Study Shows Professional Services Clients are Fed Up with Your Jargon
BY Lindsay Cottman
April 29, 2024

“Leverage our seamless, best-in-class solutions to drive scalable, next-gen performance.” Sound familiar? If you’re a marketer at a professional services firm, you’ve probably encountered (or even, God forbid, written) sentences like this, filled with buzzwords that leave readers scratching their heads—and zoning out faster than you can say “synergistic content paradigm shift.”

Here’s the disconnect: While marketers often reach for complex terminology, buyers of professional services crave clarity. According to our recent benchmark study, 63 percent of marketers admitted to using jargon all or most of the time in their content. On the contrary, 72 percent of the people who hire consultants just want you to cut the crap and get to the point with straightforward, easily understandable language.

Such a gap underscores the importance of writing clearly in your marketing. This is not just about using simple words; it’s about communicating complex concepts in a manner that resonates with your audience, irrespective of their familiarity with industry-specific terms.

The Power of Plain Language

Sure, jargon can be a shortcut for insiders. 

In marketing and business writing, however, jargon becomes harder to justify. In this context, it breeds confusion, kills engagement and erodes trust in your brand’s messaging. 

Champions of clear, concise communication like Ann Handley, author of Everybody Writes, argue that complex ideas are best conveyed in a straightforward, accessible manner. She implores marketers to trim unnecessary fluff and focus on delivering content that first-time readers can understand without breaking a mental sweat. By embracing clarity and simplicity, marketers can forge stronger connections with their audience and ensure their message lands.

How to Convey Complexity with Clarity

While the benefits of clear communication are evident, achieving it is not always so simple, especially when dealing with intricate technical topics or industry-specific concepts. To help you become a jargon slayer who can walk the fine line between industry expertise and audience accessibility, here are a few tips:

1. Embrace storytelling: Weave complex concepts into relatable narratives or real-world examples. As Ann Handley herself advocates, “Stories illustrate ideas; they don’t just communicate information or break down instructions.”

For example, rather than dry technical explanations of your proposed cybersecurity solution’s functionality, tell a story about how it protected a company from a breach, highlighting the risks averted and benefits realized. Stories make abstract ideas tangible and memorable (unlike that mind-numbing whitepaper you can’t even remember reading).

2. Use analogies and metaphors: Draw parallels between abstract concepts and familiar experiences or objects. This is another technique that can make complex ideas more tangible and easier to grasp. Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, recommends using “plain English” analogies in technical content.

When explaining cloud computing infrastructure, for instance, you could compare it to the electric grid, where computing resources are the utility provided. Familiar analogies anchor new concepts in existing understanding and make them click.

3. Visualize the complex: Incorporate visual aids, such as infographics, diagrams or illustrations to complement written explanations. As the adage goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” For example, a visually annotated chart could map out the sequence of a complex software implementation you frequently guide your clients through. Visuals simplify your message and enhance comprehension, giving your readers’ brains a break from all that text.

4. Use active voice: As late journalist and author of Do I Make Myself Clear? Harold Evans emphasizes, “Vigorous, clear and concise writing demands sentences with muscle, strong active verbs cast in the active voice.” This straightforward approach allows your readers to quickly grasp who or what is doing the action. It cuts down on superfluous words and phrases, including jargon, that can distract or confuse. Passive voice, in contrast, can sound dull, roundabout and bureaucratic. It saps energy from your prose.

Consider this straightforward statement: “Our recommended CRM automates personalized email sequences based on behavior, streamlining lead nurturing.” Contrast that with its passive, jargon-heavy counterpart: “Lead nurturing is streamlined through the automation of personalized email sequences aligned with behavioral data insights, in turn facilitating frictionless demand funnel optimization.” The second example demonstrates the pitfalls of passive voice and meaningless buzzwords that can quickly cause readers to tune out—this is exactly what you want to avoid in effective business communication.

5. Solicit feedback: Get fresh eyes on your thought leadership content from both experts and your target audience. New perspectives can help you identify areas that require clarification or simplification. In other words, don’t just preach to the choir.

Create feedback loops by sharing drafts with stakeholders and actual clients. The key is to incorporate their input so you can refine your materials to align with how your audience thinks, talks and comprehends information. Writing and communicating in their language, not just industry jargon, is crucial for clarity.

Ultimately, the true mark of expertise isn’t how many syllables you can cram into a sentence. It’s the ability to explain even the most complex subjects in a way that educates and inspires. When you strip away the jargon and speak the way your audience does, you create an environment of understanding, trust and engagement. The path to achieving this may require more thoughtfulness and creativity, but the payoff is well worth the effort.

Let’s talk about growing your firm.

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