Literacy as a Competitive Advantage

Literacy as a Competitive Advantage

I was reading an article by Charlie Adams called Will the Internet Make Grammar Obsolete. He is absolutely incensed at the lack of literacy on the Internet. His contention is that sloppy grammar, misspelling, and Internet abbreviations are so pervasive today that the new normal is standards that are so low as to be missing altogether.

He’s right, of course. But I would suggest that inept writing and speaking skills were increasing long before the Net became so popular.

In fact, I think one could argue that the Net has, in one sense at least, increased literacy. People who would never before have picked up a pen or sat down at a typewriter or word processor are now happily sending out emails, texts, blogs, Facebook comments, tweets, and so on. Indeed, people who would never pick up a book are spending hours reading on their computer screens, iPads, and SmartPhones.

But Adams is right that, for all the time people are spending reading and writing electronically, they are apparently spending zero time worrying about how to construct a sentence, much less a paragraph.

The new normal assumes that you don’t have to be clear or precise in what you are saying. It is the job of the reader to figure out your intent. And if he doesn’t get it? Oh, well… Communication is no longer the responsibility of the communicator. It is the job of the audience. If you’ve been following my blogs, you’ll see that this is eerily familiar to the problem with customer service.

So for all the millions and millions of words pumped out daily, there really isn’t all that much communication going on. (You should see some of the comments I get – and don’t post – on my blog. Sometimes I can’t even figure out what language the writer is supposed to be using, much less what he is trying to say.)

As Adams pointed out, this put-the-burden-on-the-reader approach has moved into web sites and blogs – theoretically professional sales and market out-reach tools. Gross illiteracies are more common on small company sites than on large company sites. But even huge companies, with significant sums spent on their web presence and marketing efforts, show imprecise (not to say muddy) expositions of their value propositions, presumed competitive advantages, and product superiority – all the reasons you should buy from them.

Think about it.

What does it say about the person or company trying to sell you something if he or it can’t clearly express himself and make it obvious why you should buy? If a company can’t be bothered to construct a paragraph, what does that imply about the care with which it crafts its products or delivers its services?

I would argue that in this era of ever-increasing disdain for the proper use of language, precise speech, concise writing, and a clear exposition of your position is the new competitive advantage. It will certainly set you apart from the crowd.

3 thoughts on “Literacy as a Competitive Advantage

  1. I agree with you, Emily. This decay began long before the internet, and SMS messaging on our phones. I started reading to my kids, the day they were born, and by age 3, they were reading. By the age of 10, both my son and daughter had read many of the classics, and most of Harry Potter available then. They learned how to use language, by reading. I don’t blame technology, and I don’t blame schools (they have to work with what they get). I think the decay is rooted in parenting. And, that extends well beyond grammar into the very content of the dialog. Some additional food for thought. Great write-up and i agree with your point.

    • Thanks, Andrew. The only place I respectfully disagree is giving the schools a pass on responsibility. But wherever it began, and whoever is responsible, it is just simply foolish to not write cogently in business writing. The more responsibility you place on the prospect to understand what you are trying to say, the lower the chances of turning the prospect into a customer.

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