“Every science requires a special language because every science has its own ideas.”

Étienne Bonnot de Condillac

On a bright Monday morning, as the scent of over-brewed office coffee began its daily crawl through the corridors, Maria, a fresh-faced marketing analyst, prepared for her first big presentation. Her audience? Not the marketing team, no. She was presenting to a group of seasoned engineers, a crowd more familiar with Python code than market penetration strategies.

As she hooked up her laptop to the projector, the room filled with the muffled sounds of shuffling papers and polite, if not slightly disinterested, murmurs. These were people who spoke in the tongues of algorithms and data structures, not consumer engagement and brand awareness. Maria’s challenge was not just to present her findings but to translate them from her world to theirs.

She began with gusto, “Today, we’re diving into the consumer psyche to leverage our brand’s dynamic alignment with emerging market trends.” The room blinked back at her. It was a look Maria knew well—polite incomprehension masked as attention. Her words, though accurate within the marketing department’s bubbled confines, were arcane here. It was like explaining color theory to a room full of dogs—interesting, maybe, but hardly practical.

Seeing the disconnect, she switched tactics. “What I mean is, we’ve found a way to make our products more attractive to buyers by aligning with what’s popular and up-and-coming. It’s like ensuring our software not only works well but is also what our customers really want to use, based on their current preferences.”

The shift was subtle but significant. Eyebrows raised, not in confusion but in understanding. Nods replaced blank stares. Maria had translated her specialized marketing jargon into a language her engineering colleagues could grasp. It wasn’t about dumbing down her ideas—it was about making them accessible.

This moment of clarity was a small victory in the daily battle against “Schmarketing”—a term that encapsulates the often impenetrable jargon of marketing. As Maria found, such specialized language can alienate as much as it elucidates, turning potential collaborative bridges into walls.

Maria’s experience in that meeting room is a microcosm of every interaction in the business world. Whether you’re detailing a project plan, compiling a report, or launching a marketing campaign, each effort is fundamentally about connection. You’re reaching across the table—not just to share information but to foster understanding and cooperation.

Building Bridges with Words

Every word we choose, every term we deploy, has the power to either bridge gaps or widen them. When we speak in a language tailored only for marketing insiders, we inadvertently cultivate a culture of Schmarketing—where jargon clutters rather than clarifies. But when we adapt our language to suit our audience—be that our colleagues in engineering, customer service, or even the end consumers—we begin to build a foundation of clarity, trust, and accountability.

A shared vocabulary is not static—it evolves with its context. It should shift fluidly to meet the needs and understanding of the audience at hand. The real magic happens when this tailored communication becomes second nature, when every member of a team, regardless of their function or expertise, feels valued and understood.

This is not just good marketing—it’s good teamwork.

Making Clarity a Daily Habit

Alright, so you’re convinced that clear communication is the way to go. Great! But how do you actually pull it off in the day-to-day chaos of the office? It’s not as simple as slapping a “No Jargon Zone” sign on the conference room door (though that might help). Here are some practical steps to help you bridge the gap between marketing speak and plain English, making sure your brilliant ideas don’t get lost in translation like a gourmet meal described in Klingon.

Know Your Audience: Before launching into your next epic spiel about “leveraging synergistic platforms,” take a breath and think about who you’re talking to. Are they fellow marketers, or is this a group of engineers who’d rather be building things than hearing about market share? Tailoring your message to your audience is like seasoning a dish—too much jargon, and it’s inedible; just the right amount, and it’s delicious.

Use Analogies and Examples: Analogies are your best friends. They’re like the ketchup of communication—able to make even the blandest concepts palatable. If you’re explaining a complex marketing strategy, compare it to something familiar. “Our campaign is like a three-course meal: the appetizer grabs attention, the main course delivers the message, and the dessert leaves a lasting impression.”

Encourage Feedback: Create a culture where asking for clarification is not just accepted but encouraged. Think of it as a safety net for misunderstandings. If someone doesn’t get it, it’s not a failure—it’s an opportunity to make your communication clearer. Plus, it gives everyone a chance to feel smart for that one moment when they know something you don’t.

Simplify Your Language: When in doubt, go simple. Ditch “robust ideation frameworks” for “good ideas.” You’re not writing the next great American novel—you’re trying to get a point across. If your grandmother wouldn’t understand it, neither will Bob from accounting.

Visual Aids: A picture is worth a thousand words, but a good PowerPoint slide is worth even more. Use visuals to break down complex ideas. Think of them as your sidekick—Robin to your Batman, if you will. They can illustrate points that might otherwise get lost in translation.

Check for Understanding: At the end of your spiel, make sure everyone’s on the same page. It’s like herding cats, but worth it. Ask questions, invite discussion, and don’t be afraid of a little silence as people process what you’ve said. If they’re nodding—and not just at the promise of an early lunch—you’re on the right track.

Practice Empathy: Remember, we’re all humans here (unless you’re actually presenting to AI, in which case, good luck). Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. If you were them, would you understand what you’re saying? Would you care? If the answer to either question is no, it’s time to rework your message.

By incorporating these strategies into your daily communication, you’ll find that bridging the gap between marketing speak and plain language isn’t just possible—it’s essential. Clarity isn’t the enemy of sophistication—it’s its best ally. And with a little effort and a splash of humor, you can make sure your message not only gets across but sticks.

From Jargon to Understanding

Remember Maria and her first big presentation? Her story reminds us that while every field may have its specialized language, the true mark of expertise lies in making those ideas accessible to others. Effective communication isn’t about showing off your vocabulary; it’s about making sure your message lands. 

When you prioritize clarity and connection, you’re not just improving your marketing strategy—you’re enhancing collaboration, fostering innovation, and building a culture of inclusivity and mutual respect.

So, the next time you find yourself slipping into the comfortable confines of Schmarketing, take a moment to consider your audience. Speak their language, make the connection, and watch as the walls of jargon crumble into bridges of understanding.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Brand & Community at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.