Communications Simplification: Why Is It So Hard to Explain Simple Concepts with Simple Terms?

How come so many words are used to explain basic messages with written communication in the business-to-consumer (B2C) context? Consider this, for example:

Your home equity loan application was accepted. But in order to cover our butts, we want you to read the next three pages to get totally confused, and, more important, to get nervous about making any commitment to your contractor about remodeling your kitchen.

Or this:

Your credit card was used today…in Mexico. If you think your credit card may have been stolen, give us a call. In the event the criminal runs up excessive charges into the thousands of dollars, read the next four paragraphs, because a lot of weird things happen in credit card disputes (bla, bla, bla)….

To be fair, the credit card companies I use have been terrific in covering unauthorized charges, but their communications on this issue are still poor.

So why is this, anyway? Certainly there are compliance and liability concerns. Organizations have to protect themselves, and consumer rights generally prevail, so every possible contingency needs to be covered. But when do the marketers get to put their foot down and say, “Enough is enough”?

It’s funny, because when they’re soliciting prospects (i.e. non-customers), marketers can use flowery language, boast, etc. But with actual customers, they have to be very careful. Everything sent to a customer – every email, document, etc. – requires legal or compliance review. Not so with marketing solicitations, for the most part (e.g. there are a number of industries where legal or compliance review is required for marketing solicitations such as investments and securities and FINRA compliance).

How do we simplify without compromising our obligations? There are some that get it. One firm we’ve worked with is the Haykel Group. Charlene Haykel, who runs the outfit, has done work over the years for some of the most predominant brands in the U.S. Her approach: Less is more. How simple (get it?). And put the rest of the gobbledy-gook in the next page stating clearly that the disclaimer stuff is on the next page. But the page you actually read is clear and concise.

I love it. Why can’t every B2C firm do it this way?

Rich Medina
James Watson
I’m President and co-founder of Doculabs, serving as executive sponsor on consulting engagements for financial services clients.