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How to Stop the Geek Speak

By May 13, 2012Article

It’s everywhere. You can’t escape it. Pick up any tech company’s brochure or sales card and you’ll see it. Geek speak. It’s an epidemic among high-tech companies. And it’s not promoting business or getting the message out. It’s killing sales. Why has geek speak become the default vocabulary for tech industry marketing? Why doesn’t geek speak work? What’s the real antidote to restore communications that communicate?
Many technology executives are counting on a change in strategy to stimulate revenue out of recession sluggishness. They aim to drive their new strategy to the point of revenue now — or yesterday. These execs can’t afford to have their messages lost in a haze of geek speak.
Does anyone really understand the benefit of “dynamic micro demand response capabilities?” Do terms like “open,” “seamless,” or “integrated” really mean anything to anyone?
Then why do companies continue to rely on techno jargon and marketing mumbo jumbo to try to communicate a business benefit? Here are a couple of possible explanations:

  1. To establish expertise: Marketers and sales reps use jargon to establish credibility. To prove they speak the language, know the secret handshake. Start-ups are especially prone to this problem. There’s an element of insecurity to it — and they come across just like that guy in freshman English who used big words to sound scholarly. Dude, you are trying too hard.
  2. Techie and feature rich = “premium”: Companies buy into the idea that consumers value technology, innovation and “the next new thing” enough to pay a premium for it. You’ll see these companies describe their product or service in excessive detail using industry-specific jargon.

It’s easy to spot. Look for:

  • Words that signal the product involves technical expertise
  • Excessive focus on the specs and features
  • Heavy use of buzzwords like “innovative,” “advanced,” “next gen”

Why geek speak doesn’t work
The problem with geek speak is that it doesn’t actually communicate — it irritates. It makes it exceptionally difficult for the B2B buyer to understand your product or service. Decision makers don’t care about tech specs or whiz-bang features. And while geek speak can build credibility with an IT manager or engineer who influences the purchasing decision, it’s a sales killer with C-level executives. They want to know how the product benefits them.
You may be thinking the other guy writes jargon but your company is in the clear. Take a look at your literature and be objective: are you using the right terminology for the audience you’re addressing? The truth might hurt.
One executive told me that he found terms used in B2B applications like “self-adapting mobile web” and “institution-wide connectivity” to be gobbledygook. “If they wrote them in plain English, it would mean more,” he said. He wanted to know why the company didn’t just say that the webpage looks good on any phone (self adapting web) and the platform easily integrates with back-end systems (institution-wide connectivity).
What’s the remedy to geek speak?

  1. Identify your target buyer and speak in his/her language. Business owners and C-level execs want to understand the business benefits of your product or solution. They care more about “cost savings,” “time to market” and “operational efficiencies” than backwards compatibility with Release 2.67.
  2. Go beyond throwing around business lingo: own a business problem and funded initiative. Successful positioning persuades the buyer that your product solves a major problem they have and helps execute an existing initiative.
  3. Before you let something out of the gate, do the “grandmother test.” If you read the press release to your grandmother, could she tell you what your product or solution does? Yes, the language really should be that crystal clear.

A strong positioning story is a central asset for any successful company. Your positioning drives revenue growth, valuation and market leadership. But what could be powerful differentiators often end up as geek-speak feature lists that fail to motivate action.
Here’s to communications that communicate!
Bob Wright is managing director of Firebrick Consulting. He has over 20 years of experience in the high-tech industry and specializes in the creation of break-away strategies and unblocking critical problems to build substantial market value. He has been at the vanguard of innovative positioning and sales strategies for over 100 companies including VMware, Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, Citrix Online, PeopleSoft, as well many new category creators such as Autonomy, ClairMail, Riverbed, Taleo and Workday.

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