Here’s an issue/question that arrived in a comment to my post on Playing an Idiot Online [emphasis mine]:
“Brilliant post. We get this all the time, when designing websites for our clients……..But our clients will often use the line “but my customer understands this terminology, these acronyms, my customer is from a particular niche and they all use this terminology”…….It can be hard to argue this point, the client knows their customer better than us…… Yes usability tests would be a good way to prove to a client this problem, however it can be very difficult to find users who fits the persona.”
Thanks for the comment, Hamish, and I’ve run into that situation a few times myself. So here are a few strategies for dealing with that which have worked well for me:
In working with the client
- Properly frame the discussion: “So what you are telling me is that if prospective clients come to your site and are not as familiar with these acronyms and terms as your “ideal candidate,” your OK with turning those prospects away and losing the sale?” Ultimately, it’s their site, if they want to only speak to “insiders” and the hard core, then that’s a legitimate business decision, just frame the question in business terms so they can acknowledge the bottom-line costs to such a strategy.
- If the client relents when you ask him the “are you willing to lose the sale” question, suggest that you create and link to early-stage and newbie-friendly material. There is certainly no harm in taking an industry term and giving a fresh nuts-and-bolts analysis of it. At best you’ll get a chance to demonstrate your expertise; at the least, you’ll get some keyword rich and internally linked content.
- Perform a Marketing Copy Autopsy on a piece of their current collateral. Pull out all the self-applied labels and adjectives to show them how the jargon is really just covering up a lack of substantive content. That should open up the client’s eyes, and if the autopsy reveals copy with substance, that’s a good sign that maybe the client is correct in their customer-knowledge assessment.
- Do what Seth Godin suggested in the first place: get a flip cam and interview some past or current client customers. Don’t just test to see if they know the terms, but ask about the implications involved. Knowing what a graphics card is isn’t the same thing as knowing why it can be critically important to have a powerful one if you’re looking to play hard core video games.
In crafting the clients Web copy
- Spell out acronyms at least once per main landing page, so if, say, COTS was a heavily used acronym, the site would say Commercial Off-the-shelf Technologies, once in a while, as sort of a reminder or lifeline for the reader.
- Insist that no more than 1-2 terms or acronyms appear in any sentence. The problem is often not just that jargon or acronyms are used, but that they are triple and quadruple stacked on top of each other in complex-compound sentences. That’s when you end up with something like this: “Drawing on our long-term experience as systems integators, solid relationships with our suppliers, and a commitment to the successful execution of the concept of COTS in mission-critical applications, our reputation — and our customer base — has grown.” Whew! Even rough familiarity with the industry terms isn’t enough to save most readers from having their brains “go splat” while reading those kind of sentences. The more complex and technical the material, the more you need simple sentence structures.
- “Aerate” the text with videos, graphs, and photos that provide a sensory experience of the most important technical terms or acronyms. Imagine a sidebar or box that shows a COTS case study, complete with before and after pictures of the off-the-shelf consumer item and its new military cousin along with a cost comparison showing the savings involved. As another example, I suggested showing beam shots of the different power LEDs in my product page critique of BalckDiamond’s Headlamp.
An now for a dissenting opinion.
Legendary copywriter Bob Bly has a well known article titled, “Six Things I know for Sure About Marketing to Engineers.” Point number five plainly states that:
“5. Engineers are not turned off by jargon—in fact, they like it. Consultants teaching business writing seminars tell us to avoid jargon because it interferes with clear communication.
This certainly is true when trying to communicate technical concepts to lay audiences such as the general public or top management. But jargon can actually enhance communication when appealing to engineers, computer specialists, and other technical audiences.
Why is jargon effective? Because it shows the reader that you speak his language. When you write direct response copy, you want the reader to get the impression you’re like him, don’t you? And doesn’t speaking his language accomplish that?
Actually, engineers are not unique in having their “secret language” for professional communication. People in all fields publicly denounce jargon but privately love it. For instance, who aside from direct marketers has any idea of what a “nixie” is? And why use that term, except to make our work seem special and important?”
As I said, if you are narrowing your focus to a special group of insiders – or at least want to appear that you’re doing that – then an unapologetic use of jargon can work great. But I’d still try to test working in a few of my bulleted strategies
And here’s a little desert video on advertising terms – fair warning, though, George Carlin’s language may not be workplace appropriate: