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BFS Capital Blog

Drop The Jargon – Your Customers Don’t Understand You!

January 20, 2014

Can you think of any bigger turnoff for your customers than telling them that you’ve had a “come-to-Jesus” moment that made you “resolve to implement some best practices” to improve the company’s “core competencies” at the “POS”? Say what??!

Laugh if you will, but who among us doesn’t sometimes fall into the jargon pit in our customer communications? Most have—and unfortunately, many are still there. If this sounds like you and your colleagues, stop it! Make this the year that you say good-bye to jargon and acronyms once and for all. Decide to communicate with your customers (and each other) only in language that is clear and concise.

It’s easy to see how we got here. points out that inside any industry, we’re familiar with its terminology and acronyms. It becomes second nature to use those terms with customers and with each other. Jargon can be annoying, but it can also have negative effects on your customers.

Jargon can make customers feel silly or stupid that they don’t know what it means. But jargon also creates a real barrier between your business and your customers and prospects, making it more difficult for them to do business with you. And when things get difficult, customers get going. They have neither the time nor desire to figure out what the heck you’re talking about!

Start now, in January, eliminating jargon from your advertising, email communications and social media, but also from your website, signage and billing statements. Once you start looking for it, you may be surprised how frequently it turns up. And don’t forget the internal-facing materials, too, including all employee communications and training materials. Make a point of eliminating company-speak from meetings and presentations, too.

How to do it? Start in one area, and carefully review for jargon or industry-speak. Ask (or hire) someone outside your industry to review and recommend alternative (clearer) language to substitute. Turn the whole “spot the jargon” effort into a game for employees. Once you have revised/new materials in hand, there are two additional tests or safeguards you can use to make sure the language you’re using is delivering the message(s) and tone you want it to:

    • Read it out loud.


    • Test it with a handful of trusted customers who will give you honest feedback.

The Content Marketing Institute agrees and says that jargon can totally ‘pull the plug’ on powerful content‘ in any form. It can convey a lack of expertise, uncertainty, that you have nothing to say and even that you’re hiding something (as in you’re making it all up). Contributor Dennis McCafferty pretty much sums it up when he writes that “…We’re living in the Age of Jargon-Geddon, buried beneath a blizzard of buzzwords!”

But breaking the jargon habit is totally doable, and McCafferty offers suggestions gathered from other content marketing professionals:

    • Take baby steps.


    • Use powerful examples. Steve Jobs and Warren Buffet are both known for using plain—but effective—English.


    • Go cold turkey. Stop using it in conversation, and the rest gets easier.


    • Pick and choose compromises, sparingly. If there are industry terms that you feel you absolutely, positively must use, publish a glossary with definitions on your website.


    • Look for teachable moments.  If you’re having trouble convincing colleagues, find real examples and use them to compare as more effective communication tools.


    • Tie back to the bottom line. Clear and concise language provides stronger and more compelling calls to action to do something like buy or download.

Pretty soon you’ll be in the habit of asking, What are we really trying to say here?
Image courtesy of Vlado /