eBay stepped right in it. They seem to have forgotten that their audience was….human beings.

A friend forwarded me this jargon-loaded email from eBay explaining some new advances in their payment processing system. Click the image to read the whole thing (if you’re into that sort of pain…) – here’s part of the opening paragraph to give you a taste of jargon on the menu:

eBay is happy to announce plans to further improve the customer experience by intermediating payments on our Marketplace platform. In doing so, eBay will manage the payments flow, simplifying the end-to-end experience for both buyers and sellers.

But, hey – we are receiving this important missive right now even though “you do not need to take any action at this time. The transition to full payments intermediation will be a multi-year journey.” Thanks bunches!

This is a boatload of overly-detailed verbiage, all of which could have been simply translated thusly:

“eBay is making it easier for buyers and sellers to process payments. Get ready for more choices and flexibility! We’ll keep you posted as we roll out these improvements.”

Tribal Code is not Human Communication

eBay is using Silicon Valley tech-speak (tribal code) to try to communicate with regular, normal users. Humans who, like you and me, actually prefer clarity to complexity. And this is a common problem across all business sectors. We get immersed in our industry – its terminology, its acronyms, its jargon – and pretty soon we forget how to communicate with the outside world using plain speech. That outside human world which happens to contain our customers.

I see tribal code in the healthcare/pharmaceutical industry all the time. Here’s an example from a jargonized website home page that is simply indecipherable:

“We partner with our clients to foster life science innovations and drive full potential of health technologies to ensure patient access to life saving medicines by identifying transformative opportunities, addressing critical challenges, and developing actionable strategies to deliver long-lasting performance in a rapidly evolving market.”

No human being can figure out this company does. Therefore, every single website visit is an opportunity lost. Is that the goal of any business??

Translation Needed

Humans buy from us. Humans make referrals to us. Humans hire us. Therefore, we need to be sure that whatever it is we’re trying to communicate, we speak human. That can be particularly difficult for us because “You can’t read the label of the jar you’re in” – we are immersed in our own lingo, we assume meanings and definitions that others don’t possess.

Technical language is valuable for arriving at accurate meaning. But then, it must be translated into human by skillful copywriting. Speaking human means:

  1. Accurately explaing the main thing what we do;
  2. Distilling it into clear messages for sales and marketing; while
  3. Assuming that our distracted audience does not have the time or bandwidth to figure us out for themselves (it’s our job to be both clear and memorable).

We don’t fly to another country and expect people to understand our language – we need translation first and foremost. Businesses need to translate what they do into the language of humans.

People Talk Like People

That’s how my friend Tom Clifford puts it on his website (Tom is a gifted B2B copywriter who “gets it”).

Sometimes there’s a bit of effort removing the technical layers and clarifying the value proposition, but once that is accomplished, it can be your greatest strategic advantage. Customers will actually understand you.

How does your company uniquely address its customers’ pain points, in simple language? What is your value, in one straightforward sentence that you could speak at a networking meeting and immediately gain an audience?

Clarity of language isn’t a luxury – all the ability and training in the world isn’t going to make a baseball player successful if he fails to bring his bat with him to the plate! Everything goes to waste if we can’t speak human.

One of the best things you can do, as an individual or business, is to let other people – humans not in your tribe – read your messaging and see if it’s actually effective. You may need help translating into human, and that’s where skilled marketers can turn your opportunities lost, into opportunities gained.

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