I’ve learnt a lot from my kids during my copywriting career. For instance, I’ve realised that lacing my requests to tidy their toys or get ready for school with an irresistible benefit (like the reward of a precious sticker or bonus screen time) gets a much better response than when I turn into ‘shouty mummy’.
Another thing about children is that their world is a heckuva lot simpler than ours. One shining example is the stuff they say, versus the utter balderdash us ‘grown-ups’ come out with.
My seven-year-old is an insatiable reader (cue proud writer-mummy). And he’s storming through the Harry Potter series faster than you can say ‘He Who Shall Not Be Named.’ While reading aloud Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, he came across the word ‘irresolute’. Frowning, my son asked, “What does that mean Mummy?” I explained it was another way of saying ‘unsure’. “Oh, so why doesn’t it just say that?” And from then on, when ‘irresolute’ popped up he read it as ‘unsure’. This was a word he was at ease with, making him so much more invested in the story.
Just a load of gibberish
Which got me thinking about the words we use in business. What words do we use that put our customers at ease and which words make them feel decidedly, well, more uncomfortable than a weekend scaling cliffs and drinking bodily fluids with Bear Grylls?
That, my friend, would be jargon.
The Oxford English Dictionary describes jargon as ‘unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing; nonsense, gibberish.’
Gibberish. A word that evokes side-splitting scenes of the Monty Python lads spouting gobbledygook to confuse and confound. All jolly hilarious in a comedy sketch, but not so much fun in the boardroom. And even less amusing if this ‘gibberish’ starts creeping into your marketing, or (shock-horror) when talking head-on with your clients. Gibberish – AKA jargon – has no business with customers.
Calling a spade a long-handled metal excavation tool
And take it from me, I know jargon. After spending several years working in the NHS, where phrases like ‘acute foundation trusts’, ‘quality and outcomes framework’ and the rather eerie ‘never event’ are commonplace (not to mention the giddying number of acronyms), I spent a great deal of time looking utterly mystified, trying to decode the cryptic utterances of my colleagues.
I realised the thing about jargon is that it’s kind of like a secret password. Once you understand the elusive speak, it gains you entry into an exclusive club. Know the lingo? Then feel free to take your seat at the high table – talking NICE guidelines and primary care baselines with the best of them.
Of course, the downside is if you don’t know the password you ain’t even getting past the bouncers. And how unwelcoming is that?
Imagine then, how this feels to your customers? A bit of a snub? Somewhat baffling? Not to mention all terribly exhausting.
Take out the brain ache
Donald Miller of Building a Brand Story says a fundamental marketing mistake that businesses make is that “they cause their customers to burn too many calories in an effort to understand their offer.” Simply put, you gotta keep it simple (stupid). And using jargon in your marketing is one helluva head spinner.
Granted, there will be times when your audience is familiar with certain phrases relating to your industry. For instance, with marketing clients, I’ll freely talk ‘calls to action’ and ‘tone of voice’ all day. And if it’s not exclusive then that’s just fine.
But when your insider-speak – in other words, the internal language that keeps the cogs of your organisational machine turning – creeps into the language you use with your customers, then you’re putting them metaphorically face-to-face with that unwelcome, burly bouncer at the back door. And access to your product or service is suddenly a slammed door in the face.
Plain and simple, if you want your customers on the inside, then cut the gibberish.