3 Easy Ways to Make Your Company Look Bad
Would a good entrepreneur stand for marketing materials or technical manuals with typos? Absolutely not. Many would dismiss as incompetent anyone who would dare allow such errors. You can hear the comments echo now: "Didn't anyone proofread this pile of crap?"
Proofreading is absolutely important. And yet, there's a higher-level type of proofing that a surprising number of companies miss. It's the type that asks the question, "How else might someone read this?" Often, companies do things that make sense to management, and yet make the company looks like it's run by refugees of a second-rate clown car. Here are some tech mistakes that unintentionally turn your efforts into snark fodder.
1. URLs That Become URHells
URL names are one of the biggest offenders in business. Forget the issues of whether they are too long for anyone to remember, don't logically extend the branding of your company, or simply sound a little goofy.
We're talking about the URLs that management thinks read one way but that anyone's inner troublemaker can turn into something else. One of the grand examples is Who Represents, which is a website that lets you look up a celebrity's agent. Just one problem: the URL is whorepresents.com. Notice how you can read that as "whore presents" as well as "who represents?" The company now has a banner that reads "whoRepresents?com"--which at least tries to tacitly address the issue. If only it the problem wasn't there in the first place.
There are other big blunders out there. The company Pen Island makes custom pens for marketing purposes. Unfortunately, the URL is penisland.com. By the way, designers aren't necessarily going to catch the problem, as you can see from UK design firm Speed of Art: speedofart.com, which brings to mind a pair of skimpy but inflating swim trunks.
2. Inconsistent Consistencies
There's a special category of flub that belongs to the high tech industry. It's when software contains oddities or demonstrates bizarre behavior that make the company look out of control. I've seen this in more than one major blogging system, as an example. I'd run spell check and the word "blogger" would be highlighted as misspelled. Talk about a self-loathing industrial segment.
Regardless of your industry, you want to appear as though you know what is going on and are aware of the big players. Otherwise, you're unconsciously communicating that you are seriously out of touch, and that maybe you won't be better connected to what your customers need and want.
Not even the largest firms are immune. Open up Microsoft Word, type the following line
and wait a few seconds. You should get hundreds and hundreds of pages of a single paragraph. By the way, this little oddity has been known since at least 2002, which suggests that you should do the occasional search for your product name along with "fail," "oddity," or other fitting pejorative. Letting something go for nine years or longer makes it look as though you don't care. Or don't pay attention.
3. Lost in Translation
Many companies never consider that brand names can be interpreted in different ways. Translation errors abound, like the famous example of the company that brought Totes, the folding umbrella, to Germany. No one thought to ask a native speaker if there was anything in the name that might cause trouble. In German, "totes" means dead. As a translation expert told me in the past, even the case ending was right for an umbrella. In 2005, Ikea tried to market a kid's workbench called the Fartfull. It meant speedy in Swedish. Not quite the same in English.
These translation and cultural issues could have been avoided by simply checking with someone who knows better. It's a smart move even when language isn't the barrier. Ask.com apparently recently hired a marketing agency to promote in Washington State an online product by hanging banners off highway overpasses. Too bad the practice is illegal and was noticed by both the state's department of transportation and the police.
Any of these forms of self-sabotaging can easily be avoided by getting qualified people outside of your management team to look at what you are doing and see if you've made any glaringly obvious mistakes.
ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist
Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.