07. March 2023 - Jeffrey A. McGuire

FUD, the OSP editorial code. Podcast 12

How we create positive and constructive communication through one of OSP's favorite Editing Codes: FUD.

In our 12th episode, our host Carl Richards interviews Felicity Brand, Christine Beuhler, and Jeffrey A. "jam" McGuire. We discuss how we use the Editing Code FUD to create authentic, fact-based communication that’s actually useful to readers.

Welcome to the Open Strategy Partners podcast, "Communicate, Connect, Grow!" At Open Strategy Partners, we specialize in strategic product communication. We help you communicate the value of what you do, connect you with the people who need to know about it, and grow.

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Avoid fear, uncertainty, and doubt — The FUD Editing Code

The FUD Editing Code falls in Process phase C., Style & Phrasing, the Pillar Empathy. Our entry defines it thus:

Avoid negative copy and FUD marketing (fear, uncertainty, doubt).

Communicating through a lens of fear, uncertainty, and doubt is a tactic used in sales and marketing material to influence perception: by casting a shadow on competitor products, you show your product in a positive light. The FUD approach is prevalent in technology marketing and the software industry. With technical, highly-complex products and services, it’s easy to prey on fears about hardware compatibility, security, performance, system requirements, and generally whether something is fit-for-purpose.

At OSP, we want to make a positive difference in the world. We believe highlighting a given product's positives, benefits, or unique selling points (USPs) is far stronger and clearer than criticizing the competition. Transparently acknowledging your competition and honestly describing differences (between yours and others) ensures your message carries weight: it shows you’ve done your research, you understand your competition, and how you differentiate. 

The overall message of the FUD Code is that being nice is better, and creates more powerful links of authenticity, empathy, and trust than being mean. Jam explains, “We encourage our clients to promote themselves on the merits of what they offer rather than the potential defects of the competition. I think it's much more valuable and gets a lot more mileage in the end. I would much rather be attracted to something than repelled from something else.”


- - FUD: “...which most content management systems simply aren’t set up to accommodate; at least not without a great deal of manual labor.”

++ FUD: “Before approaching us they’d been using WordPress, but the content they needed to surface was accessed via APIs, which ended up overloading their old website.”

Using FUD

As a writer

As a writer, one easy method to avoid FUD is not mentioning competitors altogether. However, showing you’ve done your research and that you understand the space lends credibility to your communication. Touching on other solutions in the market can be useful — we just use the FUD Code to do it in a positive way.

You can achieve this by flipping FUD around and focusing on the USPs of the product you’re describing. Bonus points if you can describe the USPs of the competitor and differentiate your product from theirs. That way, everybody wins, and you establish trust with your reader by being transparent and knowledgeable. 

Jam explains how he uses FUD before he even puts fingers to keyboard. “When interviewing a subject matter expert or talking with my client, I'm looking for the positive things that happened, the transformation. That could be improved business, increased efficiency, lower costs, whatever the good reasons are to choose something. So as a writer, FUD helps me prepare good interview questions and think about the structure of what I'm going to write.”

As an editor

As an editor, sometimes talking about other products or software is necessary, such as in a case study or a comparison piece. If it’s important to include a statement about a competitor, ensure you have researched and can show evidence to support the claim. If the product owner themselves has owned the shortcoming, that’s even better.

But this is a tricky area and comes down to the discretion of the writer and editor, the client, the brief, and the in-house style. Felicity says, “If I do see FUD somewhere, the resolution is usually just reframing the content. The other side of FUD is talking about the product, feature, tool, and its benefits.” Jam adds, “I use FUD to remind my colleagues (and myself) to find a different story to tell.”

As a reader

To readers, FUD can feel icky and manipulative, even if they can’t quite articulate what they don’t like about what they’ve just read. Jam says, “For my taste, and for the ethical position that OSP tries to put into its work, I think sowing FUD is intellectually dishonest, similar to an ad hominem attack.

It also doesn’t give readers useful information about the product or service they seek. “When we are positive and constructive, then we are also choosing to engage in fact-based communications,” says Jam.

Felicity, who comes from a technical writing background, not marketing, thinks FUD is a breath of fresh air. ”I think that honesty and transparency are so rare these days. Honestly comparing features, toolsets, solutions, and talking about how things are useful in different contexts can be very powerful. Talking about how products aren't quite meeting your needs anymore is absolutely okay.

Creating ethical communication takes practice — join us!

Using the FUD Editing Code invites you to step into positive communication to help your readers make an honest decision amidst a busy, complex technical marketplace.

To get in touch with us, follow what we're doing, or learn about our Writer Enablement Workshops, email us at hello@openstrategypartners.com, or hit us up on Twitter, Facebook, or Linkedin.

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Episode Transcript

From the robot transcription mines, we bring you at least some words from our episode in an order that might or might not reflect our intentions. 

Carl Richards  0:07  
Hi, I'm Carl from OSP. And this is communicate connect, grow the OSP podcast. On today's episode, we're talking about avoiding fear, uncertainty and doubt with the editing code FUD.

If you want to be a more effective writer, a more transparent editor, develop clear strategic thinking, or learn from our network of expert friends and colleagues. That's what we're here for. We divide our episodes across three themes, communicate, connect, and grow. This is a communicate episode, and we're talking about highlighting the positives with our editorial code font.

Carl Richards  1:02  
The FUD editing code falls into the style and phrasing phase of the editing process. And it's about avoiding fear, uncertainty and doubt in your writing. In our documentation about this code, it says, avoid negative copy and FUD. Marketing, we want to make a positive difference in the world, highlighting the benefits of a given product is far stronger and clearer, in our opinion, than resorting to criticizing the competition. Hi, I'm

Jeffrey A. McGuire  1:29  
Jeffrey A Maguire. This system of writing codes that we're talking about in our podcast series, was the result of several years of work of trying to extract the contents of my editorial brain and make it palatable and useful for my colleagues. And also to help me get on with other things that people need me to do. So FUD stands for fear, uncertainty, and doubt. And it's a whole genre of marketing and advertising. It's when a company tells you everything that's wrong with the competition, or why you're going to fail or what all the problems are at open strategy partners, we don't do FUD. So FUD is an interesting code because it reminds us not to do that. And just about everything we do, we try and be positive and constructive. So while our code packs, talks about not using violent languages, and substituting constructive metaphors for destructive ones, FUDis really a negative reminder, don't do this thing. But in any case, I think packs and FUD go hand in hand, we only write positive copy. And we encourage our clients really to promote themselves on their own merits and the merits of what they have to offer. Rather than the potential defects of the competition, I think it's much, much more valuable. I think it gets a lot more mileage in the end. And I think it's really the way to build trust with your audience and convince people to try you. I would much rather be attracted to something than repelled from something else. And I might not even trust you as much if you're telling me bad things about your ex basically. Right? So same kind of idea.

Christine Beuhler  3:10  
I'm Christine Bueller. And I'm a Communication Consultant at open strategy partners. The editing code FUD, which is f u d stands for fear, uncertainty, and doubt. And we have this code now because we want to promote fear, uncertainty and doubt because we want to do the opposite. We want to avoid those things we want to be highlighting, you know, the positives benefits the advantages that a product or a service or an organization is offering.

Felicity Brand  3:50  
G'day, my name is Felicity brand. I work as an editor, and writer at open strategy partners. I work asynchronously, so I do a lot of technical editing for my colleagues while they're asleep. That's why I love these editing codes. And I love talking about these editing codes. So let's dive in. Fun is an acronym. It stands for fear, uncertainty and doubt. It's a tactic used in sales and marketing to influence perception by casting a shadow on competitor products to show your own product in a positive light at OSP. We avoid FUD, because we think that being nice is better and more powerful than being mean. The FUD approach is commonly seen in technology marketing, and the software industry. Because it's easy to prey on fears about hardware compatibility, security risk performance, where the features are fit for purpose. It's really easy to just kind of use blanket statements to make readers feel insecure. You might say feature x y Zed is Something that most content management systems simply aren't set up to accommodate, at least not without a great deal of manual labor. So that statement is sowing fear, uncertainty and doubt in the reader by talking about all the other systems and how they're not set up to accommodate a thing, at least not without a whole lot of work. And then you might then go on to talk about the tool or the solution that you're writing about, and using that to put your product in a positive light. So that is something that we don't do at OSP.

Carl Richards  5:35  
As an editor, how would you use this writing code in your work day,

Jeffrey A. McGuire  5:39  
when I'm editing text, the ideas around being constructive and not being negative. So being positive, goes through everything that I that I consider. And so fun is another helpful reminder for me to to adjust the writing that I'm working with to be positive and constructive. So I use that to remind my colleague not to, as I was saying, be negative about something else, but find a different story to tell. So I suppose if the FUD actually slips through all the way to a piece of writing, we've, we've missed a trick somewhere in our production process, because we really try to be positive and constructive about our communications.

Christine Beuhler  6:25  
As an editor, you know, I think FUD can be kind of unconscious, it's pretty common in a lot of marketing, writing to say like, a software X does better than software. Why? Because in a way, it's also like, it's useful shorthand, like if you want to just say, like, sum up the product. But at OSP, we like to do things differently. And so we like to get into the benefits, and like the details and the specifics of what a product offers, and what its value is just because we think that's what's more important, stronger, and clearer, I don't think I have to point it out that much as an editor, just because every other writer that I work with, has a pretty good handle on it. Sometimes it can be subtle. So it's good that we always have an objective eye passing over other people's work.

Felicity Brand  7:26  
When I'm editing, the FUD code is usually used in any kind of comparison piece, or perhaps a case study where you may naturally have to talk about products in the market, it's not often that I use the fun code, I guess, because the writers at OSP, it's not part of our ethos, so we don't naturally tend to fall prey to it. If I do see that the resolution is usually just reframing the content. You know, like the flip side of fun. So rather than talking about something in a negative light, you just flip it and talk about the product or feature or tool you're talking about. And its benefits. It may be that in a piece of writing, we really need to include a statement about a competitor, you know, it's okay to do that. We just need to make sure we've done research, we can show evidence to support any claim we're making bonus points if the product owner of that software or tool owns that shortcoming. If they already kind of admit to yes, we know that our solution doesn't support this use case or what have you. It's a tricky area. And it comes down to the discretion of the editor and the writer, as well as you know, the client, the brief in house style, the broader strategy at OSP. We think highlighting the positive is far stronger than resorting to criticism.

Carl Richards  9:00  
In your draft editing, as a writer, here's how you can explore this code. So

Jeffrey A. McGuire  9:04  
when I'm preparing a piece and writing it, rather than editing it, the font code and the idea behind it is a fundamental part of the preparation. I think it doesn't even quite come into the writing necessarily. But when I'm interviewing a subject matter expert, when I'm talking with my client, maybe with when I'm writing a case study and talking with their clients, I'm looking for the positive things that happened, the transformation, the improved business, that increased efficiency, the lower costs, what whatever the positive is, whatever the good reasons are, to use something to choose something and what to understand about it. So as a writer, I think, frankly, it helps me prepare good interview questions and think about the structure of what I'm going to write.

Christine Beuhler  9:46  
Yeah, as a as a writer. I try to be pretty cognizant of FUD and I think, you know, that's mostly credited to OSP and just the you know, The different way we do things here, because in some of my other positions at other companies that was never specified as a thing to avoid, it was a different way of doing things. But I think it's better when you're writing, you're often focused on making like sort of an emotional appeal to the people you're writing for, you know, I think we have taken that in a different direction, because of course, you can make an emotional appeal to like fear and uncertainty and doubt, but we try to take it in the other direction. For a more like positive emotional appeal, I think we do a good job of showing what is possible, and you know how that can actually be a more effective approach.

Felicity Brand  10:51  
One easy way to avoid FUD is just avoid mentioning competitors altogether. But that is a bit lazy. So showing you've done your research and that you understand the space lends credibility. So it can be really useful to touch on other solutions in the market. And the fun code is just about doing that in a positive way. Rather than casting a shadow on competitors, by sowing fear, uncertainty, and out, turn it around, and instead focus on the unique selling points of the product that you are describing bonus points if you can describe the unique selling points of a competitor, and differentiate your product from theirs. That way, everybody wins. And you establish trust with your reader, by being transparent and knowledgeable.

Carl Richards  11:43  
As a reader, here's why this editing code might be really important

Jeffrey A. McGuire  11:48  
in the big world of marketing and advertising. I can't say that I am absolutely right. But for my taste, and for the ethical moral position that open strategy partners tries to put into its work. I don't like being told by a very large, very large company on one of the podcasts I listen to regularly constantly about how using the competition is bad for me and slows me down and wastes my time. And it's such a terrible idea and don't and don't and don't. And you're such a loser if you don't, you know, if you're using that other thing. It's just a horrible way to talk about other people. I don't think that we should, I mean, if this were in human terms, and we were talking about having a debate, it's kind of like an ad hominem attack, where I attack your haircut, or your choice and clothes or something, instead of arguing the substance of what we're talking about, right? I think it's similarly intellectually dishonest to allege What's bad about somebody else's, and to put fear into, into people, rather than saying, hey, our stuff is so great, your day is going to be better when you use it, you're going to work faster, you're going to be more secure, because we do A, B and C. So when we are positive and constructive, then we also engage in very much fact based communications because of how we work block by block. And piece by piece. Everything we're doing is fact based, positive, constructive, moving people towards positive choices, helping people decide to read something or not, but all based on what we can get out of it and not the fear of problems.

Christine Beuhler  13:24  
I think for readers, avoiding FUD is important. Just because you're in for like social media, it's like a very common tactic. That's kind of I think, why we see so many issues coming from social media these days is because fear, uncertainty and doubt are just being pushed constantly. It's also kind of like manipulative strategy. And so I think we want to steer clear of that. And I think for the reader, it also just highlights the benefits of a product or a service a lot more clearly, you know, for saying, software X is faster. And then if we are avoiding comparison, then instead, we really have to focus on the product or service itself and get really clear on what it is offering the audience which is ultimately I think more beneficial for the audience.

Felicity Brand  14:32  
I am not a marketer, I don't have a marketing background. I identify as a technical writer, although this fund code, I guess, comes from a marketing space. I think it really is important, much more broadly. in the technology space you often see you'll often read pieces comparing software. So often I will go to Google and ask for a comparison piece this versus that, you know, should I install this product or that product, you know, I need it quick. And there are lots of results, lots of pages that will give you pros and cons lists, you know, side by side comparisons of software, that's fine. But as a reader, you're more likely to trust the author because they're being transparent and honest. And you can be assured that they've done their research, and that they understand what they're writing about. So as a reader, I don't have to understand it, I can just, I can just believe what they told me. So I'm a lazy reader, it's theirs. I have a kind of an example. And I have a kind of a statement, transparently acknowledging your competition. And honestly describing differences between yours and others ensures your message carries weight. I think that honesty and transparency is so rare these days. It's so powerful when you can be authentic, and honestly compare features toolsets solutions, and talk about how things are useful in different contexts. Maybe rather than just dissing your competition, I came across here's an example I came across. This is a case study. So it was a web agency talking about a content management system for their client. And they said before approaching us they've been using WordPress, but the content they needed to surface was accessed by API's, which ended up overloading their old website. So that's talking about a scenario where they had a solution WordPress, they also had a particular situation that was talking about accessing API's, it ended up in a in an non optimal situation for that client. So it's okay to talk about products that aren't quite meeting the needs anymore. I don't think this is casting any aspersions on WordPress. It's setting up that case study story for the new solution that the agency delivered for their clients.

Carl Richards  17:14  
I hope you dear listener, have enjoyed what we've shared here today. Next time you find yourself drawing comparisons or highlighting features, try to remember to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative latch on to the affirmative and don't mess with Mr. In between. Share your examples or questions with us via Twitter at open underscore strategy or email Hello at open strategy partners.com. This was one of the editorial codes we use at OSP. If you'd like to learn more in the meantime, come on over to open strategy partners.com. Have a look at our writer enablement workshops, case study offering or get in touch to talk about your strategy or product communication needs. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this podcast, all the peas that OSP thanks to our clients who believe in us. Shout out to Patrick Gamal for our high energy, maple syrup flavor theme music and to Mike snow for additional horn arrangements. Thank you for listening and subscribing. About our three themes on the podcast, you'll hear different members of the OSP team hosting episodes over time, communicate all things communication. We share how we tackle writing, editing, word choices, formats, processes, and more. Connect in depth conversations with interesting smart people about who they are, what they do, and how they approach their life and work as communicators, technologists and leaders grow. We cover approaches to understanding and expressing the value of what you do, including tools, templates, and practical applications. We also feel strongly about building a mindful positive human first culture at work that's bound to pop up from time to time to this podcast is us figuring out communication connection and growing together. Subscribe now on YouTube, Apple podcasts or the podcast channel of your choice. Follow us suggest guests and topics. Ask us questions on social media. We are at open underscore strategy on Twitter. Until next time, I'm Carl Richards and this is the OSP podcast.

Jeffrey A. McGuire  20:06  
as we record this, I'm working on a set of icons for the editing codes with our designer and it's really fun and we're having a good time with it and there's a lot to do there's 60 or 70 or 80 of these things. Right now we're working on a lot of codes that look like hand gestures and that's becoming a nice thread through the thing. I've also had this conversation with her a lot about things have to be positive, right? It's a do this rather than a don't do that. The current candidate however, for the FUD icon is the poop emoji with the red, you know line and bar through it. So you know, don't do FUD people.


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