Why you shouldn't use jargon in your marketing communications and what to do instead.

Generally speaking, jargon shouldn’t feature in marketing communications.

There is often a misplaced belief that 'jargon' or 'buzzwords' conveys expertise in an area and helps build trust.

The truth is that 'jargon' and 'buzzwords' pushes readers away. They don't like it!

When communicating with wider audiences jargon is seen as off-putting and unnecessary:

  • Bart Egnal, in his book 'Leading through language: Choosing words that influence and inspire.' believed that 'jargon frustrates, confuses and generally alienates listeners' and that to be effective, leaders should drop jargon in favour of 'simple, coherent language'.
  • Talking about advertising David Ogilvy observed that "Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon."

According to plainlanguage.gov 'readers complain more about jargon more than any other writing fault'. This is mainly because writers often fail to realise that the jargon they know so well may be difficult to understand, or even meaningless, to their audience. The advice is to write to inform your audience rather than to impress it.

It isn't just a question of jargon making things harder to understand when communicating with members of the general public. It's likely that it could alienate the audience that your marketing communication is trying to engage with.

The use of difficult, specialised words was seen as ‘a signal that tells people that they don’t belong’ in a study conducted by Ohio State University. The study also discovered that defining the specialist terms being used doesn't help. Assistant Professor Hillary Shulman, who led the study commented “You can tell them what the terms mean, but it doesn’t matter. They already feel like that this message isn’t for them.”

Using complex or specialist words and phrases in your markeing communications can lead to people 'tuning out' and give the impression that the brand, or author, is 'out of touch' with their audience. Instead of enaging with an audience, the chances are that you're actually alienating them.

So, how do you make your marketing communications more effective without using jargon?

  • Write with your audience in mind.
    Speak their language using words and phrases that they will be familiar with. For example, the content and language for a presentation targeted at the whole of a company’s workforce should be very different to that of a presentation targeted at the company's technical team.
  • Be short and to the point.
    Be concise and use short sentences (they are easier to understand than longer, more complex ones).
  • Use plain, direct language.
    Don’t ‘talk down’ to audiences but do use plain, direct language. For instance, saying ‘The patient is on a respirator’ would be better than ‘The patient is being given positive-pressure ventilatory support’. Avoid buzzwords and acronyms (unless you know that your audience is going to understand them).
  • Write to inform, not to impress.
    You can really stand out and have a point of difference by using plain language that makes a subject easy to understand – especially when competitors have been tempted to use jargon.
  • Edit and edit again!
    Before publishing or 'going live' check your content, remove the jargon, and make it easy for people to understand what you’re talking about and understand how it will help them.

To find out more about how you can make your marketing communications more effective please click here.

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