I’m conscious that I ended last week’s post on a negative generalisation, making the point that in the world of business, bad writing so often puts paid to good ideas.
But precisely because so much of it is so poor, it’s all too easy to dismiss the genre completely; when in fact there are plenty of individuals in the world of business who write extremely well, and a small but growing number of organisations that really understand the value of language.
Seeking to redress the balance, I went Christmas shopping today with my eyes peeled for good examples. Since my first port of call happened to be John Lewis, I didn’t have to wait very long. The famous slogan ‘Never knowingly undersold’, and the accompanying pledge to refund the difference if you find the same item cheaper elsewhere, have stood the store in good stead for nearly 85 years.
‘At John Lewis we don’t just define value by price,’ they say. ‘Though our prices are some of the most competitive on the high street, we also offer incredible value in the quality of our products, as well as our expert, highly professional service.’
The thing is, it’s all true. And we believe it partly because the experience of shopping in the store confirms it; partly because it chimes with everything we know about the business ethos of the John Lewis Partnership (whose 67,000 ‘partners’ received a bonus for 2007/8 worth 20% of their gross salaries).
John Lewis’s signage and leaflets are brilliantly written because the language they use is simple, direct and, above all, honest. It’s an organisation whose voice is in harmony with its head and its heart. That makes for compelling communication.