brand story & messaging

How Geekspeak Can Doom Your Marketing

Sandra Stewart | January 21, 2014

In our role as consultants, we love to geek out with our clients on the technicalities of their fields, and will bravely forge through obscure terminology and sentences that read as koans. In our role as potential buyers of products or services, however, we’re like pretty much everyone else: if a company’s website and other marketing materials are Greek to us, we move on.

That dichotomy illustrates the difference between insiders and outsiders, and points to the key reasons clarity is so important. Most obviously, if potential customers don’t understand right away what you’re selling and why it matters, they’ll just go away. More subtly, lack of clarity can damage credibility, making your company come off as potentially untrustworthy rather than as just a poor communicator.

Here’s why: If you can’t explain what you do clearly and concisely, it may send the message you aren’t quite up to the task of execution. And claims that are difficult to understand or vague can seem like deliberate obfuscation—a hallmark of greenwashing.

Symptoms of problems with clarity include the use of jargon and technical terms without explanations, an overabundance of technical detail up front, and failure to show benefits and results. (Cleantech companies and architecture and engineering firms are particularly susceptible, we’ve found.)

These are some cures:

  • Explain your service or technology as simply as possi­ble, keeping audience needs in mind
  • Provide technical details and speci­fications separately from core messages whenever possible
  • Keep benefits and results front and center—and don’t mistake what you provide or do (features) for what it gives customers (benefits)

Find out about other credibility killers—and how to banish them—in our Strategy>Shift guides, geared to companies in cleantech, architecture, engineering, energy efficiency and clean transportation.

  1. Eric Silverman says:

    Worthwhile reading for those selling products that require some degree of education. I like Sandra’s advice: Jargon-speak is a way of avoiding investment of the harder work, that is, explaining the why, not what.


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