wrote:

If you were to make a musical version of what it’s like to be a tech PM, here’s what you’d put into the soundtrack.

I like the idea, but as a PM, I couldn’t simply create a “me-too” list. 🙂

So here’s my variation: The PM parody playlist. i.e. PM/PMM oriented parodies of famous songs.

  • Bugs in my Product – The Monks
  • We built this Product – Starship
  • I left my code in San Francisco – Tony Bennett
  • Sympathy for the Tester – Rolling Stones
  • Gimme Data – Rolling Stones
  • Software Product Management Blues – Bob Dylan
  • Shock the Market – Peter Gabriel
  • I still haven’t got what I’m asking for – U2
  • Roll Over Product Owner – Chuck Berry
  • Take me to the website – Al Green
  • Market Love – David Bowie

I’m sure there’s many others. Any that you’d like to add?