It’s there. At the bottom of your press releases, on the “Who we are” section of your website, at the end of your whitepapers. It’s the “boilerplate” description of your company. And it’s terrible.
You’ve got 50 to 60 words to tell the world who you are, but if you’re like most companies, what you’re telling them is “we’re boring and technical and we do everything by committee.”
Let’s make that description better. Here are ten fixes you can make so your boilerplate sounds like you’re a real human, talking to other humans about the work you do.
(Note: All the “poor” descriptions in this post come from actual company web pages and press releases.)
1 Talk about customers.
Who you help should be at the top. Tell us first what you do and for whom, not who you are. A customer reading your description should immediately be able to recognize if you can help them. Do you help small businesses, CMOs, office managers, or heads of security?
Poor: “TC3 is a leading provider of cost containment solutions, including payment integrity and out-of-network claims cost management.”
Better: “TC3 helps health insurers detect fraud and abuse.”
2 Use “we.”
Stop repeating your name over and over again. We heard you the first time. Use “we” to humanize your company and its employees.
Poor: Inovalon is a leading technology company providing cloud-based platforms empowering data-driven healthcare. Through the Inovalon ONE® Platform, Inovalon brings to the marketplace a national-scale capability to interconnect with the healthcare ecosystem, aggregate and analyze data in real-time, . . .
Better: Inovalon analyzes health data for hospitals and health care providers. We apply our insights to help improve outcomes and efficiency.
3 Change nouns to active verbs.
Complicated nouns make descriptions sound like a laundry list. Verbs conjure an image of people working to help customers. Don’t tell us how you provide efficiency optimization, tell us how you improve efficiency. Don’t tell us about your data analysis offering, tell us how you surface insights from data. The more active the verbs, the better.
Poor: SAI Industrial LLC is an international business consulting firm that provides insight and decision support to clients throughout the entire value chain in select industries.
Better: We help agriculture, energy, and transportation companies make better decisions.
4 Kick the superlatives habit
Yes, we know you’re a wonderful, leading, award-winning, amazing company. But you just sound like everyone else. (How many “leading” companies are there?) The louder you shout about how great you are, the less we believe you. Rule of thumb: no more than one word in 20 should be a superlative or puffed up adjective.
Poor: Over the years, Bristol-Myers Squibb and its employees have received numerous distinguished awards and recognitions . . . Year after year, we’ve been hailed as being one of the best companies for working mothers, a great place to work for scientists and an acknowledged industry leader in environment, health and safety.
Better: We focus on creating an inclusive workplace with an entrepreneurial mindset.
5 Make sentences shorter.
In descriptions like these, sentence grow longer and longer as people add descriptive phrases to them. Shorter sentences are easier to parse. If you have to take a breath while reading the sentence out loud, it’s too long.
Poor: Oracle’s application suites, platforms, and infrastructure leverage both the latest technologies and emerging ones—including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, blockchain, and Internet of Things (IoT)— in ways that create business differentiation and advantage for customers.
Better: We deliver suites of applications, platforms, and infrastructure services. We help businesses stand out with new technologies like AI, machine learning, and blockchain.
6 Jettison jargon.
If your customer (or your employee) can’t understand you, they won’t keep reading. Saying what you mean in simpler language will help you make human connections.
Poor: System-level competition is a new model for strategy in a globally-linked, information-oriented society. This is a methodology for strategic innovation that blends system design and management, ecosystem-centered business strategy, and applications from complex adaptive systems research.
Better: We focus on how companies compete in the context of industry-wide systems.
7 Shrink or replace long lists.
We know you do a lot of things. The departments in charge of those products or services insist on being included in the description. But the result is an impenetrable list that no one will read. Focus on your top products or generalize to the way you help customers. An added bonus: you won’t have to update the description when you sell businesses or create new products.
Poor: Our dedication to innovation has positioned us as a driving market force in several key technology areas, including highly power-efficient mobile technologies and advanced multimedia solutions across a broad range of products such as smartphones, tablets, digital televisions, OTT boxes, wearables and automotive solutions.
Better: We create power efficient systems for mobile, television, and automotive devices.
8 Use “you.”
Talk directly to your customers. Yes, I understand that employees, job candidates, suppliers, and journalists will be reading this description too. But if you talk to customers using “you,” the others will understand — and your customers will relate better to what you’re saying. (Your PR folks will probably insist that you don’t do this in press releases, but that’s no reason you can’t do it everywhere else.)
Poor: Gartner, Inc. is the world’s leading research and advisory company and a member of the S&P 500. We equip business leaders with indispensable insights, advice and tools to achieve their mission-critical priorities and build the successful organizations of tomorrow. Our unmatched combination of expert-led, practitioner-sourced and data-driven research steers clients toward the right decisions on the issues that matter most.
Better: Gartner, the world’s largest IT research and advisory company, serves business leaders who make technology decisions. Our research, insights, and tools help you make smarter decisions
9 Write for humans, not for SEO.
Your web folks are telling you that certain words must be in the boilerplate, so you’ll rank on searches.
Pick the top four or five terms and include them — and dump the rest. If a prospect finds your page through searching and then can’t figure out what you do, then your search people will be happy but your salespeople will be sad. Don’t let SEO experts make you sound like a machine.
10 Shrink the approval committee.
The more people who need to approve the boilerplate, the worse it’s going to be. A big committee means everybody angling to get their key phrases included, resulting in text that sounds . . . well, like it was written by a committee.
Ideally, you’ll need a copywriter working with the CMO. The CEO may collaborate on creation or review the result before it’s final. If this small group agrees, everyone else will go along.
You can do this
Politically, this battle may be hard to fight. But once you decide to revise the way you tell people who you are, don’t back down. Make it short, punchy, and active. Leave out the stuff that’s not central to what you do. Your customers and employees will appreciate it — and you’ll sound a lot more human. That’s how to stand out from the competition.