Going for a Walk in the Jargon

I have, in front of me, a marketing piece from a real estate agent. And, like about 90% of all marketing pieces (including websites) that I see, it doesn’t speak directly to me in my language.

It is full of industry insider language. Jargoneering.

Maybe your marketing materials are similarly afflicted. It happens so easily, without forethought – because we are so used to the language of our own domain. We assume that everyone else has our same library of knowledge (trust me – it’s not true).

Now, if we’re marketing to other insiders, that may be OK. Your infinitely-scalable end-to-end cloud-based enterprise e-commerce-enabled SSL-49 compliant middleware may be just what I need.

But what about the many of us that market products and services to the general public? This is where we have to apply a jargon filter. Jargon – words unclear to those outside of your bubble of “insiders” – confuses rather than enlightens.


Here are some examples from the Powerpoint printout currently on my desk:

Our brokerage practice is designed to define the client’s objectives, devise a suitable action plan based on those objectives and execute the plan with skill and professionalism.

Ummm, that’s biz-speak. I am a homeowner. I want to sell my house, not do a corporate 360-degree performance review.

  • How about: Based on our years of experience in this local marketplace, we guide you through the process reaching your goals as you sell your home to its next appreciative buyer.

 _______________works with our clients from the initial stages in order to gain a full understanding of the property, ownerships motivation for selling, their desired timeframe and highlight what they can expect from their representation?

Besides the bad grammar, what’s with these third-person abstractions? Client? The Property? Ownership? Their?

  • How about: We work with you right from the start to discover the unique value of your current home; to think through an ideal selling process (including desired timeframe); and to explain how we partner with you – from preparation, to listing, to marketing, to closing. 

jargonAnother place to watch out for jargoneering is the use of acronyms. I used to get on the phone with my Marine son and he’d be firing off military acronyms like they were machine-gun bullets. His fellow Marines, of course, could all communicate in this jargon – but if you’re trying to reach people outside of your bubble, you have to put on your acronym-filter and use plain words. My many friends in the pharmaceutical industry can relate to this – as with any specialized industry, there is a vast substrata of technical terms and abbreviations that can befuddle outsiders.

Here’s a valuable exercise – have an outsider look at your marketing materials and ask the obvious questions. You may be surprised at how much you’re assuming about your audience’s knowledge base.

And while you’re at – do the same exercise with your resume/LinkedIn profile. I know I’m continually astounded at the degree of domain- and company-specific jargon that leads me scratching my head.

If you’re still not convinced that jargon presents a communication problem, just go to my favorite should-be-a-spoof-but-actually-it’s-real website, Blue Spoon Consulting, and try to decipher what is being offered. Let me know if you have any success!

You can’t sell if you don’t communicate. Get out of the jargon and say it simply!


Related blog post: Searching for a New Job? Define Your Bullseye.

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  1. Yes! Maybe the Baltimore Sun’s John McIntyre had your article in mind when he wrote the following. I love the metaphor.

    When a reader is confronted with a piece of jargon that could just as easily be rendered in common English, it transmits the message that the reader is an outsider pressing his nose against the window to look at the experts at their important work.

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