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How To Avoid Jargon Lust
Blog / Entrepreneurs / Dec 11, 2014 / Posted by Andy Rudin / 3841 

How To Avoid Jargon Lust

If you have played the word game, Taboo, you already know where this discussion will lead.

If you haven’t, a quick tutorial. The game is played with two teams consisting of two or more people on each team. Players on Team A draw a card with a word, and the person holding the card describes that word or phrase to their partner—or partners—without using any of the five common additional words or phrases presented on the card.

At the same time, players on Team B monitor a timer, and sound an annoying buzzer (supplied with the game) if any of the five taboo words or phrases is inadvertently used. The roles for each team reverse for every card draw. The team that conveys the most words without using taboo words wins. Oh, you can’t gesture, either.

The challenge is harder than it appears. And beer and wine don’t make the game easier. I’ve tried.

For example, to describe the word SOAP, the card shows the taboo words CLEAN, WASH, SUDS, LAUNDRY, and OPERA. If the word to describe combines two words, like BASKETBALL, then BASKET and BALL are also banned.

A corporate version of this game would be salvation for all of us. Imagine a card with DATA WAREHOUSE as the phrase to describe, and you can’t say FILE, INFORMATION, SERVER, ITIL, and TERABYTE.

Why do I say this? Because a software company I work with recently sent me a key piece of their marketing collateral to review. I expected typical minor stuff. “Change happy to glad,” as we say in the trade. But my head quickly began to hurt from the abundant techno-jargon. I stowed my surgical editing knife, reached for my heavy axe, and began chopping:

system, paradigm, data, platform, updates, interfaces

Gone! “But we use those words every day,” you say. Me too, so I understand. But to give this context, my client intended their marketing piece for CFO’s and operations executives, not techies.

Before returning my revisions, I solicited the opinion of a friend of mine, a seasoned CFO, by asking him to have a look at the original content on the company’s website. Here’s his response:

“As a CFO, I would be very hesitant to buy this solution if my team (or more likely the IT team) brought it to me for approval. I really don’t like to buy solutions when I can’t get a common-sense handle on what the solution is and how it works.”

If your mission is selling something, you won’t find a red flag any redder. I printed his email in large text, framed it, and placed it on my office wall. I’m looking at it right now. If you’re in marketing communications, I recommend you do the same. If you’re short on wall space, just print and frame his second sentence.

Anytime we communicate, we risk falling into a jargon trap. But what, exactly, is jargon? A new book by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges defines jargon as “words and phrases used . . . in place of plain-English words and phrases that express the same thought. Jargon adds nothing but a phony air of expertise.” Their advice? “Avoid words that would cause people to look at you funny if you used them at a party. Pretend that you’re telling your story to some friends in your living room; that’s how you should tell it to the court.” Of course, we would say customer in place of court. Whatever. Same thing.

In addition to the words I mentioned earlier, what other common tech jargon are strong candidates for taboo in customer communications?

cloud, cloud computing, cloud-based, Web2.0, Web3.0, SocialWeb, Crowdsourcing, SaaS, on-demand, real-time, synch, gamification, virtual, virtualization, malware, next-generation, open system, seamless, ideation, infrastructure, seamlessly, IT architecture

Every day people coin new jargon, and marketers are only too eager to blast it out to the world through Twitter, blogs, and other marcomm—oh, sorry, I mean Marketing Communications. Pressure for companies to be found through online search has pushed much of this jargon into places it doesn’t belong. “We were the first company to use gamification on our website!” Great. I got 4.7 million search results for the word just now—not bad, considering its first use goes all the way back to 2002.

If you don’t want your target buyer communicating to you through silent indifference, manage that risk by making jargon taboo at your company. Here are some steps:

Retrieve a random piece of your company’s current marketing communication.

  1. Select a word you think is jargon. For example, interface.
  2. Without the aid of online search, ask members of your team to define that word.
  3. Any word lacking consensus on meaning should be considered for removal.
  4. Compile your own internal list of taboo words, and assign staff to serve as jargon police to make sure the words don’t slip into any customer document, presentation, or face-to-face customer meeting.
  5. Maintain the list, and distribute it to people who need to know.
  6. Ask yourself, “how do our prospects perceive [alleged jargon word or phrase]? Are they familiar with [word or phrase]? Does using this word improve our most important ideas and messages—or shroud them?
  7. If anyone at your company uses a taboo word when it should be avoided, don’t sound a buzzer. That would get too noisy. Instead, for every infraction, ask the violator to pony up $1.00 into the happy hour jar. You’ll squelch the use of jargon faster than anyone can imagine, and you’ll have great fun every Friday afternoon when you head out for drinks.

Want to learn more? Great! For a seamless way to integrate these breakthrough, game-changing ideas into a scalable framework embedded with your legacy process workflows, and to incentivize your staff and other stakeholders to utilize the output to align your resources for disruptive innovation, let’s connect, synch calendars, and collaborate.

Phew! That’s a lot, and I’ve still barely optimized the input from my cloud-based jargon repository.

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About Author

Andrew (Andy) Rudin serves as Managing Principal of Contrary Domino, Inc., and helps B2B companies identify, assess, and manage a broad spectrum of revenue risks. He has a successful background as a technology sales strategist, marketer, account executive, and product manager.

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