Today we're celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Cluetrain Manifesto by blogging about each of the 95 theses. I chose #27: "By speaking in language that is distant, uninviting, arrogant, they build walls to keep markets at bay."
Today we're celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Cluetrain Manifesto by blogging about each of the 95 theses. I chose #27:
"By speaking in language that is distant, uninviting, arrogant, they build walls to keep markets at bay."
OK, let's just admit the obvious: marketers use jargon. David Meerman Scott has written about what he calls "gobbledygook" on more than one occasion. He argues that gobbledygook happens when marketers write about their products instead of writing about why their products will help buyers. Mike Ferguson points out that jargon is a crutch that "keeps you from having to develop any real content." Scott Berkun says marketers and managers use jargon because they "want to be perceived as the best and the brightest, something they know they are not." Ouch.
In defense of the marketing and public relations people who use jargon: so does everyone else. Here's part of a list from Nick Wright, "human resources-speak" for firing someone:
I'll never forget the first time I used the term "Google juice" in class, and one of the students incredulously asked, "Wait. Did you just say 'Google juice'?!" So, yeah, we all do it.
But Cluetrain is about organizations and how they interact with people. Its authors argue that instead of companies talking to markets, people should talk to people. As individuals, we already know this: one study of product descriptions on eBay (where average people instead of trained marketers write ads) showed that readability was the most important factor in making a sale. "Buyers prefer a product description where the seller sounds knowledgeable but does not use abbreviations or jargon," the study concludes.*
So that advice I've been giving my public relations students -- "write as if you're talking to people you know" -- turns out to be pretty good. But companies that empower their employees to use social media have a chance to take that advice one step further: they can actually talk to people they really do know (or at least know online).
Will they use language that is "distant, uninviting, arrogant"? Sometimes they will, because we all use jargon sometimes. But I vote we give them a chance.
*Claudia Rawlins and Pamela Johnson, "Selling on EBay," Journal of Strategic E-Commerce, 5:2 (2007).