Marketing Speak vs. Storytelling

If you are trying to communicate a complex topic how do you do it? Do you do it well?

Many of us in marketing easily get into orbit around planet “Marketing Speak”. Sometimes I’ve wondered if it is a sort of linguistic-one-up-manship, or an arms race of sounding like we know what we are talking about. Then there is our obsession with “over branding” things. Other times it seems like it is just well meaning, intelligent people hustling as they go, speaking as they think. The irony is we all end up sounding the same. Before long our respective companies are all revolutionary, segment leaders and give you solutions for your productivity and delivering results. One of the aims of marketing is not to sound like everyone else. Remember when everything was iSomething ala iPod?

I was inspired to blog about this after finding this rather interesting compilation of marketing speak. Some that ‘pop’ in particular for me when I encounter them are words/phrases like; productivity, empowered, solution, innovation, smart, flexible, next generation, revolutionary, best practice, robust, visionary, user friendly, breakthrough, transformative, ROI, Time-To-Value, TCO, ecosystem, best of breed, out of the box, feature rich, disruptive, customer-centric, sea-change, tables takes, silo, synergistic, solution driven, low hanging fruit, cutting edge, mission critical. I mean you kind of need to be trained to understand some of those. Time-to-Value?

What a killer crutch they make! And it’s good to challenge yourself not to fall into that trap. We often use them as a sort of placeholder, or cheat sheets to what we really mean. Think about it for a minute. You have 20, 50, 100 wicked smart, experienced marketers from a variety of industries and backgrounds that all find themselves at <insert company name here>. Working on a product launch, a rebranding, a marketing promotion… you name it. The ideas are flowing, debates are raging, budgets are being allocated. In this environment it would seem natural to use placeholders so you could quickly move on to the next part of the conversation, to make your point. The problem is that whatever you do inside your company inevitably gets out of your company. The language you use will take on a life of it’s own and we really don’t want our customers to have to get training to understand us.

Thankfully there is an alterative. Take any one of those words or concepts and ask yourself what you really mean by it. Revolutionary? What is new, why is it cool, how will it make someone’s life better than before? Then talk about that, it could be with a real customer. It could be fiction if you don’t have a specific example. Go deep on the company, the people that make it tick. Tell their story. Consider concepts like; work, build, ship, help, change, solve, problems, fixed, love, happy, purpose, meaning, feared, approached, considered, daily grind, hopes, aspirations, achievements, hurdles overcome. Explore the tension, the motivation, the pressures, the feeling of success.

Suddenly your ‘revolutionary product’ is being talked about by Billy P. from FOO Industries who was about ready to quit. For years he struggled to get his product change requests in on time because he relied on so many people to make it happen. Six of these people were in time zones where at least one of them would be asleep at any given time a question needed answering. One guy in particular, Frank always seemed irritated by the delays and let Billy and Billy’s manager know about it. It took four weeks at best to get the product change requests completed, a curve ball such as one of their suppliers running out of a component could easily extend that. It’s no surprise now that Billy P. sleeps better at night now. Why? It takes him two weeks, tops. He’s able to plan his work around clear information from his suppliers so he doesn’t do work on the products that will be impacted by late components. Those six people can now work on the project virtually at the same time. Frank and Billy have even become friends. It turns out they have a shared love for Bowling which Billy P. is finally getting to spend time doing again, which he hadn’t really done regularly in almost ten years. There are also murmurs in the team that the improvements he’s driven look like they might lead to a promotion. Billy P. has started smiling again. And it was YOUR product that helped?

Revolutionary? Sounds like it. Increased productivity? You bet! The thing is if you just laid one of those words on your audience it could mean many things, or nothing. Your intent could be lost, people could lose interest as it sounds like everything else. The biggest crime of all is that few people will even ‘get’ what it is you are trying to communicate.

Now, I just made up Billy’s story, on the fly. There isn’t even a product I had in mind. So just imagine what you can do with your products and customers. I tell it to helps illustrate that any of those words can have a great story behind them. What do you think? How have you tackled this subject? Do you have techniques or approaches to avoid slipping into marketing speak? I’d love to hear from you.

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