Lost in translation: The dangers of marketing jargon
How often do you find yourself talking about core competency, bleeding-edge technology, and shifting paradigms in your marketing messages?
When you’re writing content for your blog, or recording a podcast for your customers, do you pat yourself on the back for material that’s clear, concise, and straight to the point? Or are you just proud of how smart you look because you’ve used so many complicated words?
In the corporate world, marketers and business leaders alike are constantly looking for ways to demonstrate their industry knowledge and skill to their peers. That means learning how to speak the language of your sector, complete with all the confusing acronyms and unusual terms that your coworkers rely on. However, when the time comes to talk to customers through a marketing campaign, it’s important to remember that you’ll have a completely different language to adopt.
Marketing takes you out of the room where you’re chatting with consultants, investors, and colleagues, and places you face-to-face with a group of people who have their very own language. The best way to reach these people is to avoid the geeky gobbledygook and marketing jargon altogether.
So, what is jargon in marketing, and how do you avoid it to create more clarity in your content?
Let’s find out.
What is jargon in marketing? Banishing the buzzwords
It’s easy to fall under the spell of advertising jargon.
When you spend enough time around other marketers in your space, it’s natural to pick up their language and mannerisms. While there’s nothing wrong with using business-oriented terms around your coworkers and industry peers, the problems occur when those words start appearing in your content.
According to the Management Professor at the University of California-Berkley school of business, Jargon masks and eliminates “real meaning” in your words. People generally use jargon terms as a substitute for getting to know their customers and providing real answers to their questions. In other words, it’s a way of trying to make yourself sound smart when you don’t understand the subject that you’re talking about.
Ultimately, it requires no creativity or thought leadership for someone in the advertising industry to use marketing jargon to create a sense of mystery and complexity around a subject. However, a true thought leader is a person who can simplify those complicated subject matters into something that anyone could understand. Da Vinci once told us that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
While there are many parts of a business that can fall victim to issues with jargon, marketing teams often have the biggest problems. After all, these are the professionals that need to regularly jump between different groups with their conversations. They speak to other professionals, business leaders, and customers in quick succession each day.
When you’re jumping between groups quickly like that, it’s easy to forget that each person or community you speak to has their own needs when it comes to language. Just as other marketers will expect to hear common advertising jargon from their peers, consumers will expect language that’s simple and straightforward.
In the corporate world, marketing jargon helps promotional professionals to talk to each other in a specialized and effective way, creating branding and marketing plans for the future. However, in the consumer world, marketing jargon implies that you don’t know your topic as well as you should.
Additionally, overuse of jargon could mean that your customers end up losing trust in you or questioning your credibility. According to a study in 2011, speakers who use buzzwords and industry slang instead of basic language were often perceived to be lying.
Is advertising jargon the same as professional language?
One of the biggest mistakes that people make when it comes to marketing jargon is assuming it’s the same as specialist language. When you’re writing an article about content writing for your clients, terms like “SEO” and “remarketing” are bound to come up. However, there’s a difference between using these terms effectively and allowing them to dissolve into common advertising jargon.
Jargon refers to when professional language is used poorly. For instance, if you use the acronym “SEO,” but don’t explain what it means, then you’re just using jargon. Used correctly, professional language builds trust with your audience by showing that you understand your industry. It makes your customers feel smart by helping them to learn something important about your space.
On the other hand, marketing jargon is annoying – it’s something that makes people feel overwhelmed and confused, often alienating the customers you’re trying to reach. When we assume that people will understand what we mean, rather than using simple language that anyone can grasp, we create misunderstanding and confusion. The truth is that your customers–no matter whether they’re in the marketing space or anywhere else–demand clarity.
Some of the biggest problems with relying on marketing jargon are:
- It’s exclusionary: Nothing’s worse than thinking that you have to speak a new language to understand a blog or podcast. Your customers want to feel that you understand not just your industry, but them too. If you’re using words that will only make sense to other people in your industry, then you’re not going to reach the right people.
- It’s inefficient: If you’re using marketing jargon in an article that’s designed to bring value to your customers by teaching them something, you may end up with a lot of people who nod along and say that they understand. However, the truth is that they’ll walk away feeling more confused, which means that they’ll seek out better explanations from your competitors and other brands that do speak their language.
- It makes customers feel bad: When companies use language that their customers can’t understand, those client stop feeling psychologically safe. In other words, they don’t feel like valued members of your community and start feeling like idiots or outcasts. In a world where building emotional relationships with customers is critical, you can’t afford to jeopardise your affinity with your clients.
How to speak your customer’s language (and why it’s crucial)
Getting out of the habit of using marketing jargon in your content isn’t easy.
When certain words and phrases are embedded into your corporate culture, it’s easy to lose track of how you should be speaking to your audience. Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to begin cleaning up your language and bringing more clarity back into your content.
1. Start by identifying your audience
In the promotional world, user personas are how you step out of the shoes of the “advertising expert,” and get back into the mindset that you need to connect with your target customer.Identifying your audience will help you to remember who you’re speaking to when you’re creating your podcasts, videos, articles, and webinars.
Dive into the personas that you have for your target audience and ask yourself what kind of language you’ll need to use to relate to the best. Take note of any words, phrases, and stories that your customers have shared in the past on your website, social media pages, or testimonials. The more you listen to them, the easier it will be to speak their language.
2. Clean up your vocabulary
Once you know who your customers are, you can begin to clean advertising jargon out of your content by asking yourself how they would respond to your material. Remember, when customers don’t understand what you’re talking about, they don’t just avoid buying your products. Your clients will also be unable to form the relationships with your company that are necessary for long-term sales.
Whenever you’re writing or producing something for an external audience, avoid buzzwords, acronyms, and pretentious-sounding words. Keep things simple, and if you do use any professional language, ask yourself whether you’ve explained that term adequately first.
3. Use every term correctly
As mentioned above, there’s a difference between professional language and advertising jargon. If you do need to use complicated words in your content, then the first thing to do is make sure that you’re using those terms correctly. Throwing clever-sounding words into the material that you’re sharing both online and offline isn’t going to make you sound more impressive to your target audience. Instead, it’s just going to alienate your target audience and identify you as a fool.
The language that you’re using in any marketing content needs to be purposeful and meaningful. This is particularly important when it comes to using buzzwords and slang. If you’re not totally sure that you’re using a word correctly, just don’t use it.
4. Create feedback loops
One of the easiest ways to make sure that you’re not using too much advertising jargon in your content is to ask for feedback from your audience. At the end of every blog, invite your customers to share what they’ve learned in the comments, or get in touch or social media. This is a great way to find out whether people are taking real value from whatever you’re sharing.
Listening to your target audience will help you to pinpoint when your tone of voice isn’t resonating with them as a brand. If you notice that people aren’t responding to your material the way that you would like them to, then you can begin to adapt your strategy accordingly.
Types of marketing jargon to avoid in your content
There’s a lot of common advertising jargon in the world today.
In this article, we’ve been looking at marketing jargon as it exists in the conversations between companies and their customers. When you use terms that are exclusively designed for people in your industry to speak to your external clients, that’s jargon.
The key to building brand loyalty and attracting the attention of your customers is making sure that you’re speaking their language – not just your own. That means that you need to replace advertising jargon and complicated words with phrases that are simple, meaningful, and concise. Whenever you’re ready to publish a piece of marketing material, as yourself if you’re using:
- Slang: Using slang can be a great way to bring more personality to your content, as long as you’re using the slang that your target audience is familiar with – not just the words that you use around the office with your other promotional pros.
- Jargon: As mentioned above, this is the language that’s used within your specific niche – often incorrectly. If you’re throwing words and phrases into your content without fully understanding what they mean, then you’re not going to have the right impact on your audience.
- Buzzwords: Similar to jargon, buzzwords are important-sounding words that don’t have much meaning. While it might be necessary to mention these in your content from time to time, it’s important to ensure that you explain them to your audience.
Marketing jargon can often seem like a useful shortcut in your business content – a way of covering a trending topic and improving your SEO without having to truly understand what you’re talking about. However, genuinely incredible marketers know that if they want to make a lasting impact on their audience, they need to be delivering true value in their content – and that means using the right language.
In a book called This is Marketing, influencer Seth Godin said that if you really want to reach your audience on an emotional level, then you need to match their worldview. To some extent, this means building a brand that mimics the values and personality of your target audience. However, it also means understanding how to write and portray your content in a language that your audience understands.
Incredible advertising isn’t just about telling the right story anymore; it’s about sharing that narrative in a language that your audience can truly grasp.
Bringing more clarity to your content
By banishing common advertising jargon from your content, marketing teams can make sure that their audience understands the value behind what’s being shared.
After all, the whole point of content marketing today is to ensure that you highlight your position as a thought leader and specialist in your industry. Over time, content will allow you to develop relationships with your customers and explain your value to them. However, this strategy only works if your audience understands what you’re saying.
To make sure your content is explicit:
- Use examples: One of the most powerful methods content creators use in storytelling is to illustrate a concept with an example. If you’re trying to explain something that your audience might consider to be complicated or confusing, use an example that they can resonate with. This shows that you’re not just dumbing down your content to avoid talking about complicated concepts, you’re sharing your understanding of the industry with others.
- Get a second pair of eyes: Having an editor on board or someone in your team who can read over your content before it goes out to the masses is always a good idea. It’s easy for any promotional expert to end up getting tunnel vision after a while. The more you speak to people in your industry, and the less you interact with customers face-to-face, the more natural advertising jargon will feel. A second pair of eyes can stop you from losing touch with the people you’re connecting with.
- Cut the filler: Finally, whenever you’re producing material for marketing purposes, set aside some extra time where you can go through what you’ve created and cut out the filler. Replacing any confusing words with simpler terms and ask yourself whether anything you’ve covered might confuse someone who isn’t part of your business.
One of the easiest ways to eliminate advertising jargon from your content creation plan is to ask yourself whether you’re writing conversationally. When you read though the material that you’ve created at the end of the day, does it feel like you’re back at school, reading through complicated documents? Have you written an essay, or is it something that speaks to your audience on their level and makes them feel like they’re just one of your friends?
Ultimately, while your goal as a marketer might be to educate your customers at times, you don’t want to make them feel small and stupid in the process. Imagine that you’re someone just coming in off the street and interacting with your brand for the first time, how would your content make you feel?
Creating empathy by avoiding advertising jargon
There are times when marketing jargon can seem helpful.
If you’re talking about a complicated topic to share your position as a thought leader, then it seems obvious that you would have to use terms that are limited to your specific niche. However, there’s a big difference between using and explaining the professional language that’s common in your industry and just throwing common advertising jargon into the mix.
Professional terms and acronyms have their place in any industry. It’s when you start using those phrases as an excuse not to get to the deeper meaning of something that problems begin to arise.
Psychology tells us that if we want to build credibility and trust with our fellow human being, we need to be empathetic. The easiest way to show empathy in life is to mirror the behaviour and language of the person you’re talking to. For instance, if you’ve ever been in a deep conversation with someone, you might have noticed that you begin to mirror their body language. As they lean one way, you lean that same way too, and so on.
Similarly, human beings often repeat each other’s words and phrases to demonstrate that we’re listening to what they say and that we understand their meaning. That’s a technique that you’ll need to bring into your marketing efforts too. The more time you spend around other members of your marketing group, the more likely it is that you’ll begin to use more advertising jargon because of the nature of human psychology.
However, as you shift back to speaking to your company’s target audience, it’s crucial to hit the reset button and remember that you’re emphasizing with an entirely new group of people. If it helps, consider saving conversations you’ve had with customers in the past, and reading through them or listening to them before you start writing. This could help you to get the right empathetic mindset established before you begin to create.
Marketing jargon: It’s not as intelligent as you’d think
When you’re first entering the marketing industry and getting used to your new business, advertising jargon can seem attractive, compelling, and even intelligent. However, the truth is that it’s just a mask for lack of understanding most of the time.
If you want to establish yourself as an authentic thought leader, then you need to avoid filling your marketing messages with generic buzzwords, slang, and terms that you think are common to your industry. These words are often confusing, meaningless, and easy to ignore. Instead, take the time to personalize your message to the audience that you want to reach, and the concepts that they care about.
It will take more time for you to shift between advertising jargon mode and customer connection mode whenever you’re creating your brand materials — but the investment is worth it. Customers will recognise the effort that you make to understand them and speak their language. They’ll start to feel like you truly get them, and that will lead to stronger relationships between your business, and your community.
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