Corporate Speak: Lose It

Using plain language in presentations, ad copy and other business setting is important. Customers want to know they are dealing with companies that are honest. Using corporate speak is associated with dishonesty and avoiding responsibility. Using plain language shows that you are being honest and open.

The entire Apple iPhone 4 debacle was a lot of fun to watch and it was also a valuable lesson in how to handle controversy. Steve Job pulled off a remarkable press conference, first announcing the free iPhone case offer for customers that wanted them and then he pulled off the impossible. Here’s the announcement:

In the course of the press conference, Gates boldly changed the course of the entire debate. The iPhone 4 was not perfect; however, according to Gates, no smartphone is. He want on to explain that they all have similar issues with antenna and reception. The science behind antenna design is far from perfect. Later on, videos of iPhone competitors popped up on YouTube demonstrating similar flaws in other phones.

Apple was not perfect. They made a bunch of mistakes in how they handled this issue. As a result, they took a beating in the press and probably slowed confidence for a short time (they will gain it back though).

Jobs used common language. Here is how Apple resesitated itself. Jobs took the stage and spoke very clearly about the problem and then just as clearly, he shifted the focus away from apple. He won the debate by using simple language and terms that we all understood.

Other companies and PR teams still have not learned this lesson. Now compare Jobs’ response to those of several companies that tried to come up with their own response once the tables had turned on them:

Nokia

“Antenna design is a complex subject and has been a core competence at Nokia for decades, across hundreds of phone models. Nokia was the pioneer in internal antennas; the Nokia 8810, launched in 1998, was the first commercial phone with this feature.

Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying human behavior, including how people hold their phones for calls, music playing, web browsing and so on. As you would expect from a company focused on connecting people, we prioritize antenna performance over physical design if they are ever in conflict.

In general, antenna performance of a mobile device/phone may be affected with a tight grip, depending on how the device is held. That’s why Nokia designs our phones to ensure acceptable performance in all real life cases, for example when the phone is held in either hand. Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying how people hold their phones and allows for this in designs, for example by having antennas both at the top and bottom of the phone and by careful selection of materials and their use in the mechanical design.”

RIM

Apple’s attempt to draw RIM into Apple’s self-made debacle is unacceptable. Apple’s claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public’s understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple’s difficult situation. RIM is a global leader in antenna design and has been successfully designing industry-leading wireless data products with efficient and effective radio performance for over 20 years. During that time, RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage. One thing is for certain, RIM’s customers don’t need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity. Apple clearly made certain design decisions and it should take responsibility for these decisions rather than trying to draw RIM and others into a situation that relates specifically to Apple.

– Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie

In both cases, it sounds like lawyers wrote the responses. Instead of dealing with the real issue straight up and admitting in a straight forward manner that all smartphones have antenna problems, both companies seem to still want to avoid the real issue.

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