Is Obfuscation your Messaging Strategy?

August 16, 2010

The Importance of Being Crystal Clear in Your Product Messaging

Consider the following 5-minute marketing experiment:

Select a couple of your favorite business software vendors, go to their websites and copy their product descriptions into this readability calculator. Then consider the results.

This lets you know, besides other readability measures, the Flesh Kincaid Grade level of the text, which is the “approximate representation of the U.S. grade level needed to comprehend the text.” How many of those product descriptions actually score 16 or less? Not than many, you will find.

Indeed, chances are that most product descriptions will have a grade level in the 20s, which really translate into Ph.D levels of education! Surely we don’t mean to put out product messaging that only a very select group of targets can understand.

Unfortunately, B2B Expansion stage software companies often unwittingly do this – for a variety of reasons. The Cranky Product Manager, in a recent article has pointed this “CryptoSpeak” phenomenon out and showed some examples with Microsoft SharePoint Server and Oracle Fusion Applications. Here’s what they found.

Common Causes of Poor Product Messaging

Over-reliance on Technical Terms

A reliance on technical terms to describe the product, such as “provides IT professionals and developers with the platform and tools they need for server administration, application extensibility, and interoperability”, is usually a symptom of an effort to sell “technical features” at the expense of messaging on business benefits.

Too Many Buzzwords

A preponderance of buzzwords such as “cloud-based,” “software as a service,” “social,” possibly caused by reading too many industry analysts or lack of confidence in your own competitive positioning. My colleague Igor Altman has pointed a specific case of this in his recent blog post on “the cloud”.

Trying to Talk to Everyone

The forced use of cryptically and tortuously worded, run-on sentences betrays a lack of focus on both product feature set and target market. Usually, companies that want to sell a “platform” or a suite of products tend to use vague terms to avoid being pigeonholed into a particular segment. While this can be a winning strategy for consumer application with vast customer base (think of “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life”), it will not apply to business software products that mostly need to be targeted towards a specific set of users and defined needs and personas.

Misunderstanding of SEO Principles

While most companies understand that investing in SEO is a good long-term marketing strategy, it can have negative impacts if not done correctly. A misguided effort at SEO can lead to an overdose of keywords in order to improve organic search engine ranking, at the expense of clarity.

Do have these in mind as you go about crafting or updating your next great product description. Having concise and accessible product messaging will help you go a long way in establishing your market clarity, create true competitive advantage and sharpen your market focus, in addition to making it much easier to sell your software.

Chief Business Officer at UserTesting

Tien Anh joined UserTesting in 2015 after extensive financial and strategic experiences at OpenView, where he was an investor and advisor to a global portfolio of fast-growing enterprise SaaS companies. Until 2021, he led the Finance, IT, and Business Intelligence team as CFO of UserTesting. He currently leads initiatives for long term growth investments as Chief Business Officer at UserTesting.