B-to-B Insights: Looking for the Right Words
Almost universally, the great writing teachers tell us to avoid jargon and use small words instead of big words.
"We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon," writes William Zinsser in "On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction" (Quill, 2001). And in "The Art of Readable Writing" (Harper & Row, 1991), Rudolph Flesch warns: "keep away from fancy words because you never can tell what they mean."
But in copywriting, there are certainly exceptions to this rule—times when a bigger or fancier word, or even jargon, can command the reader's attention and persuade him more effectively than everyday prose.
Spruce It Up a Little
The first exception is the use of big words to create a perception of enhanced value. For example, Montblanc doesn't call its product a "pen" in its catalog. It sells "writing instruments." Reason: People will pay $150 for a writing instrument. But they can buy a pen at CVS for a dollar.
Direct marketers know the words you use matter. Consultant Gary Hennerberg says when Collin Street Bakery changed the name of its main product from "fruitcake" to "Native Texas Pecan Cake," mail-order sales increased 60 percent.
Another reason to use jargon is to create a sense of affinity between the writer and the reader. You want the prospect to feel you are part of his group, or at least know and understand him and his kind. But don't use insider jargon when writing to nonspecialists.
Sociologist Susan Brownmiller defines jargon as "language more complex than the word it serves to communicate." Similarly, when editing the massive Oxford English Dictionary, James Murray's rule was a definition could not contain a word more complex than the word being defined.
The third application of jargon is in writing about technical topics, and a huge number of B-to-B marketers sell technical products to technical audiences. Is it safe—even advisable—to use jargon in these situations?
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter who has written copy for more than 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Praxair, Intuit, Forbes, and Ingersoll-Rand. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s top copywriter” and he is the author of 90 books, including “The Copywriter's Handbook.” Find him online at www.bly.com or call (973) 263-0562.