The Marketing world, like many others, has always had it’s fair share of technical terms: ‘proposition’, ‘positioning’, ‘target audience’ and so on. But in the last couple of years the use of technical terms has been added to by the ever increasing use of vocabulary that isn’t technical at all, but which simply replaces plain English with ever more impersonal Corporate vocabulary. Does this matter?Yes, we think it does.We think it does because one of the things businesses find most hard to do, is to stay in touch with how their consumers think and feel. And anything that can be done to retain a connection is a good thing. Anything that puts cultural distance between the organisation and the consumer is a bad thing.
We suggest that anyone working in the Marketing arena, whatever their role, walking into work and using vocabulary you wouldn’t use yourself outside work, creates the wrong culture: it puts distance between the business and the audience.
Our greatest current hate is the term ‘reaching out’.
It’s now used to describe almost any form of communication.
‘Reaching out’ means making a gesture intended to strengthen a relationship, or to gain a cultural understanding between differing parties. Examples (taken from a dictionary of phrases) include “The Government is reaching out to the people” or “I try to reach out to my teenage son but he doesn’t want to know”.
Maybe one day Barack Obama might ‘reach out’ to the Taliban?
We sat in a meeting the other day and it was agreed that the Account Manger from the design agency would get some information from Mark, the Packaging Manager, who was not at the meeting. A couple of days later a widely circulated email arrived from the Account Manger. It opened with the words “I have reached out to Mark and he has given me the data.”
With no disrespect to either the Account Manager or to Mark, the Packaging Manager, it was hardly Barack Obama ‘reaching out’ to the Taliban, was it?
The Account Manager hadn’t ‘reached out’ to Mark at all: he had simply ‘phoned’ him.
And we received another email about an international project from someone based in the UK telling us that “I have reached out to the German team for a list of local brands.” We think the last person in the UK to ‘reach out’ to Germany was Neville Chamberlain. We think the email we received would have been more accurate if it had said “I have asked the German team for a list of local brands.”
Corporate gobbledygook has always existed but in the case of this new wave of Corporate gobbledygook things decline further, as it is often used to ensure that everything is expressed positively and nothing negative is said. “That’s a good challenge” is the finest example. It’s usually followed by the words “my push back would be…”. The use of the words “would be” are important, as it makes it clear that there is no actual ‘pushing back’ taking place, and so any debate, let alone disagreement, is avoided.
Have you ever heard a conversation like that in a pub? No, nor have we.
In the current culture there is little acceptable vocabulary that allows the incorrect to be confronted at the outset. At it’s worst, the wrong things are simply allowed to happen, and after everything has gone wrong everyone acknowledges they know why. Very positively. After all, “it’s a good learning”.
Unfortunately though, the learning is rarely applied, because the requirement to be positive is greater than the requirement to act on the learning.
‘Deep diving’, ‘good adds’, and ‘good builds’ are all examples of vocabulary that don’t exist outside meeting rooms and conference calls, even amongst those who use them in the meetings and the calls.
We ran a workshop a while ago. There were two teams. One of the ways to get delegates to think like a consumer (and to inject some levity and light competition) was to say that if one team used any jargon when plain English existed, they had to give the other team a pound. £300 changed hands by the end of the day.
We don’t mean criticism of the people we refer to above and we like them all. We are just trying to point out that using corporate vocabulary when plain English exists is another barrier to staying in touch with the consumer.
We would like to suggest that we are given a pound every time jargon is used in meetings. And we will give two pounds if we use it. Any takers?
We suggest it might be one small step to keeping in touch with consumers.