The power of clarity

The quote below is from an interview Ray Ozzie did with Steve Gilmour, (full text on techcrunchit).  It is a comment on Google Wave:

I just know from the Groove experience most recently, from the Notes experience before that, when you create something that people don’t know what it is, when they can’t describe it exactly, and you have to teach them, it’s hard.

This point is, I expect, pretty obvious to most of you.  I post it because of what it implies – if it’s hard to teach people then you have to spend extra effort doing it.  Moreover, getting people to pay attention in the first place is difficult and you will only have them listening for a short time, so your messaging had better be both crystal clear and compelling.  Ambiguity will put people off.

It is amazing how often this point seems to get forgotten.  Part of the reason I picked up on it is because I received a reminder this morning in a session with a portfolio company.  Sometimes ambiguity in the messaging is symptomatic of a lack of clarity in the product definition, which is probably a bigger problem to have.  Taking the time to get the messaging right therefore has two benefits – to win+retain customers and to force clarity into the product.

This point is of critical importance for those of us in the startup ecosystem, where more often than not we are creating companies and products that take people into areas where they have never been before.  To do that you need a crystal clear explanation of why people should care.

I said above that this point ‘seems to get forgotten’.  I chose those words carefully, because I think it is actually pretty rare that entrepreneurs ‘forget’ to try and have clear messaging – rather I think they work at it for a bit, and then go with the best they can come up with, even if it isn’t perfect, so they can focus on the 1m other priorities.  I get that, and wordsmith-ing taglines can be a frustrating process that feels like it is adding very little value (I’ve been there many times), plus it should be an iterative process taking in data from seeing the copy in action. 

However, it is imperative to go back to it and get the messaging right pretty early in a product’s life.  Otherwise that product life might be pretty short.

Spotify have done this well.  The picture below is from their home page.


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