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10 ways to make your corporate description (boilerplate) less dreadful

Graphic: Avaya

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.

Push back.

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.

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  1. My preference for a known organization like Sony for example is to go without boilerplate. Simply not necessary in such cases.

  2. As evidenced by all the garbage writing you see, it is a hard battle. So true how every company is “a global leader” or “leading provider.” Just turning the focus back to the audience can make such a big improvement. If you went on a date and described yourself this way, would that be a great way to start off a relationship?
    Of course one of the objections is “everyone else says they are a leader so if we don’t, that will hurt us.” Folks, if everyone lists themselves as a leader it loses its meaning and adds no value to the reader. Also, isn’t marketing about differentiation? Why do you want to sound like everyone else? A distinctive voice is one way to stand out from the crowd. If you’re really a leader, you’ll prove that over time.
    Sound different.

    1. Your ‘date’ description is so apt – it reminds me of a writing workshop I did where the trainer encouraged us to use ‘grandma’ language, i.e. be familiar but still respectful.

      Well-meaning friends often send me grammar memes thinking I will love them, but there are lots of reasons why people use poor grammar and it’s easy to fix. The examples of managerial sludge Josh has highlighted are a much greater bugbear for me!

  3. Here’s ours, not too bad!

    Better sound is just the beginning. Here at Bose, we’re passionate engineers, developers, researchers, retailers, marketers … and dreamers. One goal unites us—to create products and experiences our customers simply can’t get anywhere else. If you want to hear more, we invite you to explore.

  4. Whenever I get an inquiry from a new client that I haven’t heard of before, especially one that’s in the B2B space, I always go immediately to their website to learn about their products/services. But 10 minutes later, I’m often no better off than I was before in terms of understanding what they do—and end up resorting to Wikipedia to figure it out. I hope more companies read this and follow your guidance!

  5. In 2015, I rewrote my employer’s website. Here was the first half of my copy for the tab called About Us:
    “Judging from our competitors’ sites, this is where we’re supposed to impress you with our accreditations, appraisals, and certs. Awe you with our proven methodologies, world-class capabilities, innovative solutions, and best practices. And promise you we’re committed to delivering quality, performance, and
    customer delight.
    “We could, but we won’t.
    “Because at [company name], we find marketing speak as ‌boring, pompous, and fishy as you do. We’d much rather tell you how we’ve helped agencies like yours do more while spending less. How we can ensure that you get where you need to go, even if you’re not quite sure how to get there as the world changes at a dizzying pace.

    “You see, we were founded by security technologists. So we’ve always understood that physical, personal, and cybersecurity are swiftly converging. That as they converge, your agency will face threats ripped from science fiction. That security is about protecting not just people, but their identities; not just mortar and bricks, but water and bridges. That networks are not about connecting devices, but connecting people…and peoples. And that in a connected, open world, actionable intelligence is
    not about learning secrets hidden behind fortresses and firewalls; it’s about finding and understanding patterns hiding in plain sight.”
    The owner, an engineer, loved my copy and used it almost verbatim.
    Well, I just checked the site, and my words are gone, replaced by the usual bullet-point drivel. Someone must have found my copy “unprofessional.”