Marketing's jargon problem

Updated: Sep 19

Marketing is all about communication -- brands’ messages have to be cleverly conveyed to clients. But believe it or not, behind the scenes, marketing is a field plagued by jargon.

Most industries have their specific vocabulary, of course. It’s only logical that precise terms would arise to help professionals quickly explain or describe a particular issue or process in their field. But marketing jargon is particularly tricky, and the problems it causes can have a far reach.

Why does marketing jargon exist?

It may seem surprising that a communication-focused industry could have a jargon problem. How did this happen?

Creating vocabulary for industry-specific phenomena is understandable and a good way to establish a sort of lingua franca among colleagues and coworkers. But as journalist Rebekah Carter writes in a fascinating exposé of the issue, the word “jargon”doesn’t simply indicate industry-specific vocabulary - it’s “professional language…used poorly”.

Obscure or recently coined terms as well as trendy buzzwords might get thrown around with abandon, causing confusion instead of clarity. This often happens, Carter reports, because marketing professionals are trying to impress someone, particularly a sought-after client.

Carter’s exposé incidentally sheds light on another cause of the jargon problem. When you’re almost constantly surrounded by colleagues in your field, you might forget that not everyone in the “outside world” is familiar with your industry-specific vocabulary. This not only puts marketers at risk of confusing and boring people at dinner parties; it can also alienate them from clients and cause communication errors with partners from other fields.

What are the consequences of unchecked marketing jargon?

There are numerous consequences of marketing jargon getting out of hand. These include:

● alienating and confusing customers. If a client approaches a marketing firm and comes away from a meeting with jargon ringing in their head, they may not feel that their needs have been heard. And they’ll also be wondering if they understood everything that was discussed. This can lead to disengagement and lack of confidence, leading the client to look elsewhere.

● generating mistrust. Carter cites a 2011 study that found that overusing buzzwords and jargon instead of standard language tends to be perceived as dishonest, whether by clients, partners, and even less jargon-prone colleagues.

● causing a lack of clarity. JP Castlin, a former lawyer, bemoans marketing jargon for another reason: its lack of clarity. Unlike legalese, which is often unintelligible to laypeople but is laser-precise among lawyers, marketing jargon lacks specificity. Certain terms, like “strategy”, are vague and can have a number of different connotations. Castlin posits that colleagues may not truly understand each other when certain terms are being used.

● creating problems with translation vendors. When marketing firms team up with translation companies to help bring a brand’s message to a new audience, translators often have an additional language barrier to overcome. Industry jargon risks obscuring marketers’ meaning, intentions, and goals and can cause their campaign to get lost in translation.

How can marketing professionals avoid jargon?

The obvious solution to these issues is for marketers to stop using jargon, at least when they deal with people in other fields. But habits are hard to break.

Carter suggests a few helpful strategies to keep jargon in check, especially in marketing materials. These include imagining a target consumer and understanding what words they would most respond to. In addition, she writes, marketers can ask for feedback when testing content and material. An easy and free way to do this is by blogging or using social media and looking at readers’ comments.

It’s also a good idea to rely on examples instead of words. Incidentally, this tactic is also a great way to build empathy with audiences, a major marketing trend.

People who work with marketers can also help cut through the tangle of jargon. For instance, aiaTranslations’ team asks clients to fill out a strategy sheet, a list of questions about things like goals and challenges that are asked in neutral, non-industry language. This encourages communication without jargon, ultimately enabling our translators and transcreators to carry a brand’s message across borders.

Marketing professionals should look at jargon as a vine; it could become twisted and overgrown, choking the vitality from their company’s material and relationships with clients and partners. But if they trim it and keep its growth in check, it will be a natural part of their environment, its leaves flapping harmlessly in the breeze as they carry on productive conversations with non-industry individuals and create understandable and hopefully unforgettable content.



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