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When Plain is Good for Your Utility

image credit: ID 40390971 © Nilabarathi |

When Plain is Good for Your Utility

Years ago, there was an episode of The Simpsons where goody two shoes next-door neighbor Ned Flanders was asked his favorite flavor of something.

His earnest reply? Plain!

The joke garnered laughs (at least in my household), but being plain when it comes to the language you use to communicate with your customers is a serious matter.

Operate under the principle that if there’s a chance your customers will misunderstand something you write or otherwise communicate — website missive, social media post, press release, etc. — they will.

The problems utilities, and all businesses, face is that there’s lots of industry jargon that becomes engrained in the day-to-day operations — and works its way into communications meant for the general public.

In my day job of journalism, some slang I use that you probably have no idea what it means includes slug, 30, dummy, folio, gutter, inverted pyramid, nut graf, pull quote, teaser and white space.

Likewise, the average electric utility customer has no idea what a cable jacket is, can’t calculate degree days and doesn’t know how to explain grid-wide pricing.

It may sound extreme, but you have to assume your customers literally know nothing about electricity: It’s definitely better to over-explain a concept than under-explain it.

Over the years, various studies have concluded that most general-circulation news publications are written somewhere around an eighth-grade level. In other words, the average 14-year-old should understand the content found within.

And that’s roughly where you should aim as well.

In fact, if you have teenagers at home, it’s not a bad idea to have them read your public materials to see how well they understand them. Of course, you’ll have to get them to put their cellphones down first, but it’s always a good idea to field test your material (you can also run it by adults) before you release it to the public.

Just remember to keep it plain, which is really just a variation of the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle.

Andy Gotlieb's picture

Thank Andy for the Post!

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