September 21, 2011

Kill the Happy Talk.

3 minute read, in Marketing

Last night I was reading the first issue of Lucky Peach, a quarterly publication from Momofuku’s chef and owner David Chang.

I came across a thought-provoking exchange between Celebrity Chef Anthony Bourdain, McSweeney’s Publisher Dave Eggers and Chef Wylie Dufresne. The subject was mediocrity in American restaurants. This exchange was about the proliferation of Italian food in the U.S.

Anthony: (defending Italian cooking) “It’s ingredient driven food….”

Wylie: “Ingredient driven food. What the fuck does that mean?”

Anthony: “Okay, it means taking three or four pretty good ingredients or very good ingredients or superb ingredients and doing as little as possible–”

Wylie: “It’s called cooking”….Get good ingredients and cook it. It’s called cooking. Are you crazy?”…Who’s like ‘I’ve got some shitty stuff, let’s cook it?’ Everybody wants good ingredients. Ingredient-driven doesn’t mean anything. That’s what good cooking is!”

I love this exchange because Wylie’s basic point is that cooking with good ingredients is the bar for entry when serving food in a restaurant. If the ingredients aren’t good you can’t call yourself a restaurant, so good ingredients aren’t worth talking about.

In his web usability book Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug calls this “happy talk” and you usually find it in the About Us blurb on any given site or perhaps in your organization’s mission statement. He aptly says ” if you listen very closely while you’re reading it, you can actually hear a tiny voice in the back of your head saying “Blah blah blah blah blah….”

He goes on to say:

Happy talk is like small talk – content free, basically just a way to be sociable. But most Web users don’t have time for small talk; they want to get right to the beef. You can – and should – eliminate as much happy talk as possible.

Instead of Happy Talk consider what makes you great. And instead of saying how great you are, demonstrate your greatness. It’s the classic show me don’t tell me.

When you talk about your organization’s offering are you trying to sell what should be the basic bar for entry? One good way to test this is to replace your offering with the good ingredients one Wylie uses in chatting with Bourdain. Here, let’s give the Wylie test a run-through.

  • If you run a theatre company, saying you make “great art” will not help distinguish you from other theatre companies. No one sets out to make “bad art.” Let’s put it through the Wylie test: “I’ve got some shitty play. Let’s put it on the stage!”
  • If you’re a travel agency, saying you offer ‘personalized service’ isn’t really noteworthy, is it.” Here, let’s try it on: “I don’t really like dealing with people. Let me book your trip for you!” Personalized service is what a travel agent can offer. If you can’t offer that you’re in the wrong business.
  • Ok, one more….(I’m having too much fun) If you sell your clothes on the basis of “quality” claims you’re missing the mark “I’ve got this shitty fabric. Let’s make some clothes.”

Remember my blog post about that great Scandinavian bath brush I bought? The video about that brush is set to music–not a single word is spoken (good thing ’cause I don’t speak Scandinavian).  The point is this: that video demonstrates what makes that damned bath brush so great. It’s  a hand crafted piece. That’s why I bought it, and that’s why I love it.

So please, go to the “About Us” section of your website and put yourself through the Wylie test. If you’re claiming something obvious, kill it. If you’re claiming something great, shut up and instead back it up with something (anything) other than platitudes.

Oh yeah, and while you’re at it stay away from “ingredient-driven” restaurants.

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