Careful with the Jargon…

As the only Technical guy in a Marketing group, it will likely come as no surprise that I encounter occasional problems with jargon.  What might surprise you is that my biggest jargon problems aren’t caused by me using Tech-speak around the non-Techies; the biggest issues arise when people use Market-speak around the non-Marketer (me).

Let me give you an example.

A few months ago I attended a planning meeting.  It was a small meeting, just four of us.  The meeting was about what we were going to do for “the Channel” and for our “Partners”.  Now, I’d always heard those words used in ways that had led me to believe that they were interchangeable, but over the course of the meeting it became increasingly clear to me that there was a very definite distinction being made between the two terms.  I grew more and more lost and confused.

By the end of the hour, everyone in the room was in complete agreement as to what actions we were going to take to help our “Partners” and what other actions we were going to take to help “the Channel” — everyone except me, that is, who was really feeling lost and in over my head.

So, I finally bit the bullet and raised my hand.

The room went silent and three pairs of eyes focused on me.

I spoke up, “The guy with no Marketing background has a stupid question.”  I went on to explain my confusion at discovering that these two words that I had always thought were synonyms were, in fact, somehow completely, distinctly different, and asked if they’d mind giving me the rudimentary background I needed to be able to follow the conversation.

The gentleman running the meeting handled things very well, assured me that there were no stupid questions (I’m not 100% sure I share that particular opinion, but, since it was me asking him the question, I was glad to hear that he felt that way…), said, “I’m glad you asked that,” and proceeded to break down the — as it turns out — very clear differences between “Partners” and “the Channel”.

(Pardon the interruption, but I feel the need to digress for a moment.

When you ask someone a question, there are two possible immediate results: you get an answer or you don’t — at least not immediately.

There are two very popular “non-answer” answers that I’ve observed over the years.  They are:

  1. That’s a very good question.
    This can generally be translated to mean “I don’t really have a good answer.”
  2. I’m glad you asked that.
    This can generally be translated to mean “Thank you for the opportunity to demonstrate how smart and/or knowledgeable I am.”

Thus ends the digression.  I now return you to your regularly-scheduled blog post, already in progress.)

At least it was clear for the first two, maybe three minutes.

At that point, the third person in the room spoke up, saying, “That’s not how I’ve understood it at all,” and proceeded to break down equally clear — but very different — differences between “Partners” and “the Channel”.

(You’ve probably already figured out where this is going next, but I’m enjoying this, so please indulge me as I draw this out just a little more.)

After the second, completely different, explanation, the room went silent again, and, once again, three pairs of eyes turned to focus on one person, who (thankfully this time) wasn’t me.

The three of us looked at the fourth person in the room expectantly, waiting for her to weigh in with the tie-breaking vote.

The silence went maybe 30 seconds longer than any of us were comfortable with.

Finally, she spoke, saying, “Actually, the way I always understood it was,” and proceeded to break down a third equally clear — and equally different — set of differences between “Partners” and “the Channel”.

The Point

There we had been, about to adjourn our meeting and head out to start on a plan that we all (well, 3 out of 4 of us) were convinced we were in complete agreement on.  If I hadn’t spoken up the plan would have headed off in at least three completely different directions, with none of us the wiser.

Jargon’s really useful for what it does well.  It provides a form of verbal shorthand that can speed communication.  It provides a way to help those with a common interest to bond as a community.

Jargon also has its downside.  It can alienate those outside the community.  And, if you haven’t made sure that you’re actually using the same set of jargon and definitions, well then it can befuddle and confuse communication rather than speed it along.

So, to my fellow Market-teers, I promise to limit my use of Tech jargon.  I won’t use an acronym with you without immediately explaining it.  I’ll work to find non-jargon-y ways to say things.  And, anytime you catch me using jargon, call me on it — I’ll explain, and even whiteboard it for you if that will help.

But you need to meet me half-way.  Please, limit your use of Marketing jargon.  Stop using acronyms if you aren’t able to explain what they stand for.  And, please, continue the patience you’ve already shown me whenever I raise my hand with a stupid question.

Thank you.  Together we can end jargon problems in our lifetime.

Wait, what’s that?

You have a question?  Sure, go ahead.

What is the difference between “Partners” and “the Channel”?

Now, that, my friend, is a very good question.

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