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Watch Your Language Around Grandma
My grandmother is intelligent. She can grasp a complex concept if you communicate it nicely. If you insult her intelligence, she may turn into a vicious ninja.
My grandmother will turn 95 years old in a few weeks. In honor of my dear Grandma and other real-world people like her, I’m here to deliver a valuable reminder about effective marketing communications.
Let’s consider Grandma for a moment, and imagine how she communicates. She talks like a real person. She thinks and communicates in logical phrases. Grandma uses plain and simple language to make herself clear to others. Most people are a lot like Grandma in this respect. Most of them will also find themselves indifferent and even insulted if you try to talk over their heads.
I want to give you some yummy food for thought. That’s because “yummy food for thought” is more appetizing than “palatable incentive for continued exercitation of intellect”. Got it? Great … let’s dine!
What really got me thinking about this is my long and tedious research in the hunt for my next employer. It seems popular for companies to drone on with wordy hyperbole in their job descriptions. I suppose many people do that in their résumé, too. It is just one of those awkward formalities that has not adapted to the modern world quite yet.
Wordiness is like a dance to see who can sound smarter. Just read an average job description to understand why unemployment is so high. According to most job descriptions I’ve seen, it seems that companies can barely write a paragraph without floating in an extra 30 words of fluff to throw people off the real meaning. Here is an actual example of a job posting bullet point that I just found without looking very hard.
Organization and Efficiency – must have natural and impeccable organizational skills as well as the ability to multitask at a highly efficient level. Has proven experience working in a fast paced environment where quick and rational thinking was a daily requirement. Is nimble by nature and has proven experience systematically organizing their work and managing their time to maximize efficiency.
It seems that all they said was “We want an organized person who can keep up with a lot of things at once. They need to think fast, work fast, and prove a history of it.” Does it actually say anything more than that? If so, please explain it to me. They said it in 62 words and 399 characters, but my “less intelligent” version trimmed it down to 29 words and 136 characters.
Are you ready for the irony? This particular job listing is for a Marketing Director at a marketing company. This kind of language reminds me how often I see similar diarrhea-like communication in marketing.
Stop Abusing Grandmas!
Grandma and all those many people like her do not like it when you try to baffle them with frivolous words and phrases to try and seem smarter. If you want Grandma to like you, it is better to make her feel smart because she clearly understands and can relate to your ideas.
If you cannot make it easy and comfortable, Grandma is not going to become your biggest fan and brand advocate. It is also very unlikely that she is going to speak up and let you know what you’re doing wrong. After all, you have already done your best to show that you know it all.
I think the reason bad marketing communication makes grandma want to turn ninja is that while you may sincerely believe you are “proficiently communicating in a manner that is consistent with sound business practices and expected protocols”, you are actually talking down to her. If you keep it up, you will grate on her last nerve and the outcome is bleak.
Don't Speak to Grandma Like That!
Bridle Your Verbose Hyperbole and Expedite Your Simplicity
Let me give it to you straight. If you are “excessively verbose and embellish your communications with gratuitous hyperbole”, you will ignore and alienate the majority of any market.
It is even true in the most intelligent circles that if you make it easier to read, more people will pay attention. If you communicate with people as if they are idiots and you are a brilliant word magician, you can save your breath. It often creates quite the opposite outcome and shows that you’re not smart enough to put things into terms people care about or respond to.
If you want to show off your intellect, try taking your complex concept and making it easy for people to understand. That is a much better measure to show off how smart you are.
People want to communicate with people, and not Scrabble
robots. If you want to reach grandma or those many others who live in the “real world”, you will do best to use real world language that is comfortable for them.
The Solution: Make it Readable to 8th Graders
The best advice I can offer about marketing communications is to make it easy. I understand the temptation to use big words or complex phrases to make a point. Maybe you even talk like that when you are having beers with your buddies - but I doubt it. Let me make another example. I’ll let you tell me which one you think is better.
A.) What I wish to express is that when you use big words and complex phrases, you not only alienate people, but also stand to lose their attention.
B.) If you make it harder to read, you’ll lose people.
You can criticize me for my lengthy writing. I’m guilty of this “crime against Grandma” at times. There is a time and a place for it, though. Knowing when and where to use your wordiness is worth consideration.
If you are not already familiar, I encourage you to take a close look at popular readability formulas such as The Flesch formulas, Fry Readability Graph, or The Dale–Chall formula. It should not be shocking to find that they were each designed to be very easy to read and understand.
I’m back to my job search now. I’m hopeful there’s somebody out there who wants a real-world marketing executive that grandmas everywhere will understand - and love.
Ninja by Jeyhun Pashayev via Flickr
Visiting Portage by Jeremy Bronson via Flickr
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