Mardi Gras marketing

The Cranky Product Manager is looking for the worst company and product descriptions. Oh, what a rich bounty that will produce. Here's one of her examples:

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 is an integrated suite of server capabilities that can help improve organizational effectiveness by providing comprehensive content management and enterprise search, accelerating shared business processes, and facilitating information-sharing across boundaries for better business insight. Additionally, this collaboration and content management server provides IT professionals and developers with the platform and tools they need for server administration, application extensibility, and interoperability.

The most obvious problem with this summary is that it's too long to really be a summary. Try giving that elevator pitch in one breath without keeling over from hypoxia.

Where should the editorial chainsaw begin to cut? Certainly, this message should be cut in twain. If people trying to collaborate with each other receive the biggest benefits, then leave out the administrative stuff. If developers and administrators are going to be the happiest with the product, then amputate the end user stuff. You can always get to the additional benefits later.

Even if you cut down the number of sentences, the words in the sentences need improvement, too. If you were to recite this paragraph, as is, to a random stranger, they might think you were a dangerous maniac, rapidly rattling off a string of words whose meaning isn't exactly clear. If you reduce the number of words, congratulations, you've graduated from dangerous maniac to harmless crackpot. (Hmmm, yes, enterprise content management, and sharing across boundaries...Sounds very nice. I'd love to find out what you're talking about, but I think I hear my phone ringing.)

If you've worked in the technology industry, you know exactly how a group of very smart people devise this sort of rococo verbiage. You want to showcase everything that the customer might be able to do with the product, so you cram as many different facets of the product into a paragraph as you can. If the customer likes organizational effectiveness, they're going to love application extensibility!

A good term for this phenomenon is Mardi Gras marketing, which bedecks your message with as many shiny verbal gewgaws as humanly possible. Of course, the whole point of a Mardi Gras costume is that you're dressing in a tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top fashion that would never work the other 364 days of the year. This is not the sartorial choice you want to make for your next job interview.

If your message starts with what the product can do, there's no logical stopping point in describing it, other than the end of the feature list. Instead, the first thing you should say is something vivid and compelling about the problem the technology addresses, which is the value part of the value proposition. You can get to the features later.

[Cross-posted at The Heretech.]

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