The industry is flooded with marketing jargon, yet the importance of simple, everyday language remains indisputable.
Les Binet and Sarah Carter’s How Not To Plan speaks of the importance of words. Good words. In a marketing world full of jargon, we should all choose our language carefully. Whether it’s from academic-style writing at university, or from being firmly within the digital marketing bubble, jargon is definitely something most of us are guilty of (myself included). Binet and Carter inspired me to read more on why words and language are important, especially in planning and strategy.
Richard Shotton speaks about the beauty of simple language in The Illusion of Choice, mentioning an experiment by psychologist Daniel Oppenheimer (the Oppenheimer that didn’t get a Christopher Nolan film). He tested samples of text with jargon-filled language against a simplified version and asked participants to rate the intelligence of the authors. Oppenheimer found that those who read the simplified version scored the authors 13% higher than those who read the more complicated original text.
This idea that simpler language can more effectively communicate a point, rather than fancy schmancy words plays out in Friends. Joey Tribbiani writes an adoption reference letter for Monica and Chandler, and in pursuit of sounding smarter, he discovers the thesaurus. A sentence as simple and emotive as “they are warm, nice, people with big hearts” turns into “they are humid prepossessing Homo Sapiens with full-sized aortic pumps.”
Maybe the marketing world isn’t quite that bad, but it’s littered with jargon. We can all be guilty of forgetting we’re ultimately trying to speak to, and understand, real people. Binet and Carter note that digital marketing can be particularly prone to dehumanising (and dramatic) marketing-speak. It’s not difficult to get caught up in “driving the customer lifetime value in millennials” or “forcing down the bounce rate of the retargeting audience”, that we forget to use everyday, inspiring language.
Shotton also speaks about the psychological experiment which confirms how stories are often more compelling than statistics. People were more likely to donate to charity when reading about the hardship that food shortages had caused on one family, rather than the statistics of the effect on a whole country. Stories give an emotional cut-through, allow for empathy and, if told using the right words, make it easier for people to understand and relate to.
In Strategy is Your Words, Mark Pollard describes how words are the basis of everything, forming the entire world around us. Everything in planning happens in words too – research, strategy, ideas, creative briefs. When it comes to writing briefs, Pollard has a clear standpoint; “A creative brief is a brave attempt to capture only the most important words.” As Timothy Galpin said in The Strategist’s Handbook, we should be putting as much work into the brief as the creatives do with their ideas. We want our art directors, copywriters and designers to be scribbling all over the page while it’s being presented.
Whether it’s objective-setting, researching, brief-giving, strategy-writing or anything in-between, as people in marketing we should make sure our words carry meaning. Are we using regurgitated jargon? Are our words too dramatic or macho? Is it overly intellectual or complex? Are we being inspiring? I urge us all to self-edit, simplify, get colleagues to check our work, and steer clients in the same direction. Let’s use language that reflects real life and inspires great creative work.