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The Buzzwords and Bullshit You Use to Offend the Human Race

Barry Feldman: December 17, 2012 | Best practices for copywriting | Comments
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Please allow me to introduce Ilana Rabinowitz. You may know her from Social Media Explorer, where we both contribute content. Ilana writes smart stuff. For example:

The language of human beings.

buzzwordsThe most important thing to know in being a good digital communicator is: talk to people as if you are both human beings.

You wouldn’t think people need lessons in acting human. But many of us assume a business façade at work. We put on our work attire, go to an office, sit in meetings and write memos or emails to customers, forgetting that we are human beings talking to other human beings.

We speak a language filled with buzzwords, clichés and acronyms that we would never use with friends. Imagine inviting your guests to the dinner table with a statement like “please be advised that dinner is served.”

Once a new buzzword enters the corporate suite, everyone picks up on it because they feel it makes them sound more “professional.” Before you know it there’s a verbal epidemic. Everyone is recycling the same canned phrases. Then, when it comes time to communicate with customers, we speak to them this way as well.

Some examples of cringe-worthy phrases are statements like… “kindly refer to our return policy” or… “in the absence of an approval” …“we apologize in advance for . . .” and… “your business (or your call) is important to us.”

[What crap. (Interjected by Barry.)]

Corporate speak is even rampant in person.

When I go to a trade show booth and ask a software company or agency what they do, 9 times out of 10 they parrot some cookie cutter description with the words “leverage,” “synergy,” “cutting-edge,” “optimize,” “best practices” and “solution.” My eyeballs spin in opposite directions.

Buzzwords and acronyms may make you feel smarter, but this kind of communication is a problem for three reasons.

  1. Eliminates the need for you to think about what you are really trying to say. Recycling common phrases puts your communication on auto pilot.
  2. Distances you from people by making you sound like a computer program.
  3. No one knows what you are talking about. You are not communicating.

Digital marketing calls for a new wardrobe.

The stiff language of corporate speak is a vestige of the days when men all wore white shirts and dark suits to work and women wore black suits with sensible pumps and a non-descript cotton button-down blouse.

Being conventional, using mind-numbingly consistent phrases, and checking your humanity at the office door is a practice that won’t hold up in digital marketing. You are already once removed from other people online. Find a way to let the real personality behind the logo show through.

Smart spectacles.

I recently had a series of email conversations with the customer service folks at Warby Parker. Their emails provided an example of an extremely warm and human communication style. I was trying to get my prescription verified by my optician in the midst of the Sandy storm.

Figuring out how to order my first pair of glasses online took a lot of back-and-forth. Stay tuned for excerpts from the emails.

The first email I received after contacting them included this paragraph:

I hope your new Warby Parkers make you jump for joy. If there’s anything at all I can help you with—shopping questions, eyewear questions, you name it—just let me know. I’m here to help.

Notice they don’t say “I trust you’ll be pleased with your purchase.”  That colorful image of jumping for joy was in my head when I did receive my glasses.

Then, it took several emails to get all the information they needed to fill my order. Instead of saying “kindly provide the following information” or “we still need the following,” they said:

I just have one more question, I promise! One of the pieces of information they needed required me to use an online tool they created to get a measurement for fitting the glasses.

Here is how they asked: To send your new frames to you at lightning speed, we’ll need this measurement. Luckily, it’s a cinch to get!

Then, when I accidentally sent a prescription that they couldn’t fill (my fault, I should have known this from their site), they apologized and instead of saying, “please be advised that we don’t handle transitional lenses” or “kindly refer to line 6 of our policies and procedures” they said:

I’m very sorry about this hassle—nobody needs another hassle. When you have a free moment, let me know how you’d like to proceed, and call or email if you have any questions at all.

You see? Compassion, no subtle blame, no canned phrases—and helpful options.

Notice the use of “I” and “me” throughout instead of the corporate or royal “we.”

I felt I was talking to . . . a human being. I was actually surprised to look back on the series of emails and discover there were several different people representing the company in each one.

I still felt a human connection with someone who cared and seemed to understand how I felt.

A human heartbeat.

The most effective emails, social media posts, website copy and face-to-face conversations are not only simple and easy to understand, they have signs of humanity. If, when you’re communicating with people, you remember you’re both human, you’ll bring humor, empathy, and caring when you choose your words.

Word-of-mouth marketing is the result of delighting and surprising customers. Sometimes all that’s necessary is to behave like a human being.

Ilana’s original article reads similar to what you see here, but I edited it a tad. 

Thanks Ilana. It’s good to know a fellow human.

Go give it to her here.

 

Barry Feldman
Barry Feldman, founder of Feldman Creative, is a prolific writer with 25 years of experience bringing his clients' online presence to the next level through copywriting and content marketing creation and consulting. He writes and educates clients on online marketing on The Point and on many other sites across the web. Connect with Barry on Google+.
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  • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

    Hi Barry, You give good edit. It’s a bit more edgy in places than my personal style but it shows by example the power of words to change the way people feel and respond.

    • http://www.feldmancreative.com/ Barry Feldman

      I hope to have respected the author’s original work, expanded the reach of the valuable information, and peppered it a bit Feldman style.

  • Jana Quinn

    Excellent article, Ilana. I have caught myself rolling my eyes more than once (in meetings at my own company sometimes!) where buzzwords seemed to have taken the place of straightforward communication. Nine times out of 10, it’s when the speaker a) does not understand their topic well enough to explain it simply to others or b) is buying time to put off showing actual results.

    As someone with a science background, I focus on operational definitions. “Networking” and “social media outreach” are great words, but they become buzzwords without actionable steps or a goal in mind. Networking means what? Emailing someone whose work you admire? Following up with previous clients to make them aware of your referral benefit program? Get specific!

    This bit was the best: “Word-of-mouth marketing is the result of delighting and surprising customers. Sometimes all that’s necessary is to behave like a human being.”

    Thanks for a wonderful post that sums up the long-term, no-risk strategy ALL companies should take to generate positive marketing word of mouth.