A few weeks ago, I was researching a company on its website. After reading my third page of copy, I turned to my colleague and said, “I have read three pages of this website and I still have no idea what they do.” It was all jargony nonsense — a bunch of words strung together that mean nothing.
Marketing jargon does little more than make your audience’s eyes glaze over, or worse — confuse them. Take it from someone who spends a lot of time reading websites, brochures, emails, and various other marketing items: jargon = bad; clear and simple = good.
If you want to make sure your message is understood and interesting, follow these anti-jargon rules.
1. Keep it Short
Contrary to popular belief, bigger words do not make you sound smarter. They often muddle the meaning and confuse the reader. People remember the message, not the words. So instead of a long string of $10 words, try a short, clear sentence that conveys that message thoughtfully and elegantly. If you can say something in 10 words that you’ve said in 20 — make it 10. For starters, use:
- Active voice
- Short sentences
- Plain language
2. Be Precise
The right word is out there, you just have to find it. But beware your thesaurus: Language is full of nuance, and just because a word is similar doesn’t mean it’s the same.
To strike the right balance of clarity and erudition, ensure you truly understand the words you are using. Sign up for a word-of-the-day email, read more, look up words you don’t know, do word puzzles.
And follow this rule of thumb: Don’t use words you don’t know.
3. Consider Your Audience
Know whom you’re talking to and adjust your language to fit the audience. Plain and simple: Different businesses have different audiences. In the same way different regions have different accents and vernacular, different audiences have a different way of communicating with the brands they interact with. Your reader should be able to understand what you are saying and walk away with the pertinent information.
A quick note about B2B audiences: Just because the industry is filled with marketing jargon doesn’t mean corporate audiences actually know what you mean when you use these terms. Corporate audiences are human, too. There’s no need to write stuffy language for the sake of it.
4. Write How You Talk
A complex idea doesn’t require a complex sentence; it’s actually more the opposite. Whether you’re breaking down multi-cloud governance or the BLT you had for lunch yesterday, your writing approach shouldn’t change much.
Be natural. You’ll likely know an overwrought sentence when you write it. As this writer puts it, “When you write something you wouldn’t say, you’ll hear the clank as it hits the page.”
A good test is to see how your sentence sounds when you read it aloud. If it’s hard to get out, there’s a good chance it’s also hard to take in.
5. Avoid Marketing Jargon
Plain language is more than a writing movement, it’s the law for government employees. The idea is that if you speak to people clearly, using common language that conveys true meaning, you can have a more worthwhile conversation with your audience. Basically, eliminate all the corporate marketing jargon.
Not sure which terms apply? Lake Superior State University releases an annual list of words to banish from our vocabulary, banished for misuse, overuse, and (my favorite) general uselessness. Some of my favorites from the 2019 list:
- Optics (just say appearance)
- Wrap my head around (painful imagery, when you really think about it)
- Wheelhouse (have you even seen one of these?)
And there are plenty more good ones from past years:
- Deep dive, drill down
- Synergies, synergistically
- Low-hanging fruit
- Take this off-line
- Optimize, maximize (all the -izes)
- Action item
- 30,000-foot view
- At the end of the day
- Circle back
Long story short, it’s important to make sure that all your communications are widely accessible. You want your audience to find value in the content you produce. And they can’t do that if it just consists of a bunch of meaningless marketing jargon and poorly used big words.
Want help creating content that’s free of marketing jargon? Let’s talk (like humans).