There’s a regular section in WIRED magazine that I gravitate to every month. It’s easy to miss because it’s not a main feature, and it hides innocuously in a sidebar of every issue. It’s called “Jargon Watch” and its location may be a very inspired piece of design because I think it belies the insidious way that jargon is often overlooked.
The Lifecycle of Jargon
Jargon is one of those innocuous things that pops up organically, stemming from a need for specificity to describe new ideas but that eventually ends up being a thing unto itself. During its typical lifecycle, jargon traverses a range from useful to insiders, then useful to bring outsiders in, until it is finally used to insulate from outside scrutiny. Pseudo professionals can adopt jargon in a niche to appear knowledgeable and lord their command of the jargon over others as a way to stifle questions. Ultimately in its mature form, jargon’s lack of definition leads to less understanding rather than more.
And Then There’s Marketing
But in the realm marketing, jargon has a much more insidious effect. It dehumanizes. It turns people into impressions, and successful connections into KPI’s as a means to determine ROI. Abstract concepts represented by jargon obfuscate the underlying information that is the connection to human beings. They are more than statistical data points and are far too complicated to be dropped into your plans simply as points on a graph.
One of the most frustrating pieces of metaphoric jargon in marketing for me is the funnel. It’s based on, and is intended to illustrate, the simple concept of broad to narrow – that there is a large audience that represents your potential customers and it narrows to a much smaller number as they approach the event horizon of becoming actual customers.
Metaphors can be very useful tools but I can’t think of a worse way to mentally visualize the people (and that is always who we are talking about in the funnel) who need my specialized services and that provide my livelihood.
Screw the Funnel
Bad mental pictures lead to bad behavior. It allows businesses to interact with a metaphor instead of people and this is where authenticity gets lost. All consumers have a refined sense of smell when it comes to marketing. They can smell a game a mile away. This is particularly true of millennials. Most people understand marketing is a necessary part of our daily lives. But now more than ever it is a place where businesses are allowed into if they are respectful and marginally transparent. Overstep that line and you are relegated to noise. That line will be defined by how you perceive your customers. See them as actual people with wants and desires that you can help and you will get permission to sit at the advertising table. Treat them as a data point in a funnel and you may lose an opportunity to connect with real people who are your audience before they are customers.