Business Communication


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Business Communication with Cengage Learning


  • Cute Infographic, But What's the Point?

    Here's an attractive infographic, but viewers may struggle with the point. (Click for a larger image.) How can you improve the infographic? Who do you think is the audience? What is the purpose? Specifically what would the designer like the reader to do? What "message title" would make the main point up front more clear? How is the graphic organized? What sequencing of data could be more logical? How could the font style be improved for easier reading? What text for each component would more clearly convey each point? How else could you improve the text? What design changes would you make, for example, to the colors, images, and background graphics? Discussion Starters: This infographic was produced by Allstate insurance, and it is, after all, an information graphic. What are the consequences of making the main point clearer? In other words, why might Allstate choose this approach? What one data point in the infographic is the most convincing? If you're renting now, does this persuade you to get renters' insurance?
  • NSA's New Press Kit

    The National Security Agency (NSA) published a shiny, new press kit to try to change its image. Damaged by reports of spying , the NSA's reputation could use some freshening up. With self-aggrandizing phrases, such as, "Saving Lives," "Cybersecurity: A Team Sport," "Operating as a Responsible Citizen," and "The Mission that Never Sleeps," the NSA is trying to combat negative perceptions. The kit also addresses "Myths" about the NSA, such as, "The NSA has agents who can arrest hackers or other cyber bad guys," and "NSA monitors the world’s communications systems at all times." Discussion Starters: Read the entire press kit. What are the NSA's main messages? Assess the text and graphics. How well do they work together? What images are most prevalent in the kit? Which themes or points do you find most and least convincing?
  • Facebook's "Cutesy" Annual Report

    A TechCrunch article refers to Facebook's report to its partners as "cutesy" and "a playfully illustrated eMagazine." In 68 pages, "The Annual" uses a mix of executives' quotations, infographics, and photos to taut accomplishments in 2013. Discussion Starters: What's your impression of The Annual ? Analyze the audience, content choices, organization, writing style, and graphics. Could you see more traditional companies adopting some of The Annual's components for their own annual reports? Think of a few examples of companies and which aspects of the report might be work well for their investors or partners. How does Facebook, if at all, describe teens' declining use of the social network?
  • Vine: The Twitter of Video

    Vine videos are taking off, and companies are starting to create them. Vine is a mobile Twitter service that lets users capture and share six-second videos on a loop. CIO identified five companies that are making good use of the service. Home improvement store Lowes, for example, has posted several "Fix in Six" videos with helpful suggestions, such as using cayenne pepper to keep squirrels out of your garden. Ad agency BBDO posted this video about the idea: Companies also are creating commercials on Vine, although it's unclear who was first. Five days ago, Ad Week reported Dunkin' Donuts as the first: "During this evening’s Monday Night Football pregame show on ESPN, Dunkin’ Donuts will run what’s most certainly the first TV ad made entirely from a single Vine—Twitter’s popular six-second social video format." But four days ago, Mashable reported Trident as introducing the "first, 6-second Vine TV ad." Regardless, they're both silly/cute/fun/dumb—pick your adjective. Discussion Starters: Read CIO 's examples of companies using Vine. What other ideas do you have for how companies could use the service? What's next for short, mobile messages? Any predictions?
  • Sloppy Charts

    Business Insider writers seem to be enamored with unclear charts—and don't do a great job describing them. With the headline, "These Are The Charts You're Going To Be Seeing In Powerpoints And Mobile For The Next Year," the article shows 13 charts , none of which follow business writing principles. The first one shown, about mobile data traffic, is pretty, but makes it difficult to distinguish the data and draw any meaningful conclusions except that things are going up (for which we probably don't need a chart). A skeptic might ask the following: Is mobile service-provider Ericcson the most objective source for this data? What are the actual numbers for each year? This is impossible to see. What are the different data types referenced in the chart heading? Which is yellow, blue, etc.? What's an extabyte, anyway? How well can people distinguish aqua blue from green, and why are they next to each other? I'm guessing that people who are color blind can barely distinguish these line sections. Is the last year 201? The article text is equally problematic. Note the errors: Every year, Ericsson puts together a massive report on global mobile usuage trends. The charts and data in this report then proliferates through Powerpoints and slide decks around the world. So, get a jump start on everyone else in the industry and… Discussion Starters: What other issues do you see with this chart? Review the 12 other charts . How they can be improved to meet business writing standards?
  • Confusing Column Chart

    With the title, " Two Charts Which Show That April Was A Horrible Month For American Manufacturing ," I would expect to see clear, easy-to-interpret charts. This one is not. Here are Business Insider's introductory text and the chart : "If there is an American manufacturing renaissance, it certainly appears to have stalled in April. "From the just-released ADP report, a chart which shows that manufacturing actually lost jobs in the month!" Granted, this chart is very colorful, and overall, the numbers generally decline since November 12. But how can the chart be improved? Consider the following: Including a message title Adding data labels Choosing a different (or supplemental) chart type Highlighting most relevant data graphically and numerically The purpose of the chart is to show that manufacturing lost jobs in April. Do we know exactly how many—both as a percentage and raw number? This would seem to be an important part of the argument.
  • McDonald's Posts Calories: What's the Reaction?

    This week, McDonald's will post calories on all menus nationwide. The company is acting ahead of the federal requirement, which is part of the health care bill upheld by the Supreme Court. No definitive direction or timeline has been established, so McDonald's is taking the initiative and possibly leading the way for other large chains. In an interview with NPR , McDonald's President Jan Fields explains the decision: "We're voluntarily taking a lead in this area because we feel it's important to do this for our customers." However, critics say that this is more of a PR move for the company than a focus on public health. A representative for a food watchdog group, Sara Deon, said of McDonald's food choices, "Offering a healthier option in the Happy Meal doesn’t put an end to the marketing that’s directed at children. The healthier options overall are little more than a vehicle for selling more of McDonald’s bread and butter — burgers, fries, and soda." The Wall Street Journal tallied people's reactions online in this infographic : Research about the whether posting calories affects people's choices seems to be mixed. In a Stanford University study, people reduced their calorie orders by only 6% at Starbucks after the company posted the information on its menu (although people who ordered 250 calories of food or more reduced their orders by 26%). Jan Fields admits that the effect may be minimal, but she told The New York Times that people liked having the information and that "This is all still very new." Discussion Starters: What's your view of posting calories on menus. Do you think this will affect consumers' choices? Based on the reactions so far, is this a smart decision for McDonald's?
  • Who Topped Olympics Social Media Conversations?

    Using data from 150 million sources, Salesforce Radian6 tracked social media conversations about the Olympics on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and others sites. The chart shows social media mentions of the top medal-winning countries during the second week of the Olympics. Consistent with the number of wins in the actual games, the United States ranks first. From a business communication perspective, the chart is rather easy to understand, but it can be improved. Also, at least one description of the chart is questionable: "But Great Britain, fourth in the medal standings, surges to the second spot in social media mentions." For participants, the press, and others writing about the games, the International Olympic Committee published social media guidelines . The guidelines encourage social media participation and explain acceptable uses of photographs and trademark symbols. As expected, the guidelines warn writers about violations of policy: " The IOC will continue to monitor Olympic on-line content to ensure that the integrity of rights-holding broadcasters and sponsor rights as well as the Olympic Charter is maintained. The IOC asks for the support of all participants and other accredited persons in halting any ambush activity or any sites engaged in conduct which is offensive to or adversely affects the goodwill associated with the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement. The IOC asks that participants and other accredited persons discovering unauthorised content, please report it immediately to" As we know from some examples , not everyone respected these guidelines. Discussion Starters: In what ways can the chart be improved to improve readability and accuracy? What is potentially questionable about the article quote, above, about Great Britain? How should this be fixed? How effective are the social media guidelines? What, if anything, would you suggest that the International Olympic Committee change for next year?
  • Memes and More Memes

    Memes are pure fun—and good examples of visual communication. These depictions of culture are making the Internet rounds and may have some uses in business. " What I Really Do " shows different perspectives of jobs, such as a bank clerk . Mashable has gathered 20 of the best college memes , and Northwestern University has its own Facebook page of memes , which are probably funnier if you go to the school. Discussion Starters: How could businesses use memes? Brainstorm ideas for recruitment, marketing, and team building. One Northwestern student wrote an article using memes. What do you think of this approach?
  • QR Codes Get New Life

    Just as people were questioning the impact of scannable QR codes, Starbucks has a new campaign. The company has introduced a series of codes that, for example, offer music from a particular coffee region or portray experts talking about a type of coffee. Look for the ads in stores and in popular magazines, such as People . QR codes are getting more creative. Custom QR codes, tailored to specific companies or products, can be quite beautiful, such as these designs . Mashable also posted a few special QR codes, including these for Disney: Discussion Starters: Have you used a QR code? What value do you see for companies? Why are QR codes slow to catch on? Why do you think people may not use them?
  • How Much Do You Hate PowerPoint?

    If you're like a political group in Switzerland, you would ban PowerPoint forever. The Anti-PowerPoint Party (APPP) views PowerPoint "as a representative of all presentation software" (and clearly, pure evil). With rough calculations, the group claims that PowerPoint destroys 2.1 billion Swiss Francs each year and potentially 110 billion Euros; however, the group says that "the average number of participants may be umpteen times higher" (whatever "umpteen" is). Of course, this isn't the first cry for help in the Days of PowerPoint. Many of us have been subjected to "death by PowerPoint" and have welcomed scathing articles such as the New York Times piece, " We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint ." But one might ask: why not just improve how we use the software rather than throw out the tool entirely? Discussion Starters: As a viewer of PowerPoint presentations, what frustrates you? How have you seen people misuse the software? What alternatives do you see for PowerPoint? What other ways can you engage an audience and help them visualize information?
  • Nike "Get High" T-Shirts Anger Boston Mayor

    Mayor of Boston Thomas Menino doesn't like Nike's new T-shirts . He believes that messages such as "Get High" and "Dope" promote drug use. In a letter to the general manager of Niketown Boston, Menino urges the company to remove the T-shirts. Nike has responded to my tweet about the situation: Discussion Starters: What is your opinion of Nike's new T-shirts: dangerous or just clever marketing? Analyze the mayor's letter . What principles of persuasion does he use? Do you consider this an effective letter? Why or why not? How do you think Nike should respond to the mayor's letter? What are the consequences of the company removing -- or keeping -- the T-shirts? How do you assess Nike's tweets to BizCom in the News?
  • Will Graphic Images Encourage People to Quit Smoking?

    The U.S. government is using more visuals to help people get healthier. Shortly after revising the food pyramid , federal health officials have selected nine graphic images to appear on cigarette packs. If you're strong, you can see all of the new images here . As we might expect, the major tobacco companies are disputing the images, claiming, among other issues, infringement of their right to free speech. Read the government's news release . Discussion Starters: Which, if any, of the images might convince someone to quit smoking? Do you find some images more effective than others? Why? Why do you think the government is using pathos (emotional appeals) in this campaign rather than logical arguments, for example, providing data about life expectancy? The Truth campaign has used graphic videos to encourage young people not to start or to quit smoking. How effective do you find this video , for example?
  • USDA Replaces Food Pyramid Graphic

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying a new graphic to help people understand healthy food choices. The pyramid graphic was thought to be confusing (well, yes, we see a person climbing a mountain with a pile of food at the bottom). The USDA's revised graphic is much simpler, showing just a plate with words to represent portions of food. To accompany the new communication, the USDA has a new website . Discussion Starters: In what ways is the new graphic more effective than the old? How do you think people will react to the image? Read the USDA's summary of messages about nutrition. How effective do you find this summary for combating obesity? What ideas do you have for improving these messages?