In the latest in my series of blog posts tenuously linking B2B marketing issues to classic movies (following The Marketrix and B2Basic Instinct), I thought it was high time I considered a modern version of a Greek tragedy. Welcome to Jason and the Jargonauts…
Harry Cules – the renowned Chief Marketing Officer of a well-known, global, B2B shipping and logistics brand based in Thessaly, Greece – has been unceremoniously fired. Incoming CMO, Jason Brave, can’t quite believe his luck at the prestige opportunity, but also can’t quite believe that Harry Cules is no longer there. Harry was a legend in the B2B marketing community. His social and content marketing campaigns – 12 of them – were renowned. It strikes Jason that something must be amiss.
Starting work, it doesn’t take long for Jason to spot the Achilles heel of both his illustrious predecessor, and the marketing crew he has now inherited. It wasn’t the quality of the crew’s marketing output that earned Harry the chop – far from it – something else was wrong. The marketing team – with Harry at the helm – simply wasn’t speaking the language of the boardroom. Or as the CEO put it, “the entire marketing department just talks Cretan Bullshit“…
Firstly, there was far too little substance to the team’s metrics and reporting. It was all ‘likes’, ‘followers’ and other vanity metrics – and not enough hard stuff, such as churn rates, market share or customer satisfaction. The Board just didn’t know what value the marketing crew was bringing to the party, and so assumed they were misaligned with the company’s strategic priorities.
And while the marketing team was light in terms of talking hard numbers, they were titans in terms of talking babble. The Board looked at each other in utter confusion at the baffling stream of gobbledegook that the marketers spewed at every opportunity. It was omnichannel this, hyper-contextualised that, and phygital the other. And when the team wasn’t agitating to change their respective job titles to ‘evangelist’ or ‘guru’ or ‘digital prophet’, they were off ‘reimagining disruption to lead a paradigm shift for an always-on, digitally-native millennial world, driving engaged, purpose-based conversations‘, whatever in Sparta that meant.
Every time someone in marketing uttered a big word, the Board’s fears grew that the team was no longer on the same page (or even the same celestial body) as the rest of the company. And that is why Harry Cules was slain as abruptly as Bellerophon slew the Chimera.
His task set clear – to win back the Board’s trust – Jason Brave took his team on a voyage into uncharted waters, setting new KPIs that the Board could relate to, ensuring regular catch-ups with all Business Unit leaders to ensure alignment of goals, and – pivotally – banning the use of all marketing jargon. Expressions such as engagement, experiential, nurturing and native advertising were replaced with more simple language, for example ‘someone read it’, ‘events’, ‘we emailed them’ and ‘advertising’.
Slowly, but surely, those simple steps healed the business’ relationship with marketing more effectively than any golden fleece ever could. The company’s CEO and other Board members found a newfound understanding, and a newfound respect, for what marketers actually do for a living.
Our story ends in a love affair between the business and the marketing department – a love affair worthy of Aphrodite herself.
OK, so I admit Greek mythological analogies are worse than Medusa’s haircut, but my motivations for writing this B2B Marketing movie were genuine. I am convinced that marketing jargon is harmful to marketers. Sure, we need labels for certain things, such as positioning or segmentation, and it is OK to use those labels among ourselves as marketers. My problem comes when we start to try and use jargon words – or worse, completely non-sensical babble such as ‘brand love’ or ‘phygital’ or ‘SoLoMo’ – with other people in our respective companies, or in business media that can seep into the mainstream conscious…
Firstly, as professional, customer-facing communicators for our business, using incoherent jargon doesn’t speak highly of our ability to communicate clearly. Secondly, it might just give people the sense that we’re full of sh*t. And that really doesn’t sit well with me.
At this point, you might think I’m over-reacting. Alas, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read or heard people using some of the language mentioned in my plot summary above. For example, I recently heard a senior marketer describe marketing as ‘a paradigm of inbound marketing programs driven by multi-touch digital channels and data analysis’ (or something very, very close to that – I switched off in case I drowned in Cretan bullsh*t). And I’m not the only one that sees it… check out the Twitter feeds of the irrepressible and super-talented Ryan Wellman (@Dr_Draper) and also @CrapOnLinkedIn, just as some examples. There are also advertising campaigns that mock the language us marketers (and other jargon-lovers) use. Here are a couple of examples (the second of which is from the amazing Tom Fishburne, aka @marketoonist)…
I’ll stop there, since I didn’t intend this post to sound too preachy. I just wanted to make a well-meant and heartfelt plea to my fellow marketing professionals to carefully consider the language we use in front of our business leaders.
(And – for those that liked the ‘paradigm of inbound blah blah’ marketing description above – this post is also a plea to remember that marketing is and always will be about identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer needs – profitably and sustainably. You can stick that in your omnichannel, if you don’t like it 😉