It’s not fashionable to say, but as a marketer, I don’t hate jargon. Jargon is fine. It provides a shorthand way of communicating that makes it easier for you to talk to other people in your field. If you’re in the wireless industry you can talk LTE, LTE-M, CAT-M, 3GPP, 801.15.1, .3, .4 all day long. Financial folks might chitter-chatter about moving averages, bond ladders, Bollinger bands, FOREX. As long as everyone understands, it’s fair game.
I am significantly less charitable in the usage of buzzwords, however. “But Blair,” you say, “Jargon and buzzwords are the same thing!” Au contraire, mon frère! Jargon is for those in-the-know. Buzzwords are a crutch you lean on when trying to explain your business or products to those out-of-the-know. And therein lies all the difference and the problem.
What defines a buzzword and how do they impact your content?
Buzzwords can be tricky, I’ll admit. They are constantly changing, dependent on the momentum they gather, and become overused overnight. But the most difficult thing about them is this: Buzzwords are frequently rooted in sincerity.
Let’s use “authentic” as an example. There were quite a few companies who were using “authentic” to describe their work way before it was cool. Think the 2010 versions of Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, or McDonald’s. Should they alter their values and their language simply because the rest of the market caught on? Would it be “authentic” to abandon this value now that it has become popular?
This is going to be hard for some of you to hear, but here it goes: Once a buzzword becomes a buzzword, it doesn’t matter who used it first. It now has a hollow connotation – it loses all meaning, not just externally but for your employees as well.
Let’s look at “authentic” again – there isn’t anything wrong with this word. Of course you should portray your company accurately. But hanging your hat on “authentic” now feels like jumping on a bandwagon. Those new to your brand (either customers or employees) will not see this as a differentiator or even a thoughtful approach. It will feel like posturing, even with the best intentions behind it.
Is “authentic” your key message? Is it what you want people to know about your company? Is it what you want employees to experience, take to heart, and live themselves? If so, you owe it to your company and its stakeholders to find another way to express it that doesn’t leave your audience questioning.
How to Avoid Buzzwords in Your Marketing Communications
Here are three quick and easy ways to ensure you’re developing and evolving your message so it stays buzzword-free.
Take a Look at Your Competitors – Gut check your message (and see if it sounds like everybody else’s) with a competitive audit. Take a look at your competitors’ sites and analyze the words and phrasing they use. Chances are you’ll find a lot of overlap. From there, you can determine what industry jargon serves your audience (and what’s just fluff) and build out a message that is truly differentiated.
Talk to Someone on the Outside – Look for a partner who can provide the third-party perspective you need to see beyond the blinkers of your organization. Call on these peers to gut check your content and make sure it makes sense to those who don’t speak your company lingo.
Test, Test, Test Again – This isn’t just for buzzwords. All words carry unique meanings to different people. While your reaction to “smart” might be totally benign, others could be completely done with it. There are a bunch of ways you can test your message to ensure you’re communicating with your audience in a way that will resonate. Before you bring your message to the masses, you can check it with a message recall study or a survey. Once you’ve solidified your positioning, you should continue to A/B test different variations on email headlines, pay-per-click ads, or on social media ads to see which ones perform better. Customer preferences change and buzzwords build momentum quickly so the more you test, the more you’ll know at any given moment. With an understanding of your industry’s buzzwords and tactics in place to avoid them, you can make sure you’re writing content that serves your audience.