I love that George Bernard Shaw quote about the UK and US as “two countries separated by a common language”.
I think that the same can be said of functions within companies. And marketers are the worst offenders. I doubt any function produces more jargon and buzzwords each year than marketers (in case you’re wondering, here are the Top 100 Marketing Buzzwords for 2009).
I gave a talk last week about ways to get innovations through an organization, and I offered the advice that the audience stop talking like marketers. Too often marketers commit “idea camoflage” and earn the reputation that they live in an ivory tower.
Poor communication simply hamstrings ideas in an organization. Lack of understanding drives people to take the safest path. Which is why so many stage gate meetings feel like Checkpoint Charlie.
It’s ultimately the marketer’s job to inspire everyone to respond to ideas and make them stronger and stronger at each step, not weaker and weaker. Or discard the ideas entirely. But, it’s essential to avoid the mediocre middle path.
After my talk, someone asked how marketers should communicate. I said that just using plain English was a good start. I think that it is a good litmus test to share your positioning statement with a factory line worker or a field sales rep and see if it makes sense to them. If it’s too esoteric for them, it’s probably too esoteric for the R&D Director you need to inspire.
I’m also a big fan of drawings (for obvious reasons). I honestly believe that everyone can communicate with drawings in a business setting, independent of artistic talent. Dan Roam recently published a wonderful book called “The Back of the Napkin” that is all about how to do this. I met Dan in San Francisco last week and he inspired me with the potential of visual thinking in business.
A few years ago, I heard a talk by Chris Bangle, the former head of design for BMW. He was an impressive guy, but what struck me most was that most of his slideshow presentation was composed of scribbled stick figures that could have been drawn by a ten-year-old. He said that he’d communicated like that his whole career, even in the board room, because it simplified communication and had the power to disarm a roomful of critics.
I’ll take a stick figure over a buzzword any day.