Ever been frustrated by a doctor or lawyer who’s trying to explain something important? But you can’t understand them?
Some professionals can only speak their trade’s own specialized language, called jargon. By all means, avoid using jargon as much as possible in your content marketing. Here’s why.
To outsiders, jargon sounds indirect and obscure. For example:
- Should a doctor say that you had a myocardial infarction, or a heart attack?
- Should an economist say that people are economically disadvantaged or poor?
- Should a politician debate revenue enhancements or higher taxes?
Here’s a simple way to test your own unconscious use of jargon. Record the next presentation you make, then play it back and listen closely. Better yet, play it back to your spouse or neighbor.
Do you have to explain what you said? Do you speak in the specialized words of your trade, or do you speak plain English? What can you do to simplify your words? Avoiding jargon makes a huge difference when you want to be understood.
Acronyms are a subset of jargon. Acronyms are phrases that get shrunk into their initial capital letters. A handful of well-known acronyms need no explanation — USA, IBM, AT&T, UPS and FBI. Most other acronyms are meaningless alphabet soup.
The problem is that many acronyms hold multiple meanings, even within a single field. For example, to most people an ATM is an automatic teller machine, where we go to get cash. But:
- In meteorology, ATM means atmosphere.
- In transportation, ATM means air traffic management.
- In computing and telecom, ATM means asynchronous transfer mode.
- In medicine, ATM means awareness through movement.
- In astronomy, ATM means Apollo telescope mount or amateur telescope maker.
- In a text message, ATM means at the moment or across the miles.
When you hear “ATM,” you’re forced to guess what was meant. Your audience deserves better treatment. Some acronyms are just plain stupid. Take, for example, the St. Thomas University of Public International Diplomacy (STUPID).
Making up new acronyms wastes time – yours and your audience’s. Yet I hear requests for new acronyms all the time. Acronyms confuse your audience. They exclude people and leave audiences guessing. Confused people don’t become buyers.
Even the most knowledgeable audience needs you to define each acronym right away, since some acronyms have double meanings even within a single field. If you must use an acronym or difficult term, it’s best to define it the first time you say it.
Better yet: avoid acronyms altogether.
When I’m baffled by an unclear acronym, I jokingly tell people, “I’m in the SAA.” Then I go silent, to make them ask me what it means. “I belong to the Society Against Acronyms.”
As a marketing change agent, I consult with clients, lead content marketing workshops for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and write the weekly Simplify Marketing blog.
With experience from Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, RR Donnelley and Tellabs, I've been named:
- Content Marketer of the Year by the Content Marketing Institute.
- Best Marketer by BtoB magazine.
- A B-to-B CMO to watch by Fierce CMO.