Mouth Full of Crackers

Ask any of my clients, and you’re likely to hear about my penchant for analogies. Cognitive metaphors, as linguists call them, refer to understanding one conceptual domain in terms of another. When we use analogies, we help our audiences understand a “target domain” by applying their understanding of “source domains.” So, when we say things like “brands evolve,” we don’t mean they evolve in the literal sense, inheriting specific characteristic from their biological predecessors, over many generations; we mean that our understanding of the concepts fundamental to evolution (e.g., gradual change, inherent DNA, natural selection and extinction) are helpful in developing an understanding of brand.

Several weeks ago, I coined a phrase in an attempt to help a client understand his tendency to build roadblocks out of technical terms, impeding (rather than advancing) his customers’ understanding of the benefits his organization offers. “Deciphering a sentence that contains too many ideas is like listening to a man speak with a mouth full of half-chewed crackers, and being unable to concentrate on the message for fear of being hit by the spew.”

The picture was a vivid one, and if for no reason other than shock value, it made the group pause long enough to consider my point. And so, “Mouth Full of Crackers” found its place among the seeds of our upcoming blogs.

When I sat down to write this post, I tried to imagine a hypothetical healthcare/technology company that might face the same “mouth full of crackers” challenge. And I chose to name this hypothetical company “TechnoCare,” to symbolize the challenge facing a young marketing director, hired to help a somewhat schizophrenic company of healthcare service providers reconcile the conflicting metaphors of technology and compassion.

But as a diligent doer of my homework – I actually worked for someone who called me that, once – I searched the web to be sure I wasn’t maligning some innocent company, who had happened to victimize themselves with that very name. And I came across

On their /AboutUs/Overview page, they say, “Technocare is a leading services company supporting major Manufacturers, Retailers, Operators and Enterprises with a suite of technology-enabled solutions aimed at driving profitability while increasing customer acquisition and loyalty.” Seriously? You can’t make this stuff up.

On their home page, the company describe themselves as, “Pioneering innovation at the center of the Mobile and IT-devices ecosystem… Driving profitability and growth through technology-enabled solutions to all partners in the value chain.”

Mouth full of crackers.

Now before we take solace in the fact that Technocare is headquartered in the UAE, and English is not their native language, it would behoove us to note that the Emirates fell under British rule in the 16th Century, which means they have been speaking English almost as long (and probably far better) than their American colonial counterparts.

Still, you get my point. Noun phrases, each with their industry-specific meaning, seem to spew from the writer’s pen like bits of partially chewed crackers. And the reader is left to wrestle with each, in rapid succession, before moving to the next. It’s fatiguing, and far too much work for us to expect of our customers. Words are supposed to make it easier for us to communicate difficult concepts, not harder. Besides, people don’t talk like that. At least not good communicators.