The Collected Propaganda of Island Web Development Companies

Every company needs a “what we do” line. It’s the sentence that starts “Blahblah Incorporated makes…” or “ToodleDoodle Corp. designs…” under the “About Us” link on the company web page.

I visited a selection of Prince Edward Island web development company websites, and pulled off the “what we do” sentence of each. Here they are, cloaked in anonymity:

  • …blends traditional marketing strategies and the latest technologies to strategically build your online presence
  • …helps organizations understand and take advantage of the business opportunities presented by the Internet.
  • …develop[s] or redesign[s] sites for small organizations with an emphasis on professional quality content, accessibile layout, usable functions and affordability
  • …creates a variety of print and online media solutions, including custom web sites, e-commerce applications and other internet tools, and corporate brochures and other related marketing materials.
  • …is a dynamic information technology company that provides its clients with complete Internet solutions.
  • …is an Information Technology (IT) consulting company committed to providing quality, value-added services and solutions that meet clients’ needs in an evolving, competitive business environment.
  • …we build powerful websites that are easy to manage for our clients and easy for their clients to use.
  • … is an innovative web site design company that creates imagery and internet solutions.

Without in any way claiming that I have come close to cracking this nut myself, I am struck by the fact that these “what we do” statements are, almost without exception:

  • generic
  • undistinguishable from each other (can you match each of the above to the company they describe with any accuracy?)
  • ultimately meaningless

I’m neither a business nor a marketing expert, but common sense would suggest that if you can’t communicate what you do, how you do it, and why you do it better than anyone else in a compelling, novel, unique fashion, you will get less business than those who can.

Just a thought.

Comments

Oliver B's picture
Oliver B on December 10, 2003 - 01:20

Not being able to easily say anything special about one company’s product versus another’s suggests that what’s being sold is a commodity, like winter wheat or pork bellies. But I guess the same applies to barbers and bakeries, so maybe Web design is more like that. While you may have searched long and hard for your barber or your bakery, and while you may be fiercly loyal as a result, before you had tried them and absent any word of mouth, what could they have told you (besides announcing a sale to undercut their more readily available competitor) that would have motivated you to walk 5 extra blocks or wait 5 extra minutes to make use of them? Sure, once a person has tasted your strawberry tart, or once her neighbor has raved to them about it, she will start going out of her way to find your bakery. But why would she beforehand? I think the traditional marketing approach in this scenario is Pavlovian conditioning: You relentless broadcast the buxsome babes or beefcakes and the beachfront lifestyle in association with your brown sugar water and people will buy it over the other brand because of those associations. Actually, I suppose it would also be traditional to use endorsements: Julia Child writes a testimonial about your tarts. In lieu of the neighbor to produce the positive word of mouth, you are substituting the canned comments of someone seemingly authoritative. Obviously, these are just thoughts off the top of my head. I’m not in marketing or even in Web design. But I’d say a list of impressive clients and/or pictures of naked women would be your best options for marketing.

padawan's picture
padawan on December 10, 2003 - 09:20

You said it: since you’re neither a business nor a marketing expert, you could never come with those sanitized corporate gwana-gwana.

Will Pate's picture
Will Pate on December 10, 2003 - 11:47

develop[s] or redesign[s] sites for small organizations with an emphasis on professional quality content, accessibile layout, usable functions and affordability”

That one is mine, so I’ll speak up for it.

Since my portfolio is small right now, I really couldn’t do the desired proof-is-in-the-pudding as you have. Believe me, I’ve got plans to do it as soon as I finish the current clients I’m working on.

The statement provided is a concise explanation of how I aim to work. I say professional quality content because I know that copy is the aspect of a site that you have the most control over, and ultimately makes a site worth a user’s time or not. I say accessible because I’m trying to meet the well thought accesibility standards set by those that have come before me and leave no user behind. I say usable functions because I think sites should be easy to use, and offer nifty features like your fantastic Formosa RSS Feed, be geared toward the user and not require them to try to guess what you want them to do. I say affordable because I want my clients to see a return on their investment — a happy customer is one that will give me a good referral and help me grow my business.

That’s all not there now, but as I’ve said improvement is on the way.

I don’t think it’s generic, it’s just my own humble flavor. Saying I was a web developer would be generic. I hope it’s not indistinguishable, I’m the only one in your list mentioning usability, accessibility and affordability. Those aren’t meaningless buzzwords or consultbab, they’re critical concepts that I want my potential clients to understand.

Really Peter, you should spend your time better than taking pot shots at the small fries around you. It’s easy to sit back and point out others’ faults, and franky way too easy for a talented developer like you. Making glib statements about how generic or “ultimately meaningless” our sales pitches may highlight where we’re not as brilliant or experienced as yourself, but I’d rather see you use that wicked brain of yours in a more positive manner.

No matter how friendly we are face to face, it’s unbecoming to attack your competition (even if we may never write proposals for the same RFP). I don’t take it personally because I believe I know enough about you to understand that you’re really trying to challenge us to put out something better. I just find that your usual aggresive style ill suited to the situation. That being said, I did appreciate the advice you did give.

This isn’t an American Presidential race, so let’s keep it above the belt and sell ourselves instead of berating each other. Besides, like the aformentioned Formosa RSS feed, things are done better when we collaborate rather then when we attack. We could all pick bones with each others’ work, but what would that accomplish? Sales copy might get a little better, but I think it would ruin the good spirit that I’ve seen between Reinvented, silverorange, goodbasic and Pate Web Consulting. I think that good spirit is worth more personally and professionally than you can put a dollar figure on, I certianly know it is for me.

Craig Willson's picture
Craig Willson on December 10, 2003 - 12:45

Very nicely put Will. Have you heard the ‘crabs in the barrel’ reference? Apparently when fishing crab, they are just tossed in a barrel and there is no concern for putting a top on the barrel. Why? As soon as one crap climbs to the top and is about to escape another crab pulls it back.

Alan's picture
Alan on December 10, 2003 - 13:23

As he rightly defends, Will’s launguage is quite accurate. It does not use bland buzz words like “value added”, dynamic or “innovative” [or for that matter a recourse to “common sense”] and is not indistinguishable. How would you make it more accurate in as many words? I also thought the line with “powerful”, which I suspect is silverorange (I have not bothered to pop the anonymity balloon with that rare tool Google), is also not generic. It is clean, sequential and tidily brief.

Your own self statement, left off your list, is similar to these others in that it makes thesaurus-reliant claims unsupported internal to the text:

“Reinvented is deliberately a very small company. We firmly believe in the value of small, independent, nimble companies to the sane, humane development of an economy where information and knowledge is more and more central to everything we do…”

It goes on and on but fails to see itself as others sees it. A bit of a wordy boast without presentation of examples or even expression of the full range of your services, including unnimble government work. You may well have those examples and be pleased to present yourself as boast — and that is fine as it is your text to choose — but to implictly suggest that yours is better (as you must be taken to as you failed to review yourself) is an unsatisfying analysis.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on December 10, 2003 - 15:47

Without in any way claiming that I have come close to cracking this nut myself…”

Alan's picture
Alan on December 10, 2003 - 16:52

You could have gone into law.

Ken's picture
Ken on December 10, 2003 - 16:53

My propaganda for Clicky.ca reads:

Web design you can manage starting at $360/yr. Keep your site fresh with ChangeYourText, web updating tool.

Problem is, not until January when I launch and advertise, so stay tuned!

dave moses's picture
dave moses on December 10, 2003 - 18:20

then, speaking as a friend who respects you: I’d wait until “i cracked that nut” before i started handing out the balogna. it seems these folks know who their market is— which is companies, departments and people who understand that there is a value beyond quaintness and cluetrain-inspired yakkity-yak. clients who pay bills and trust you to do your job! and i think oliver’s got it pegged… IT is an industry now, it’s a commodity. and that’s why you went with eastlink instead of aliant… not because there is a quantifiable difference in product but because you keep confusing attention with service… seriously pete, i don’t think you’ve got enough work to do.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on December 10, 2003 - 18:25

Either that, or I have way, way too much work to do, and thus am reaching new heights procrastination ;-)

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on December 10, 2003 - 18:26

And Oliver’s had me pegged for years…

Oliver B's picture
Oliver B on December 10, 2003 - 18:39

Pshaw!

Daniel Burka's picture
Daniel Burka on December 11, 2003 - 16:11
Really Peter, you should spend your time better than taking pot shots at the small fries around you.”


Will and Chris, I think that statement is a little over-the-top. Peter is merely criticizing these types of “About Us” statements on websites and using local companies (including ours) as examples of a larger issue. Just because he’s criticizing something we do doesn’t mean he’s taking pot shots at anyone. This type of criticm fosters good constructive debate, it doesn’t degrade anyone.


And besides, Peter’s totally right. These statements are fairly meaningless. I remember when we carefully crafted our “About Us” page and we thought we were clearly distinguishing ourselves from everyone else when we discovered that it sounded just like everyone else’s pages. This wasn’t because we were inacccurate in our statements, it was just that anyone can write what they do but not everyone can do what they write. A portfolio is the only way to display that ability and its a real catch-22 that without a portfolio you can’t build a portfolio. I don’t necisarily agree with Peter’s use of a weblog as his “About Us” type description, but it’s a unique way to go about it and apparently it has worked well for him.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on December 11, 2003 - 16:24

Will, here’s something perhaps I haven’t made clear: I consider you to be a business peer, not a business small fry. We are working in the same industry. We both run small businesses, and I think we share some fundamental approaches to business scale. My comments weren’t meant to be pot shots, but rather insights. I suppose, depending on where you sit, the difference can be lost.

Will Pate's picture
Will Pate on December 11, 2003 - 16:59

Now that sounds a lot more like the Peter I know. At the time I was trying to put myself in your shoes, but I just couldn’t make the idea of it being well intentioned click.

The critical difference is that we have different ways of viewing each other. I look up to you: I’m not used to considering you a peer yet, more of a seasoned giant. If you consider me a peer well then I’m flattered and I take that as a compliment and affirmation of my legitimacy. Methinks it’s because I’m just over half a year in the biz that I haven’t seen myself the same way you do until now.

And perhaps I should reconsider posting comments at 6:47 AM. I’m trying to start my day earlier, but maybe I’m still a little grumpy in the mornings ;)

Will Pate's picture
Will Pate on December 11, 2003 - 17:02

Fair enough Daniel, it is hard to write a good “About us” page.

But who is Chris?

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on December 11, 2003 - 17:09

Chris is Craig. Daniel asked me to correct his typo, but I haven’t done so yet. Apologies to Chris, Craig and Daniel for my tardiness.

Christopher's picture
Christopher on December 11, 2003 - 18:22

Yes, it may seem we’re joined at the hip at times, but “Chris is Craig” is somewhat overstating the nature of our relationship to and with each other.

Wayne's picture
Wayne on December 11, 2003 - 21:18

Many smart businessmen today employ vague and bold statements in business profiles and everyday commercials we see every day on TV, which quite often leave me wondering “Just what the hell are they selling?” It is all about image, not about the product. (i.e. Abercrombie & Fitch — proof it does not always work)It is, also, as someone above somewhere said, an approach of knowing your target audience, and excluding all others. Makes me wish we could somehow, hire someone — preferably someone like Maggie Thatcher — to order these companies to go back to the table and re-write it all in plain english.

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