When I entered the content marketing industry, I was confused by the word ideation. I was told it was like brainstorming, except there’s more structure and you leave with better ideas. Since first hearing that word I have attended many ideation meetings and found that they can get derailed just as quickly as brainstorming meetings. It’s easy to scoff and dismiss the word ideation as business jargon, yet I find myself using it several times a day.
Am I a better marketer for adopting a glorified word for brainstorming?
Let’s get the cons of jargon-use out of the way and then play devil’s advocate with the pros.
Jargon Makes You Untrustworthy
A study by New York University tested the affect that jargon had on audience response. They asked subjects to read two sentences that conveyed the same facts but used difference word choice. One sentence was clear and concise while the other used more terminology. After reading the sentences the subjects were asked to rate which statement was more accurate.
The researchers found that subjects preferred the more concise sentences. They were perceived as true because people could picture the ideas more vividly than the complex sentences.
When CBS News reported this study, they tested that theory in their article:
When something is easier to picture, it’s easier to recall, so seems more true. Also, when something is more easily pictured it seems more plausible, so it’s more readily believed.
Both of those sentences say the exact same thing, but the first is less ambiguous. The takeaway? If you don’t want to sound like you’re trying to pull the wool over the eyes of your readers, skip the jargon.
Jargon Isolates Potential Clients
Don’t you just love visiting relatives over the holidays and staging lively debates about conversion optimization? What about the time you went a cruise and spent hours by the pool discussing Google’s latest algorithm updates? Is that just me?
Unless you went on an SEO celebrity cruise or your blood relatives are Neil Patel and Rand Fishkin, it’s doubtful that your vacation time or family outings were spent talking about the industry. When you communicate with other people – even to explain what exactly you do for a living – you tend to be more conversational, use analogies, and try to connect personally with whoever you’re speaking to. With that logic, it wouldn’t make sense to use high-brow jargon on sales calls when you’re trying to connect with future customers.
Joe Crisara of Contractor Selling recommends turning the tables and talking about what your customer does instead of what you do. It’s harder to get carried away with industry jargon if you’re talking about a client’s work or products. The conversation becomes, “I noticed that you offer XYZ product, so we can take that and…” instead of, “My company offers ABCsoftware with 123 ROI…”
Using extensive jargon isolates potential clients as often as using five-dollar words annoys your friends. It’s like saying indubitably instead of yes. Even if you don’t lose them with complex terminology, you’ll still sound pretentious.
Jargon Affects Search Traffic
As you comb through Google Analytics and start to learn how people are getting to your website, you’ll notice that tweaking one word slightly can have a drastic impact on an article’s popularity and the traffic it drives.
Falconer discovered this with the words “sales tax recovery” and “sales tax refund.” Sales tax recovery was the proper term, but the majority of people were searching for sales take refund. That one word was the difference between 170 monthly searches and 5,400 monthly searches.
When writers stuff jargon into their articles, they’re joining a league of business bloggers and copywriters where words like ideation come naturally. The fact is that most people aren’t searching proper technical phrases, they’re searching what they’re familiar with.
It’s easy to get sucked into a bubble in your industry, but keyword research doesn’t lie. Let the numbers tell you exactly what people are searching for so you can tailor your message to reach them.
Now let’s hear some pros of using jargon.
Jargon Builds Community
Visit BuzzFeed and click through the countless X Signs You Y lists: 35 signs you’re from Atlanta, 26 signs you work in social media, 31 things all FSU students know, etc. You don’t actually have to be from Atlanta on an FSU grad to understand the gist of these articles: “You know ABC Street always has traffic.You ordered XYZ food at 123 restaurant. You know that when it rains…” and so on and so forth.
These lists are based on the terminology and jargon of the city. To see this in action, have a conversation with multiple people about public transportation. Londoners will mention the tube, New Yorkers will talk about the subway, Boston natives will refer to The T.
Using jargon shows that you’re able to connect to the community. You are familiar with that particular location/industry/demographic etc.
Colleen Glenney Boggs summed it up in her article In Defense of Jargon:
Jargon condenses meaning and allows us to share information effectively…it is deeply meaningful to the people who use it. And jargon can aid rather than hinder the expression of meaning, and the language itself.
Using jargon when you’re looking to associate yourself with a particular industry shows that you’re capable of discussing complex ideas and can go deeper than someone outside of the industry. Using the appropriate jargon is way of saying, “I belong here.”
Of course, the minute you misuse that jargon is the minute you prove otherwise.
Jargon Gives You Authority
Bloggers and writers who are trying to get their footing in a particular niche can set themselves apart with strategically used jargon. Most industry bloggers can spot whether a writer is a novice to the field or an expert by looking at the word choice in the first few paragraphs.
Take medical and legal speak for example. Someone who is looking to contribute to a law association blog where the main demographic is fellow lawyers would benefit from using jargon.
As blogs become more niche, the use of jargon becomes more acceptable. Imagine reading an SEO blog where each article begins with the definition of search engine optimization. The constant definition of words like SERPs, crawlers, anchor text, and black hat would loose thought leaders who have been familiar with those concepts since they entered the field. However, that blog might be a godsend to PR Professionals needing an introduction to SEO.
Look at the audience, look at your choices. If the readers are a community with a strong grasp of the industry, you can set yourself up as an expert with the use of jargon. It gives you a space to cut through basic explanations and reach the advanced levels.
Jargon is Part of Your Brand
Like it or not, industry jargon is part of your brand. Some products and companies embrace this, others do everything in their power to reject it.
Robert W. Bly gave a hat tip BMW and Lexus for taking jargon and running with it:
Almost no one sells used cars any more. Today a used car is called a “certified pre-owned vehicle.” Vehicle sounds more impressive than car. Pre-owned removes the stigma of used.
What started as a PR tactic has evolved into industry standard. The newly created jargon has been adopted across the board and has even found its way into our homes.
Forbes annually creates brackets for the worst corporate jargon out there where readers vote on which words deserve to get banished the most. Some are pretty bad (like saying alignment instead of agreement) but some are becoming more accepted. Using the term “takeaway” to describe the key idea or that one gets from an article, video, or meeting hardly sounds like corporate speak. For example, this article has positioned jargon as both a key tool to success and an isolating nuisance. What should you walk away thinking about?
Jargon itself won’t make or break your business. Like french fries or SUVs, jargon isn’t inherently bad. It’s the people who overuse it or fail to recognize the proper time and place for it that give jargon a bad name. Look at your audience and your goals and tailor your message accordingly. There will be times when you need to edit out the industry-speak and other times when you can revel in it. It all depends on who is listening.