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Why we need death to marketing slang

Things like juggling 1,000 different campaigns at once, knowing how to extrapolate a CVP from an FYI, crafting a killer OOO and also running at full-tilt whilst looking at ease doing so. TTFN! Yep, we run our marathon at a sprint pace and hardly break a sweat. If you ask us, we’ll tell you we like working this way – often through smiles and gritted teeth.

When we boil marketing right down, our role as professionals of this ilk is to entertain, inform, educate, and otherwise offer value to people. Value, how I love thee. Value, my friends is the only true currency of any business and this is what we get to build every single day. From the beginning of modern human civilization (and I imagine even beforehand, when we were cave painting, nomadic, huntresses and hunters in kick-ass loin cloths) an exchange had to be valued on both side. If one party didn’t see the inherent quality in a trade, then the trade didn’t happen. It’s that simple. 

Somewhere along the way though, we lost our way a bit. We tried, and then became a bit too clever. Didn’t we? We started to think that, because we (those with big budgets and the ability to utilize media on a macro, mass-market scale) could tell others about the value of our product or service, they’d listen. They wouldn’t question. And, for a long time, this was akin to the truth. Those who held the purse strings were able to create unquestionable narratives that nodded to value, but most of the time delivered very little. 

In our modern media age, an age where attention and data are our most valuable assets, we’re re-learning how to add actual value back not only to our customers, but to society as a whole. Why? Well, when we add value to the lives of others, be it in ways big or small, it is then and only then that others begin to trust, understand, and like our brand enough to choose us when it’s time to buy whatever it is that we’re peddling. All of this leads me to the importance of words and language. Without them, we don’t have a narrative, and consumers can’t make sense of their own narrative and where we might fit into who they believe they are. 

When we’re talking to the public, communicating a benefit of our brand, or creating something wiz-bang to put out into the world (hell, even when we’re writing copy for the most banal P&P ads), we must use simple, impactful words. We have to. Consumers are clued-up, deeply engaged, over-saturated, and are waaaaaay over being told what they should or shouldn’t believe. They’re telling us now what’s important to them – we need only listen.

So why is it, I wonder, that we as a marketing collective speak a foreign language when we head to work? The language we speak to each other as a profession is slightly lyrical but lacks rhyme. When non-marketers hear us in our native environments, they frown. Eyebrows furrowed, eyes wide open in wild wonder quietly pondering: “What in the hell am I listening to? Is this a secret society way of communicating? What am I missing here? Can anyone in this damn room just speak to me like a normal person?”

You’re nodding along as you read this, aren’t you? I am nodding while writing this. And, as much as it pains me to admit it, I’ve been called out multiple times by my daughter, my friends outside of the marketing world, and even some colleagues across varying marketing professions for forgetting myself and falling into a marketing parlance out of context. 

Why though? Why in the world are we as a collective so committed to a slanguage amongst ourselves that, in normal day-to-day life means naught to many? I have a few theories (some tested, others simply deduced from 16 years of watching others). But first I’m going to get all Simon Sinek on you here. I think the reasons why we speak in an array of marketing-tongues is (yep, I’m going to be blunt here) to make what is inherently simple complex. The truth of the matter is that nothing we do, and I mean nothing, is rocket science. If it was, we’d have perfected understanding the beautiful irrationality of human behavior, and we’d spend most of our time telling stories, creating innate bonds, and driving connections that matter. 

As it is though, we over-pivot when it comes to the science of what we do over the craft of how we do it – and then how we show up in the world as brands. For me, a lot of the vernacular is wrapped around a need to justify ourselves – if even just a little bit. Traditional business people like to place marketers in a bucket that doesn’t include depth of strategic thinking. We’re teased about being the Colouring In Department, and have to exaggerate the fact that we understand other departments. It’s like there’s a daily struggle to justify our mahi. Doing so can be a bit tiring at times. I mean, not to toot our own proverbial horn, but c’mon, we are literally the people who exist to make a business, product, idea, or persona shine. 

We are here for the depth, the fun, the entertainment, & the foundations of brand strength. Without these things, there’d be no finance department. There’d be no insights and data. There’d be no digital team. There’d be no business. Yes! I went there. Disbelievers, fight me. I dare ya. In the midst of attempting to prove our worth beyond having a desk drawer full of crayola’s or sharpie’s to draw unintelligible squiggles on unlined artsy paper, we started building a vernacular of words that made us sound much more complex than we needed to. Our Insider’s Language, much like that of other folks helps us feel more worthy as true professionals

But, I think it’s also worked against us. By puffing up our own self-worth through throw-away words, and by trying to win at slang one-upmanship, we’ve left behind our love for actual humans. However, not too far behind that we can’t reclaim it. We thrive on the beautiful nuance & irrational behaviour of shoppers. Over time though, it feels like we’ve forgotten how to take off our marketing hats in a workplace to remember the humans at the other end of an ad or piece of creative. We spend time trying to out-clever even ourselves. This isn’t ideal, team. But fear not – there is hope!

We SPEAK IN CODE. Mostly. This is totally okay some of the time, too. I used to call myself a “reluctant marketer,” but as I’ve aged I’ve realised just how much I love my chosen profession. We change the world. We do! I would love it if we could drop the shop-talk for a hot minute and really get to the heart of an issue, product narrative, or channel strategy though. A girl can really only handle so much viral strategic laddering up to audience verticals before she loses her joy in the soft/hard-sell. Ha!

Half a decade ago, the hot buzzword was “viral.” I couldn’t even pee in peace without someone asking me how to ensure their campaign, their product, their idea, or their bland corporate-jargony video would go viral. Ahem, then as to now, virality is equal parts value, entertainment, FOMO, and hyper-relevance. Oh yeah, you need a sprinkle of good luck thrown in for good measure to drive your main measures, too. Now the word “content” is thrown around like glitter at a unicorn convention. My job is to ensure we all start speaking more clearly.

As the amazing Brené Brown has said clear is kind. And, as a self-appointed #KindnessWarrior, I’m here to help ask questions that help marketers and colleagues beyond marketing delve into cleverness underpinned by simple, well-crafted, messages and strategies. To be clearer (kinder even) I have come up with a few ways to stop the onslaught of slanguage in our beloved profession. May we lead the way back to the light for the younger generations of marketers, those who suckled from Mother Social Media and who know naught but a world with an open internet and many closed doors. 


1.     Talk like a 12 year old. 

This is not just a work-lesson, but a life lesson. We marketers are known for praying at the Altar of Busy. We deify the state of being busy. We try to be the first person in the office, and the last to leave. Just to prove our worth. Somewhere along the line, we forgot that actual outputs and results matter more than wasting your life away at a plank of wood. So it goes, if your kid has to stop you midsentence & says “Mom, I don’t understand anything you’re saying about hacking algorithms by understanding the cultural significance of memes & other zeitgeist moments,” then you, like me, need a moment of pause. It is so much more difficult to speak concisely, and to be single-minded in focus – so if you’re looking to really impress me (or anyone else for that matter), spend less time on delivering more, and think through your words before opening a faucet just to watch the water run.

2.     Be Clear… clear is kind.

I’m just going to leave this one right here, as it. CLEAR. IS. KIND. Momma Brene Brown teaches us this daily in her talks/books/interviews on communication. Don’t distort the beauty of clarity by filling in the spaces between with words that are a dime a dozen. Allow silence to speak, make meaningful words your workhorses. Allow clarity become your BFF. 

3.     Go back to the beginning.

If you treat people like they’re not smart enough to see through your heartless bullshit, then you’re already on the backfoot & always will be. Consumers and colleagues alike are smart, but they’re also human. We all are, that’s the best thing we have going for us right now. We know that the science of influence is such that we think others can easily be led by the crowd or the cool new thing – but we don’t see ourselves being just as influenced. Right here & now I am throwing down a challenge to you, yes you. The next time you’re in a meeting & realize that everyone around you is talking in circles of professional colloquial nonsense, call it out. I love nothing more than a concise, clear conversation spoken in words that truly matter. 

The best advice I have for all of us though?

Speak like you would on Saturdays.

We’re all here for the weekend magic.

This was originally published on LinkedIn.

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