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In late 2019, researchers at Ohio State conducted a study. They had one group of consumers read three paragraphs about technology that only included simple terms. Then they had another group read three paragraphs on the same topic, except this time, it was filled with specialized jargon.
For instance, the jargon group would read a sentence like: “This system works because of AI integration through motion scale and tremor reduction.”
Meanwhile, the non-jargon group would see: “This system works because of programming that makes the robot’s movements more precise and less shaky.”
Even though the people who encountered the jargon were given definitions for all the terms, they felt disengaged by the end of the passage. They didn’t like what they were reading, and they even started to argue against it.
Conversely, the jargon-free group not only felt engaged, they also felt empowered and wanted to learn more.
Professor Hilary Schulman, the lead author of the study, explained why: “The use of difficult, specialized words are a signal that tells people that they don’t belong,” she said. “You can tell them what the terms mean, but it doesn’t matter. They already feel like that this message isn’t for them.”
For many marketers and sales leaders, this is very bad news.
Marketers and sellers love to use jargon—especially when employed at tech companies. After enough analyst conferences, your brain just melts, and you start to think that “Centralizing data from multiple sources for better efficiency and making data accessible across all teams offer all the essential components of an ideal modern data stack—and a way to keep your team engaged at work” is a perfectly reasonable thing to say.
That might seem like a ridiculous, made-up example. Except it’s from an outreach email I received last week from a well-known tech company. The email also nonchalantly referenced a “central cloud warehouse” (WHAT), and opened with the classic line, “Based on your role at Contently, I’m curious if managing multiple data pipeline and fielding organization-wide data queries likely keep your team focused on less strategic tasks than they prefer.”
An SDR didn’t just come up with this email. It likely went through several reviews before it was approved, and it epitomizes how the echo chamber of industry jargon can absolutely ruin your marketing.
Usually, marketing and sales teams fall into this trap because they believe buzzwords make them sound like experts, which, in turn, will make people trust them.
But the opposite is true. Jargon turns people off. They stop listening, even when they know what the words mean. Our brains respond best to content and stories written in clear, simple language.
Are some industry-specific terms necessary in your marketing and sales collateral? Absolutely. It’s impossible to write intelligently about content measurement, for instance, without using terms like unique visitors, cost-per-lead (CPL), or share of voice. But we still need to ensure that we use those terms in simple, clear sentences, and explain what they mean when necessary.
On the flip side, you’re going to turn off 95 percent of potential customers with stuff like this:
One of the smartest things you can do as a sales or marketing leader is vet all your content, strip out the jargon, and make it as easy as possible for people to understand what you do and how it’ll help them.
The digital age has broken down the barriers between brands and consumers. But with bad messaging, brands put that barrier right back up through jargon-filled websites, emails, LinkedIn messages, whitepapers, and other content that just doesn’t make sense.
Writing about complex subjects isn’t easy. But the companies that make it easy to understand will have a huge competitive advantage.
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