Sunday, May 3, 2009

Feature Creep: Weeds in the Communication Garden

By Michael A. Barr

Recently we published an article titled “
The Curse of Feature Creep” in startups, commenting that this malady probably kills more startups than any other. In fact, the scope of this problem isn’t just limited to your product.

Feature creep can choke your message as well. Too much information in too many words and images can appear like loss of focus, or a
Rube Goldberg effort. Think about it as you write your business plan, design your marketing materials, and build your website.

Google is a multi-billion dollar company. It can afford to hire the best web developers to create a home page that is an extravaganza of information and entertainment.

Instead, Google’s home page uses fewer words than a Twitter message – and layout that hasn’t changed since the last century. It is clear and simple. Imagine adding extra “bells and whistles” to it. No way.

Our intent as we add words, images and sounds is good. We want to tell our story fully, with as many details as possible. Our company is a box of chocolates and we’ll try to feed them to you in one sitting.

We mean well. But we can end up with clutter.

How do we battle this tendency to over-inform? What works for professional communicators will work for you: Stick to the simplest, quickest statement of your message. Use the 5 W’s and the H:

What? Where? When? Who? Why? And How?

Here is an example. Do you recall the Alka-Seltzer commercial? For 75 years it entertained and sold with a simple drama:

• What? Painful indigestion caused by over-eating. Make it go away!
• Where? Anywhere
• When? Anytime
• Who? Any one of us
• Why? There are medical answers but we want instant relief!
• How? Drink Alka-Seltzer. Instant relief is yours!

The 5 W and an H structure helps you think clearly about your message – from the audience’ s perspective. Ask yourself these questions and you’ll stay on message.

Today’s article is presented by Michael A. Barr, who is a member of our Startup Professionals team. he brings to the table a long list of business and academic credentials, including business coaching and communication skills. Check him out on our website. You will be hearing more from him.

Marty Zwilling


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