I feel like this bizarre, blasé, vapid advice is popping up everywhere I look at the moment and it’s making me more than a little bit stabby. Because it positions jargon as something negative, something that doesn’t sound ‘human’. And that’s an irritatingly superficial perspective.
Like almost all elements of language, jargon isn’t intrinsically good or bad – it depends entirely on the context.
In some situations it can be incredibly useful, functioning as a kind of shorthand between people who all have similar knowledge of a subject, communicating a key concept in just one or two words instead of using a whole sentence to explain an idea.
Yet in other settings it can be extremely unhelpful, if it’s being used in communications with people who don’t recognise or understand the shorthand. At best it’s confusing and at worst it’s alienating, making people feel excluded, ignorant, and unwelcome.
So when you’re working on your brand’s voice and thinking through the language you do and don’t want to use, the jargon issue comes down to pretty much the same two things as every other aspect of verbal identity: who are you and who are you talking to? What are you like (and how do you need to speak in order to get people to see that) and what are your audience like (specifically, what language will they understand and respond to).
So if you’re a web developer running a conference for other web developers, or an investment company engaging with financial planners, or a legal association talking to lawyers, then jargon will almost certainly be a hugely positive thing. Your audience will most likely both expect it and want it, and it can be a powerful way to connect with people, create a sense of belonging, demonstrate expertise, and gain trust.
But if you’re a marketing agency talking to small business owners who are hiring you precisely because they don’t know anything about marketing, odds are jargon isn’t going to be your friend. Sector terminology isn’t going to make you sound intelligent and capable – it’s going to leave your audience confused about what the hell you do and whether or not you can actually help them. And off they’ll trot.
So ignore that mindless one-size-fits-all advice you see spewed out all over your LinkedIn feed.
The thing to remember is that your brand’s language should help you to draw people in, not push them away – and jargon has the power to do both. So you need to do the work of figuring out which it will accomplish in your company’s context.
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