Windows 8: how not to sell it to me

The autumn 2012 issue of British Telecom’s TechKnow plopped through my letter box yesterday.

The allusion in the publication’s title to what Wikipedia tells me is “repetitive instrumental music produced for use in a continuous DJ set” had me cringing rather than keyed up.

But ignoring my suspicions that TechKnow was the brainchild of some David Brent type* trying to be down with da kidz, I was lured in.

Who, after all, could ignore the attractions of a publication billing itself as “your indispensible guide to the latest technology for your business”?

Anyway, my indispensible guide to the latest technology for my business contains a five-page feature on Microsoft’s new thingy, Windows 8. Here’s a typical extract:

Great new features and enhancements mean that road warriors can take their Windows 8 computers with them, confident that the built-in WiFi and mobile broadband solutions can help them stay connected whether they’re on-site with a customer, waiting for a flight or working from a branch office.

Built-in mobile broadband features in Windows 8 add support for 3G and 4G telecommunication, enabling business users on the go to connect to the Internet immediately. Windows 8 mobile broadband support can help businesses keep data usage costs low with built-in mobile broadband metering. As mobile users move between locations, Windows 8 automatically uses Wi-Fi hotspots, if they’re available.

So correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t my indispensible guide to the latest technology for my business just made me wade through two paragraphs and 106 words to tell me something that could be summed up in one sentence:

As with pretty much any computer nowadays, you can use wi-fi with Windows 8.

It’s so out of touch and repetitive I wonder if it’s been written by a robot specialising in search engine optimisation.

But worse, such blurbage does not instil confidence in the article’s assertion that: “Microsoft’s latest operating system gives us a glimpse into the future of technology in the workplace”.

Rather, it makes me think of Louis Armstrong’s response to the question “what is jazz?” (“If you have to ask you’ll never know”).

Microsoft, if you really think this stuff needs to be not merely said but laboured upon at length, it’s telling me you’ll never really get what the future of technology is.

At least amid the barrage of corporatese (it’s full of “solutions”, “enhancements”, “enablings”…), we get that hilariously inflated term for travelling salesmen: “road warriors”.

For surely some pleasure is to be found in the unintended bathos of a sentence that begins with the machismo of “road warriors” and ends with the mundanity of “working from a branch office”.

The article continues.

Windows To Go is a cost-effective solution for alternative workplace scenarios. In Windows 8 Enterprise, IT administrators can provide employees with a corporate Windows image on a compatible USB storage device that includes line-of-business apps, settings, and corporate data. Off-site users can have a consistent Windows 8 experience on any Windows 7 or Windows 8 logo-certified corporate or personal PC. With Windows To Go, employees get a rich consistent, and personalized Windows 8 experience that’s as secure as a fully managed PC. When they shut down, they can remove the USB device and no data is left on the host PC.

Perhaps this text isn’t aimed at me. Perhaps it’s aimed at some IT administrator who understands the importance of corporate Windows images, line-of-business apps and logo-certified PCs.

But given TechKnow plopped, unsolicited, through my letter box asserting its claim to be my indispensible guide to the latest technology for my business, you’d think they’d have the manners to bear me in mind when writing this guff.

All I get from the above is “something on a USB stick helps you have a rich, consistent Windows 8 experience”. Whatever one of those is.

In fact, I was stumped at “alternative workplace scenarios”. Are these improv classes for Goths? HR services for homeopaths? Jobs for 1980s comedians down on their luck?

Intrigued, I Googled “alternative workplace scenarios” and found no use of this strange little phrase that didn’t refer to Windows.

So clearly some bright sparks at Microsoft are so pleased with themselves for coining “alternative workplace scenarios”, they’re on a mission to seed the world with it. So far, the world doesn’t seem too impressed.

Here are some lessons to take away from TechKnow.

1. Keep your writing brief
Banging on and on and on about a feature your customer takes as a given undermines their confidence in you. All in all, the above 208 words of corporate blah (which represent a fraction of the original article, by the way) do little to dispel the average punter’s sense that Microsoft is to Apple what Cliff Richard was to Elvis. Minus the intriguing personal life and endless supply of Portuguese wine.

2. Write for one reader (and know who that is)
Did I mention the article included a side bar on “the new language of touch”, which details how to “move things on your screen comfortably” in a touch-enabled PC? The sort of thing even my dad (who once asked “what’s an internet?”) can get his head around these days. All very well but a little out of step with the rest of the text, which seems to be aimed at tech heads. Somewhere between the two, I, the business owner this guide claims to be aimed at, am a particularly ill-served reader.

3. Run your writing by an outsider
Stuff that makes sense to you and your team might be impenetrable gobbledygook to those of us who don’t talk like you. Best find out before you publish, eh?

*“Michael Scott type” for American readers.

9 comments so far . . . come and pitch in!

  1. Cila says:

    Touching on your musical analogy, let’s remember that, following a period of unadulterated genius, Elvis lost himself amidst the hype and his sadly brief life trailed out as a cautionary tale about style over substance. Sir Cliff has, albeit unfashionably, carried on performing the necessary functions of a popular musician for several decades.

  2. Paul Eveleigh says:

    Most people are in the wrong jobs. And your post proves it, Clare. Whoever wrote this tosh for Microsoft needs to find another job (anything but copywriting). Worse, whoever signed-off the copy also needs to find another line of work.

    Neither the writer nor their boss knew your three simple rules of copywriting. One, keep it brief. Two, know your audience. Three, run your copy by an outsider.

    Job surveys in Australia show at least 70 per cent of people are in the wrong jobs. I doubt England, America (or anywhere else) would differ.

  3. Clare Lynch says:

    Cila – with Apple’s share price down around 20% perhaps they’re in the “kicking around Graceland eating peanut butter and bacon sarnies” stage of the business cycle?

    Paul – I see the head of Windows left his job today, giving no reason for the departure ( I hope it wasn’t the shame of having his terrible copy exposed on this blog!

  4. Nigel Bamford says:

    It’s part of the Microsoft culture. At the end of that BBC item Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, is quoted as saying:

    “To continue this success it is imperative that we continue to drive alignment across all Microsoft teams, and have more integrated and rapid development cycles for our offerings.”


  5. Clare Lynch says:

    Nigel – how did I miss that? Brilliant.

  6. Paul Eveleigh says:

    Clare, the former head of Windows would do well to read (and absorb) your copy advice. Ditto those who churn out marketing copy. If they did, they may still have their job.

    And if CEO Steve Balmer persists with the piffle quoted above, he too may soon join his departed Window workmate/s.

  7. Liat says:

    Omg barf. These people should read your blog!!

  8. “106 words to tell me something that could be summed up in one sentence:

    As with pretty much any computer nowadays, you can use wi-fi with Windows 8.”

    Except, its not. Its talking about wifi AND built-in 3G/4G mobile data.

  9. Clare Lynch says:

    Ah, ok. 106 words for me to completely miss the message.

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