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Over Their Heads and Far From Their Comprehension

Marcia Yudkin’s excellent “Marketing Minute” arrived in my inbox today. It included an important reminder about jargon. Marcia gave me permission to share this guest post with you.


Over Their Heads and Far From Their Comprehension

By Marcia Yudkin

Marcia Yudkin

Are you overestimating the public’s familiarity with your jargon and underestimating their curiosity to know?

The natural-foods store near me sells unusually yummy, locally baked bread, prominently labeled as “naturally leavened.”

Say what?

“Leavened,” I know, implies dough that rises after the ingredients are mixed.  Normally that’s accomplished by yeast, I also know.  But does “naturally” mean that the baker adds some fresh-from-nature type of yeast, or a yeast alternative?  Or does the dough rise from being left on the counter, affected by leavening agents naturally floating around in the air?

Nothing on the bread wrapper clarified this.  I hunted down the baking company’s website, where it said that instead of yeast, they “culture the dough with a bacterial based wild starter and allow it to ferment for 24 hours before baking.”

I was still in the dark.  What is a “bacterial based wild starter”?  I longed for a link to another page, perhaps in Q&A format, explaining this more fully.

Are you similarly assuming too much knowledge on the part of your customers with your use of specialized terms?


Do you have an example of jargon getting in the way of your understanding? Please share it.

You can sign up for Marcia’s free weekly Marketing Minute. I recommend it. 


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

7 comments on “Over Their Heads and Far From Their Comprehension”

  • It’s not jargon if it speaks to your target audience. If its a significant benefit and internal management want to create brand differentiation by promoting this benefit, it is strategy and not jargon.

    And, sometimes companies will do it on purpose to add “jargon” to make you want to search and become educated this is called a tactic.

    I wish people who don’t understand marketing stop talking about marketing. Also, I wish people would stop dumbing-down marketing.

  • Marcia, thank you for responding to Cecilia’s comment. I agree with you. I experience the frustration of jargon often in my business, even when I am the ideal customer.

    I am satisfied when a company uses jargon but teaches me what it means immediately in the same communication. Then I feel educated. However, I never do research on my own to figure out what a marketer is trying to say. If they don’t communicate clearly when they are selling, how would they communicate after I purchased their product or service?

    Cecilia, if you have marketing research to support your point, I would love to know about it. I am writing from my own experience. Marcia is writing from her marketing expertise. If you have research we should consider, please share it.


  • Hi Carl,

    Let’s not put our guest expert on the spot to comment on well-known marketing gurus. Instead, I suggest subscribing to Marcia’s “Marketing Minute” and checking out her website. Those actions will fill you in on her beliefs and opinions.


  • Cecilia, thank you for taking the time to express your opinions.

    I’ve been a marketing professional for more than 35 years, and one thing I’ve observed again and again, in nearly every industry and for nearly every kind of audience, is that those within a company very often overestimate the degree to which the audience understands their specialized terminology.

    I’ve also observed that very few people do research to understand a company’s jargon. When possible, they’d rather do business with a company that speaks their language.

    In the instance I wrote about, I was *exactly* the target market of the bread company. Yet I did not understand what actually they were selling or how it was distinctive, and I could not have explained it to someone else in their target market who was on the lookout for tasty, healthy food.

    Marketing relies on communication, and if the intended audience doesn’t understand words, communication doesn’t take place. Intentional mystification is a strategy that I would never in a million years recommend to any of my clients. Besides being ineffective, it’s disrespectful to the audience.

  • Thanks Lynn & Marcia for sharing!

    Marcia- excellent response to Cecilia. What’s your opinion about Seth Godin knowledge of marketing?

  • I totally agree with Marcia’s response. My specialty is in health care and employee benefits – an industry that wins awards for jargon. However, I assure you I still get stumped by some of its jargon even after 30-plus years in the industry.

  • Hi Cathy,

    Nice to hear from you! The pervasiveness of jargon is amazing, isn’t it? I’ve been in learning and development (formerly training) for many years. But I hadn’t a clue when I first heard people in human resources talking knowingly about “leaving ADDIE for SAM.” Hmm–another term thrown around with the assumption that everyone is in the know.

    Thanks for stopping by.


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