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The Last Word

Your ‘About Us’ Page Is About What?

Entire industries exist to message the mission. Whole departments are built to pound the point. Come on, people, words matter.

While reading a contributor’s story about technology and benefits, the author referred to a company I didn’t recognize. Given the thousands of companies occupying the vast space we call HR technology, that’s not unusual.

I’ll usually add a short phrase defining the company’s business. We include it for large companies too, even though it seems obvious: HR consultancy Mercer, tech giant Hewlett Packard, largely for clarity’s sake. 

With less-known companies my go-to is their About Us page, which helps me craft a quick ID. This particular About Us page, however, made me stop, blink several times, shake my head and as I exhaled a heavy sigh, ask myself, “About what?” It began, (yes, I’m concealing their identity): “Company X is an on-demand healthcare concierge … .”

Umm, what? You’re a what?? As I sat there in disbelief, followed by denial, then disgust — OK, I actually was more amused than angry — I figured the definition was deeper in the text. They buried the lead, as we like to call it.

By the end of the 85-word About Us paragraph, I knew the lead wasn’t buried. It was nonexistent.

Here’s what I could glean: They are in health care; well, so is my doctor. They offer on-demand services; so does my cable company. They are a concierge; at the Hyatt next door there’s a guy standing behind a desk labeled “concierge” eager to tell tourists about the city’s trendy Polish-Thai fusion cuisine scene (love me a good chicken cashew nut pierogi).

Amid my fusion confusion I could only explain it like this: “On-demand healthcare concierge” is a doctor’s office broadcasting “Despicable Me 2” 24/7 while doling out coupons for Da Original Gangster Tour.

In my befuddled yet bemused state, I messaged my colleague Andie Burjek, who eats, sleeps and breathes health care and benefits, seeking clarification on this confounding corporate communication. Her Slack reply was succinct, to the point and equally uncertain: “hmmm I’m not sure … .”

While two journalists do not constitute a consensus, it’s clear that neither of us gets what Company X is offering. I think it’s safe to say that if we don’t get it, others won’t either.

Study after study spells it out. A company’s success is based on its profits and losses but clear communication creates a critical calling card.

Entire industries exist to message the mission. Whole departments are built to pound home the point. Whether you are communicating wellness to your employees or explaining your business through the About Us page, words matter.

If two ink-stained wretches have trouble understanding what your business does, how will a potential customer relate? Let’s run through a hypothetical situation. You’ve cleverly named your company, which attracts a curious HR tech buyer at a conference.

There’s a glib, chatty talker at your booth who could sell an air conditioner to a penguin. After a product demo, plush company mascot dolls for the kiddos back home and 15 minutes of hard sell, the potential client departs, promising to close the deal in the morning.

Awesome sales pitch still ringing in their ears, the customer-to-be heads to their hotel room and checks your website for one final eval before hitting the hay.

And they read, “on-demand healthcare concierge,” or something equally as vague and inane. My guess is they indeed will return the next day — looking for a vendor that can quickly articulate a clear definition of what they do.

I have no doubt that whoever wrote the 85-word descriptor labored over every word, every phrase, every sentence to make sure it perfectly captured the company’s mission. Then it was likely vetted by a team of well-paid executives in several lengthy meetings, probably went through four or five rewrites and finally nuanced to reflect company objectives.

It unfortunately reads like a summer intern English lit major knocked it out in 45 minutes.

To see if this is an isolated incident or a jargon-filled epidemic of corporate mumbo-jumbo, I decided to peruse 15 or so About Us pages.

I’m happy to report Company X is in the minority. Most are clear, descriptive and engaging.

One company spells it out simply: “… is the leader in employee communication software.” Another says, “We handle administration and compliance across HR, payroll, time, and benefits … .”

Simple. Straightforward. Not a concierge in sight.

Should you be tasked with updating or crafting your company’s About Us page, channel Beetle Bailey, not William Faulkner. Like a newspaper comic strip, get to the punch line in three panels or less, because clarity wins out over a fusion of confusion every time.

Rick Bell is Workforce’s editorial director. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.