Branding in Language

Recently I was working on a bid to provide highway diesel for a major university’s fleet of busses.  Per my usual process I printed the 40-some-odd pages and sat down with a highlighter and stack of Post-It notes.  Pretty soon I found myself wishing I had a red pen; this bid was full of low-level errors.  Chief among them:

  • “Fuel is to be deliveraed…”
  • “Grade of on-road diesel is regular unleaded 87 octane.”

And the favorite of my office:

  • “Bid can be terminated at the discretion of (School name here) on the basis of poop performance.”

Now, the procurement department is completely separate from the instructional faculty and not representative of the education one receives at this institution.  Procurement officers do not teach classes.  Still, I found myself wondering what in the world was going on at this university! It’s a university that grants advanced degrees. Is there no one around who could proofread this document? Who is this person’s boss? Did they approve this?  In one single document the opinion of the professionalism of this huge organization was brought down, the product they produce put into question, and my confidence on entering into a binding contract with them put into doubt.

In the age of informal digital communication where letters suffice for phrases and I is no longer a proper noun in need of capitalization it is easy to overlook such errors and make the dangerous assumption no one will notice or care.  If your customers read your website and can pick out multiple grammatical and spelling errors will they still trust you to pump heating oil into their basement tank at a rate of 75 gallons per minute?  Would they think you have the attention to detail necessary to suspect an issue when the whistle is faint? Maybe, but why risk it?  It’s worth the investment to have someone review drafts of your website or direct mail pieces and point out errors or inconsistencies before your customers or (equally important) your competitors see it.

A professional proofreader isn’t always required; any fresh set of literate eyes is an excellent start.  The spelling and grammar checks built into word processing software rarely catch mistakes in tense (deliver vs. delivered) and often miss improper use of they’re and there.  This is your company image on the line; your brand. Get multiple reviews of your information before it goes to print, lest your… performance… ever come into question.

Headshot_sextonMisty Sexton is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Space Petroleum, a wholesale fuel brokerage supplying petroleum products to the Mid-Atlantic States.  Sexton began her career in the office of a mid-sized home heating oil company and transitioned to wholesale fuels in 2008.  Her customer base is varied and includes distributors and end-users along with government agencies and of course, small home heating oil companies. She can be reached via email at

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