My first meeting on my first day as a Coalmarch employee convinced me marketing was a foreign language. I had barely taken off my coat before I joined the team for a Monday morning production meeting, which consisted of a conversation I struggled to follow and understand. The team was spitting out words like “revenue forecasting,” “dev environment,” “local claiming,” “wireframes,” “comps,” “markup,” and “long tail” like they were casually talking about the cold weather we’re having. Add in the acronyms: PPC, CPC, CTA, LTP, CPL, and I was pretty lost. If you’re reading this and have a marketing background, this may not sound like anything out of the ordinary, but I was totally new to the industry and wondering what a honeypot had to do with web design.
It’s natural for us to speak in our acronym-filled, industry lingo with people who understand us; it’s quick and effective. That is, as long as the person we’re speaking to is at the same level of understanding.
As part of our regular staff training, we’re currently reading a book called “The Art of Explanation” by Lee LeFever, a book that highlights the importance of explanation skills. LeFever discusses the varied scale of knowledge on which your audience falls on a scale of A (less understanding) to Z (more understanding) and describes the all-too-familiar feeling of confusion and apathy after someone answers your simple question in complicated language.
The problem for many of us is that we’re so used to the way we speak to our co-workers and industry partners that we don’t even notice when our words are lost on someone.
Check yo’self before you wreck yo’self
LeFever’s book got me thinking about our clients’ websites and where we may be losing some of our audience and potential clientele simply because of word choice and overlooked explanations.
Take a look at your website. Now pretend you are a brand new customer who has no experience in whatever your industry is. You are, on LeFever’s scale, on the lowest understanding level, level A. Take yourself back to the days before you worked in this industry, before you decided to enter or study this field. With this unfamiliarity in mind, browse through your site and look for the buzzwords and industry phrases that wouldn’t make sense to a new customer.
This is hard to do, I know. If you’ve been in lawn care for 20 years, “thatching” seems as simple of a word as “lawn.” If you work for a university, you may assume all your site visitors are familiar with the internal student websites Sakai and Blackboard. For this reason, it may be helpful to have someone who doesn’t know your industry look through your site with you. You may be surprised at what they point out.
Simple is better
Fast forward. You’ve looked through the site, found some industry lingo phrases. Does that mean you should get rid of them? Not necessarily. Some of your clients may indeed be familiar with the terminology you use, and moreover, you are an expert in your field and you want your audience to know that.
What you should do is consider your explanation of that word or phrase. Have you explained it to begin with? Have you provided context? Does your explanation make sense to your target audience member?
Revising your content so that someone with an understanding level of A does not feel excluded based on their knowledge base can sometimes be as simple as defining a word or spelling out an acronym. We once posted a great educational blog post about KPIs and only after a comment from a reader did we realize we hadn’t even defined what KPIs were! (They’re Key Performance Indicators, by the way, or a metric used to measure someone’s performance on a specific goal). Once you start looking, I guarantee you’ll notice you use a lot more of these industry phrases and acronyms than you might have imagined, and not just on your website, but on the phone and in person, too.
It didn’t take long for me to catch on to the Coalmarch marketing lingo that I was so new to that first day of work. But it did take effort, inquiry, and note-taking, which requires time… time your audience does not have the patience to invest during the few minutes they spend on your site. Consider how much quicker it is for them just to click the back button and go to your competitor’s site.
With website content, you only have a short time to make an impression, one that tells your audience “we know our stuff so well we make it sound easy.” So use your words wisely… and simply.
Have you ever been turned off of a site because of its industry lingo or lack of explanation? Have you been guilty of it on your own site? We’d love to know! Share your comments or questions below.