Speaking the Lingo: Business Jargon and the Quest for Clarity

avoid-business-jargonThe next time you tell a colleague that you’re going to run something up the flagpole or touch base offline about synergy and ideation, reconsider the impact of “business speak” and language in general.

Language alters the brain
Clarity of thought produces clear communication. In a process known as neuroplasticity, language affects the way your brain maintains itself. Visualizing future positive actions triggers brain activity with a lasting positive impact on the capacity for self improvement.

Working in an environment dominated by business speak and corporate jargon also affects your brain. Tough-talk metaphors lead people to believe winning is everything. Vague, jargon-filled pronouncements lead to imprecise thinking. All of these verbal habits can affect your state of mind and your ability to communicate.

Welcome to the machine
The jargon of business speak began during serious attempts at business reform. In the early 20th century, assembly-line factories dominated industrial production. Mechanical engineer and efficiency expert Frederick Winslow Taylor wrote The Principles of Scientific Management, the century’s most influential work in its field. The son of wealthy Quakers, Taylor used what he called “scientific management” to increase industrial performance. “Taylorism” pioneered industrial engineering, breaking assembly-line work into its smallest units of activity to eliminate wasted motion.

This approach treats employees like cogs in a machine. A few decades later, sociological experiments revealed that workers who thought their bosses paid attention to them as people did better at their jobs than those who were treated like interchangeable parts. This focus on workers’ social and psychological needs blossomed during World War II as a way to understand culture’s role in authoritarian societies.

Human potential
U.S. corporations emerged from the 1940s as big conglomerates in which workers once again felt disconnected from where they worked, prompting a renewed interest in creating an emotional environment conducive to maximized profits. The 1950s spawned organizational development theory, which viewed employees as self-motivated performers who operate well in an atmosphere of trust. This world view fit the prevailing culture of the 1960s and its focus on personal fulfillment. Surrounding these ideas, a vocabulary of buzzwords began to build. “Synergy,” “paradigm shift” and “disrupt” all arose as business speak during the early 1960s.

Consultants took on a focal role as corporations and organizations attempted to adopt organizational development. The use of “resources” to describe employees came from the influential consultant Peter Drucker, author of the 1954 book The Practice of Management, who teamed with General Electric’s Jack Welch to overhaul GE’s organizational culture in the 1980s. Welch’s “Work-Out” program addressed the process of speeding up business problem solving and applied its own terminology to various aspects of the process. “Low-hanging fruit” emerged from Work-Out’s vocabulary.

The Dilbert era
After AT&T’s breakup into so-called “Baby Bells,” Pacific Bell introduced the management philosophy of consultant Charles Krone, who believed that the use of specialized vocabulary improved organizational health. Instead of enhancing employees’ attitudes and communications, however, “Kroning” increased the reliance on jargon. No one outside Pacific Bell could understand what its insiders said. Inside the corporation, the humanistic-sounding focus of Krone’s philosophy rested atop a “my-way-or-the-highway” approach. The comic strip “Dilbert” emerged from Pacific Bell culture, the creation of a computer programmer who lampooned the management speak he heard at work.

Krone’s philosophy fell out of use, but not its jargon. Other consultants brewed up a stew of terminology to make their insights look unique and add a veneer of pseudo-science to their theories. Consultants also introduced HR’s glossary of terms for human capital, designed to promote a focus on efficiency instead of on individual value.

Money talks
The world of finance lost its focus on worker satisfaction during the aggressive increase in Wall Street power and influence of the 1970s and 1980s. Many financial concepts, such as leverage and value addition, moved into academia and the larger arena of the world of business.

Advertising contributed its own share of the business-speak vocabulary, from the “run it up the flagpole” of the 1960s to the “personal brand” of the 1990s. With the rise of Internet technology and access, today’s jargon flashes around the globe at lightning speed. The tech world also contributes its fair share of buzzwords, including “bandwidth” and “multi-task.” The current corporate vocabulary teems with “team” language from the world of sports. The language of social equality now speaks of the demographic criteria of “diversity and inclusion.”

So at the end of the day, have an awesome aha moment about bang for the buck, and make the business case for circling back to transform core competencies as the focus of the cutting edge of corporate culture while you’re cross training your empowered employees to disrupt their workflow with deliverables that prove you’re an evolved game changer who’s fully on board with incentivized ideation. Just make sure you explore all your customers’ pain points with a paradigm shift that’s preplanned for outside-the-box thinking!

Want to avoid vague language and even vaguer thinking? Let’s talk. We value direct, productive dialog about your best approach to marketing your business.


Snapchat for Promoting Your Business: Yes or No?

In the PR industry, we strive to reach our clients’ audiences wherever they are, and in recent years, that means following users to popular social media platforms. However, while businesses have grown increasingly comfortable with advertising via Facebook and Google, new platforms pop up all the time, offering new vectors for public relations strategies and new challenges for PR agencies’ clients. The most bedeviling challenge right now? Snapchat.

The buzzy social media company could use its own PR intervention after the events of recent weeks, which saw influential celebrities abandon the platform in response to various controversies. At the same time, it earned positive press for offering companies access to its Marketing API (application programming interface) program and its rich trove of location-based user data to provide free statistical insights to brands. And in the most recent Pew Research Center report on social media usage, more than a quarter of American adults said they used the app, including a staggering 78 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds.

So, should your business turn to Snapchat as a promotional tool? As usual, the answer depends on many factors. The most important of these is your marketing and PR budget due to the high minimum spends for traditional ads; the most expensive option, sponsored lenses that feature the playful live animations for which the platform is known, has been estimated to cost between $300,000 to $750,000 per day for national campaigns. However, even smaller businesses can afford so-called “geofilters” that Snapchat users can apply to their own pictures and videos to interact with your brand.

Since nearly every business can afford something offered by Snapchat, the question then becomes whether or not it’s worth the investment. Generally, B2B marketing is out – a geofilter for a professional conference may be worthwhile for brand building, but Snapchat is far better suited for B2C tactics. There are also clear demographic trends: if you’re aiming your product or service at millennials, Snapchat is a great way to reach your audience, whereas other audiences are easier to reach via Facebook or Instagram.

But even B2C companies selling to millennials need to think carefully about how Snapchat can be effectively utilized for PR purposes. Building brand awareness with a fun geofilter, offering users barcode or QR-style coupons if they swipe up on your ad or creating a geofilter for an event that lets users share content with your brand attached are all great ways to take advantage of Snapchat. However, given the limited time ads appear on the service and the small amount of screen real estate filter and lens producers have to work with, it can be hard to go far beyond that kind of brand awareness campaign.

It also requires approaching advertising in a new, user-directed fashion. People expect casual, fun snaps that are quick glimpses into the lives of the people they follow, and businesses seeking to reach their own followers via Snapchat need to follow the format. It’s easy for businesses to come across like Steve Buscemi trying to look like a hip high schooler if they just jump right in, so business owners and marketing professionals need to do what they should do with any new platform: spend plenty of time getting familiar with the jargon and visual vocabulary before you launch your new campaign. And resign yourself to having to learn it all over again when you follow the kids to the next big social media platform.


A Tale of Two Vehicle Purchases

a tale of two vehicle purchases

Cedric and Cynthia each drive about 15,000 miles per year in their respective vehicles. At the beginning of last year, each of them bought a new vehicle with better gas mileage than their previous one. Cedric had been driving a 2003 Toyota Tundra that averaged 17 mpg and upgraded to a 2017 Chevy Colorado that gets 25 mpg. Cynthia had been getting 28 mpg in a 2008 Toyota Corolla and traded it in for a Toyota Prius Eco Eco that gets 56 mpg. Which of their upgrades had the most positive impact on the environment?

Before I get to the answer, I’ll point out this is the third in a series of blogs inspired by and summarizing some of the research of Daniel Kahneman, a Noble Prize winning behavioral economist who spent his career furthering our understanding of how we process information and make decisions. If you’re a loyal reader of the dgs blog and wondering how you missed those entries, it’s because they were posted at addmagenta.com. A sister company to dgs, we launched Magenta in 2017 as a vehicle for working with small-to-midsize businesses and non-profits in Central Indiana. Whereas dgs is very focused on serving global providers of advanced manufacturing technology, Magenta is our way of increasing our connection to our local community. You can check out the first two blog entries (and our sister website) here and here.

Back to Cedric and Cynthia. If you’re thinking Cedric’s new purchase had a better impact on the environment than Cynthia’s, you’re both correct and in a relatively small group. The rest of you likely concentrated on mpg, a popular standard that led you to an erroneous conclusion. While Cynthia increased her fuel efficiency far more than Cedric, both in actual terms and as a percentage, relative impact on the environment is measured by fuel consumption. Cedric reduced his fuel consumption by 282 gallons per year (882 to 600), while Cynthia’s highly efficient investment only reduced her impact by 268 gallons per year (535 to 257).

Some might feel tricked when they think about the above, but it says something powerful about how we make decisions and set priorities. If we’re looking at policies to reduce fuel consumption and corresponding emissions, it’s easy to concentrate on breakthroughs at the high end of the spectrum of efficiency. After all, those are the developments that the media typically focuses on. But improvements to our most inefficient vehicles can actually produce more significant results with smaller relative gains in terms of efficiency.

To me, the most important takeaway from the above is how the presentation of data can completely change our perception of what it’s telling us. Imagine my opening paragraph had stated: ‘Cedric decreased his fuel consumption by 282 gallons, while Cynthia decreased hers by 268 gallons. Who had the more positive effect on the environment?’ Anyone reading this would’ve easily and intuitively answered correctly. As it stands, my statements provided the same actual data, albeit from a different perspective.

Some of you may already be thinking of correlations to your business decisions. An obvious parallel would be cost reductions. For example, reducing the cost of one of your more expensive products by 20% may be of greater benefit than reducing the cost of one of your less expensive products by 50%. The same overall statement could apply to production times, where a small percentage improvement in a long process may yield significantly higher productivity gains than a large percentage improvement in a short process. Of course, these likely seem a bit more obvious than the example with Cedric and Cynthia.

One of the main reasons so many people struggle with the Cedric/Cynthia example is that we’re conditioned to view mpg as a highly relevant measurement of a vehicle and its environmental impact. In short, familiarity with viewing data in a specific light can create blind spots in terms of how we receive, process and apply it to our decisions. Keep this in mind as you set, evaluate and review metrics and KPIs and you’ll stand a much better chance of making decisions based on what the data actually says, as opposed to what it merely sounds like.

Next time, we’ll take a look at another situation where the framing of data has a large, determinative impact on our decision making. As mentioned in previous entries, if you find yourself wanting to take a deeper dive into behavioral economics, Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, provides an excellent introduction.


Boost your organic traffic for the long-term with awesome content

boost-organic-trafficChances are organic search is one of the biggest traffic sources to your website. Every experienced web manager or marketer is determined to bring as many visitors from engines like Google or Bing to their website as possible largely because, when done properly, this type of traffic can be accomplished for no cost (and who doesn’t love getting free clickthroughs to their content?).

In most circumstances, tips for boosting your website’s organic traffic revolve around SEO best practices, which are important and will certainly help your rankings in search results. However, before you dive into the world of fine-tuning keywords and meta descriptions, your focus should be on the foundation of what brings users to your site: content.

The content that exists on your webpages can work as a tool to generate organic traffic to your site, thanks to a string of updates to Google’s algorithms, including the Panda and Hummingbird updates. These updates place a higher priority on the quality of a website’s content as it relates to the context of a user’s search query, as opposed to just matching keywords of searches to websites. In short, the better a website’s content, the more opportunities it has to meet a relevant audience that is searching for it.

So what constitutes as high-quality content? For starters, each of your website’s pages should have an appropriate amount of text; a page with very little text will be considered low quality by search engines and a page with lots of text could overwhelm readers. Pages should also contain high-resolution images. Your static webpages (pages that feature information about your products, services and company) should include relevant information to what your customers would search for, and should aim to answer questions a prospective customer might ask. Not sure what those questions are? Take some time to consider the buyer personas of your key customers. In fact, understanding your target audience and developing your buyer personas should be a priority in your marketing program.

Many websites stop after creating a few static webpages. However, if you want to boost your website visits even more, you should also create a blog or news section where you can frequently publish relevant, timely content that will encourage users to continue coming back to your site. Blog posts serve as a critical element in a content marketing strategy and can also be a powerful source of organic traffic. The more you update your site with fresh, new content, the more frequently Google will crawl your site for search terms, and the more opportunities you create for users to find content to click on.

A lot of companies have blogs. Very few use them correctly. When used properly, blog can be used as a gateway to your company’s products and services. It can serve as a way to meet a prospective customer’s needs without directly selling them a service, introducing them to your brand and your knowledge on a particular subject matter so that when the time is right for a purchase to be made, they choose you. However, in many cases, companies skip this awareness step of blogging and jump right to selling, only sharing content that promotes their company, products and services.

If you think about your own online reading habits, how many articles do you read that only share information about the author or spend the bulk of the text selling you on a product or service? Probably none. Because that would be awful.

Create content that educates your readers and helps them solve common problems. If you can, try not to even mention your brand or product in the post. As with the content on your static pages, use buyer personas to determine the problems your average customers face, and provide helpful tips and solutions to them. Don’t worry about “giving away” too much information. As marketing guru Jay Baer states in his breakthrough book Youtility, “create content your customers would pay for.” The more help you give, the more strength you lend to your brand, which will inevitably lead to more sales. And – as long as it is relevant to the products/services you sell – this educational content will bring even more organic traffic from users that may not necessarily be looking for your company or products, but are just trying to get help with a specific issue. Google rewards relevant content that aims to answer users’ questions with higher search rankings.

Once your site is beaming with awesome content, then you can focus on the search engine optimization techniques that will take your organic traffic to the next level. Stay tuned for more content and SEO tips on our blog!