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The Fight Against Marketing-Speak

I heard an ad on the radio the other day. The announcer asked, “Are you looking to deliver innovative waste management solutions?” I didn’t know how to answer, because I had no idea what he was talking about.

Turns out, the ad was for a company looking to hire garbage truck drivers.

I get it. Every business wants to grab your attention and stand out from the crowd. But sometimes we try so hard that our message gets lost. How can we fix it?

Here are two pieces of advice I’ve received over the years that have helped me fight the good fight against complex, unrelatable marketing-speak:

Write like you talk. This was one of the most important lessons I learned in journalism school. It served me well when reporting on the local police log — Why say “police apprehended John Doe for theft of funds” when you can say “police arrested John Doe for stealing money” instead? — and it serves me well in the tech industry.

The problem is, some people actually talk like the radio announcer. I don’t think anybody means to, but these words and phrases just enter our brains through some sort of marketing-speak osmosis. (Even I have caught myself saying things like “Let’s leverage these synergies!” in meetings before. I didn’t mean to. It just came out.) So “write like you talk” doesn’t always do the trick. Which brings us to our second piece of advice:

Don’t write anything you wouldn’t say at a cookout. This advice came from my boss at my previous job, and I rely on it all the time when writing and editing. Nobody would ever say “deliver innovative waste management solutions” at a cookout. They’d say “drive a garbage truck.”

The “Cookout Test” also helps you hone your high-level messaging. When someone in a social setting asks you what your company does, do you immediately dive into speeds, feeds and buzzwords? Or do you start talking about the value you provide to customers?

It’s hard enough to reach and connect with an audience these days. Don’t make it harder on yourself by overcomplicating your message.

This post originally appeared in the Fuel Newsletter. Sign up for Fuel to subscribe.

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