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  • danieljcrowley

Say what now?

Updated: Jun 11, 2021

I once received a cold email from a marketing company asking if I “currently analyze churn using reverse cohorts and backwards path analysis?"

My initial reaction was: “Err?”

My second was to hit the delete key.

Churn? Were they worried I wasn’t getting enough fibre? Had they mistaken my employer for a creamery? Is it bad that I don’t even know how to analyse my churn forwards, never mind backwards?

Perhaps I should have known the term*. But, even if I did, barraging me with jargon isn’t the way to make a sale.

It just goes to show: sometimes it’s best not to make assumptions about your audience.

That's where a fresh set of eyes can help. A good comms person can act as a filter between your business and your customers.

Cracking the code

Now, as a communication professional, I am under no illusion that we are sometimes labelled as pedants and propagandists – more concerned with surface than substance.

It’s true, our skill range is relatively narrow. We know how to write, but give us a spreadsheet and we'll break out in cold sweats. But I try and make a virtue of my initial lack of knowledge: if I can come to understand something as a layman, I can help others understand it too.

In theory, a communication professional’s job is simple: to help others communicate their messages clearly and concisely. It’s about figuring out what the message is and what you want people to do with it. This is a busy old world and first impressions count.

In practice, this can be harder than you might think. Perhaps Mark Twain said it best: “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Plain and simple communication looks simple, but it takes care and attention and it's easy to slip into bad habits. Most businesses and teams will have accumulated their own, unique terminology and lingo (legend has it that 3M, the manufacturing company, has someone who works full time to track all the acronyms). But just because you know what you’re talking about, it doesn’t mean your customers will too.

"A Predictor of Beconicity"

My pet peeve is made-up jargon. A former boss of mine at a local council once compiled a list of public sector gobbledygook. My favourite was a 20-page report entitled ‘A Predictor of Beconicity.’ Other standouts include ‘rebaselining,’ ‘improvement levers’ and ‘cross-fertilisation.’

In fairness, ‘toolkit’ was also on the list, which I may have used myself once to twice. Nobody’s perfect.

So even if we’re all guilty of inflating our language sometimes to make something sound more impressive, it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves what can happen when it remains unchecked.

Sometimes you need to call a spade ‘a spade’ - and not ‘a manual dirt extraction tool’.

*By the way ‘churn’ – at least in the context above – apparently means “a percentage of subscribers to a service who discontinue their subscriptions to that service within a given time period.” You live and learn.

Do you have any examples of nonsense speak? Share them below!

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