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Fletch Airplane Mechanic JPGDo you ever use Jargon in your marketing or sales presentations?

Most people do.

I have always preached that you should avoid it whenever possible. I have changed my tune on it a little bit. I think there are times that it is not only good but catastrophic not to.

Let’s start with what is jargon?

Wikipedia says that “Jargon is a type of language that is used in a particular context and may not be well understood outside of it.” which means that a small group of people recognizes it.

An example of this may be technical speak. If you are a computer programmer, you may talk about CSS. It could also be slang, like someone said “Hashtag.” Both examples use language that is only understood in a limited context. What is important to understand is the speaker and the intended audience. Sometimes jargon is necessary to prove you are reputable, or “in the know”. It can show that you understand the topic well enough to know the “lingo”. It proves legitimacy; that you are an insider.

The medical and tech worlds are like this. If you are talking about a Nurse Practitioner, they are an NP. If you are explaining computer storage, it is in “Gigs” which is a slang jargon.

If I had a conversation with my mother about the NP in my clinic that just bought a new computer with 500 Gigs, she would have no idea what I was talking about. But if I was a pharmaceutical salesperson and walked into a clinic and asked for the “Nurse Practitioner or Medical Provider” on duty, I could be looked at as an outsider.  

I used to work with a guy who was a bit of an office bully. He would consistently use jargon terms like CPC, CPM, and PPC (we worked in advertising at the time) especially with new employees in the industry. I think that it gave him a bit of an ego boost to know things that the kids may not have known. That is not an effective way of using jargon.

So where and when is jargon an issue? In short, anytime you use language to communicate to your audience. It could be in your “elevator pitch” (Jargon in itself!), where you talk about what you do, and how it would benefit the customer. It could be in your marketing collateral, or on your website; it could be in the everyday language that you use when you are speaking live to a customer.  As a sales trainer, I always used to say that you should stay away from jargon when talking to a prospect. Think of it as Jargon Rule 1.1. Jaron Rule 1.2 is to use it but explain it. Let’s call Jargon 1.0 the version where it is used liberally.

Here is an example I use in training classes. I used to work in a ski shop in college. When people came to buy skis, one of the questions I used to get asked was “What’s the difference between this ski and that ski” and I would invariably talk about the construction of the ski.

Jargon Rule 1.0 version:
This ski has a channeled wood core, with a titanium dampening layer. It has a deep sidecut, with a moderate flex in the tip and tail, but stiff though the waist.

Jargon 1.1 version:
Based on how you told me you ski, this one would perform better for you. It will be durable, lighter in weight, and turn quickly. On those long flats, it will feel smooth.

Jargon 1.2 version:
It has a channeled wood core. A wood core is more durable than a foam core, which is what that other one is. Think of a piece of wood vs. a Styrofoam cooler, but wood is heavier. What this manufacturer does, is they cut channels into it that takes some of the weight away but still keeps a degree of strength and durability. They also install a strip of titanium metal along the top, and it helps to minimize vibration at high speeds. Have you ever been on a flat section going along as fast as you can, and you can feel the ski chatter? Well, the titanium helps to reduce that. It also is flexible at the top and bottom because when you turn, you want to lean into it, and the ski will bend, or flex, into the snow. A flexible top and bottom, we call them the tip and tail, will allow it to start the turn more easily.

Each of these versions would be appropriate based on the audience. If I used Jargon 1.0 with my mother, it would fail miserably. If I used it with a ski aficionado that hadn’t seen a new model and wanted to know what the difference was, that would be perfect. It would lend credibility to that person that I knew what I was talking about. If I used Jargon 1.1 or 1.2 with the ski aficionado, she might think that I’m a new guy who just learned it, or I may be prejudiced and think that she doesn’t know her stuff. She could see it as an insult.

The biggest thing here is to know your audience. If this were media (print, audio, video), you would want to make sure you were addressing your buyer personae directly.

Another common use is in overused platitudes. This is one of the worst uses of jargon you can use! Think of words that mean NOTHING. We are a “One Stop Shop”. Our company is a “Full Service” or “Comprehensive” or “Passionate about our customers” or my favorite “Best Quality”.


Seriously?


If you thought that your business did not care about its customers, had poor quality, or did very little, would you still work there?

For your own good, do this exercise. Pull up your marketing collateral, website, brochures, ads, fliers, anything that faces a customer. Then pull the corresponding material from your competitors. Take turns reading them aloud to your teammates without saying the name of the company or geographical region that may be mentioned.

See if you can tell the difference. If not, you need to cut all that out and re-write it.