Your Buyers Don’t Want Gobbledygook


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So what's with all the nonsense words being thrown about by well-intentioned marketing people at econtent companies? Nearly every Web site I look at and almost all the press releases I receive are laden with meaningless jargon that's just plain annoying. As I was cruising around looking at econtent company sites and press pages while serving as part of the EContent 100 decision-making group, it became clear that most companies in this business just aren't communicating well.

When I see words like flexible, scalable, groundbreaking, industry standard, or cutting-edge, my eyes glaze over. What, I ask myself, is this supposed to mean? Just saying your widget is industry standard means nothing unless some aspect of that standardization is important to your buyers. And, in the next sentence, I want to know what you mean by industry standard, that standards matter, and some proof that what you say is indeed true.

While doing research for my new book, Cashing In With Content: How Innovative Marketers Use Digital Information to Turn Browsers into Buyers, I looked at more than 1,000 Web sites from all kinds of organizations. After checking out ecommerce sites, B2C companies, nonprofits, educational institutions, and others, I concluded that the worst gobbledygook offenders are B2B technology companies. For some reason, tech marketing people have a tough time explaining how products solve customer problems. Because they are a bit fuzzy about this they cover by explaining myriad nuances of how the product works (peppered with industry jargon that sounds vaguely impressive).

Here's how this dysfunctional process works: Marketers at econtent companies don't understand buyers, the problems they face, or how their econtent product helps solve these problems. That's where the gobbledygook happens. The marketing person bugs the CTO, developers, or product managers to provide a set of features found in the product. Then the marketing person reverse-engineers language that they think the buyer wants to hear based not on buyer input but on what the product does. A favorite trick these ineffective marketers use is to take the language that the product manager provides, go into Microsoft Word's find-and-replace mode, substitute the word solution for product, and then slather the whole thing with superlative-laden, jargon-sprinkled hype.

What the market ends up with is a bunch of "industry-leading" solutions that purport to help companies "streamline business process," "achieve business objectives," or "conserve organizational resources." Spare me. I know that econtent products help people (that's why I love this business), but if the best thing you can say is that "our groundbreaking, enterprise-class solution helps customers streamline business process," then you're not communicating. Your buyers (and the media that covers your company) want to know which specific problems your product solves and proof that it works as advertised—in plain language.

A major drawback of the generic gobbledygook approach is that your company doesn't stand out from the crowd. Here's a test: Take the language that the marketers at your company dreamed up and substitute the name of a competitor. Are they interchangeable? Marketing language that can be substituted for another company isn't effective in explaining to a buyer why your company is the right choice.

Your marketing and PR is meant to be the beginning of a relationship with buyers (and journalists). This begins when you work at understanding your target audience and you figure out how they should be sliced into distinct buying segments. Once this exercise is complete, identify the situations in which each target audience may find themselves. What are their problems? Business issues? Needs? Only then are you ready to communicate your expertise to the market. Here's the rule: when you write, start with your buyers, not with your product.

Your online and offline marketing content is meant to drive action (such as generating sales leads), which requires a focus on buyer problems. Your buyers want this in their own words and then they want proof.

Every time you write you have an opportunity to communicate. At each stage of the sales process, well-written materials combined with effective marketing programs will lead your buyers to understand how you (specifically) help them. Good marketing is rare in our business indeed, but a focus on doing it right most certainly will pay off with increased sales, higher retention rates, and hey, who knows, maybe even a listing in the EContent 100.