Just Say What it Is

December 23rd, 2006   |   by Frank Addante

In today’s high-tech, highly competitive world, more and more companies are describing their products or services using too many fancy, jargon words. This is particularly a problem in crowded markets where they are trying hard to differentiate themselves from their competition. Particularly with startup companies, they think that they have to use fancy words or names to make their products sound more sophisticated. Unfortunately, they wordsmith themselves so far away from describing what it actually is that they sell, that their customers or users need a jargon-decoder ring to understand what they do.

I’ll take a simple example and “jargon it up” to illustrate my point. Let’s take a bicycle. What if I were to describe a bicycle as:

“A multi-wheel personal transportation device”

If I were a motorcycle manufacturer trying to differentiate myself from a bike, I would say something like:

“A multi-wheel next-generation, high performance engine-driven transportation device”

Oh wait, that could also be a car, so if I wanted to differentiate the car, I would say:

“A quad-wheel, next-generation, high performance engine-driven quad-seat transportation vehicle”

Oh no, that could be an SUV, too… Well, you get the point. Describing something using a) jargon and b) competitive comparison could spiral out of control, quickly.

I was fortunate enough to learn this lesson years ago. My third startup, L90 (Startup 3.0), was in a very crowded, highly competitive online advertising market. We tried many different jargon-driven ways of describing ourselves. The more jargon our competitors used, the more we used, the more we used, then the more they used… What worked best was when we very simply described ourselves “The Premium Advertising Network”. It was simple, to the point and it worked. Customers immediately knew what we did and we established a supreme perspective by adding one descriptive word, “Premium”.

Ever since then, I’ve constantly used what I call the bicycle test: “We build bicycles”. Anytime I think of ways to describe a new business, product or service I use this statement as a foundation/test to ground my thinking. The closer I can get to this statement, the better…

Because, if you can’t simply say what it is, than what it is won’t matter.

Throw away the thesaurus!