July 28th, 2014
When people want to communicate only to a small circle — for secrecy, exclusivity, snobbery, or brevity — they use code. In the business world, this code is called jargon. Knowing and speaking jargon confers special insider status to its users, so they believe.
If you happen upon two members of any industry, regardless of venue, they’ll be engaged in an indecipherable jargonfest known as “inside baseball.” William Safire, who for years penned the syndicated “On Language” column for the New York Times Magazine, wrote a piece in 1988 called “Inside Baseball,” which he defined aptly as minutiae savored by the cognoscenti, delicious details, nuances discussed and dissected by aficionados.
Here’s what Mr. Safire is telling us, what we already know: jargon is not meant for general consumption. Alas, its users can’t, don’t, and won’t turn it off. Why? They want to fit in, to blend: the antithesis of branding.
I once pitched my branding services to a PhD-educated CEO of a startup tech company in Silicon Valley. He told me that learning to communicate plainly had been a tough adjustment. Academic elitists, at universities and prestigious journals, view clear-speaking/writing PhDs with derision and will not publish their works. Translation: prestige and fathomability are inversely proportional in ivory (and ivy) towers.
Desire and Effort
It takes desire and effort to understand the language of your customers. Yet, you’re too busy spewing jargon (I know; I saw it on your homepage). You believe that customers understand and like your jargon — or that you can force them to use it — because it’s so obviously superior to their plain, everyday language.
CEO Newsflash: Vendors that can’t or don’t or won’t speak in customer lingo are taking the lazy way out: they are hitting the jargon button, thereby raising the costs of sales, capital, and media. Jargonistas have no place in branding and marketing.
The more company meetings and industry conferences you attend, the more jargon you will hear and spread. Most assuredly, you’ll teach your employees, PR firms, and ad agencies to perpetuate it. Finally, you will reinforce the cachet of insider status and become increasingly disconnected from the outside world.
Attain Outsider Status
As the CEO and brander-in-chief, you must forbid the laziness of jargon — starting within yourself. Attain outsider status: what customers, investors, and reporters expect and will appreciate. Disconnect and remove your company’s jargon button today.
About the Author
Marc Rudov is a branding advisor to CEOs,
producer of MarcRudovTV, and author of the book,
Be Unique or Be Ignored: The CEO’s Guide to Branding.
© 2014 Marc H. Rudov. All Rights Reserved.