Speaking Clear

Sean McNamara
Jun 8, 2016 · 4 min read

First, there was adtech. Then, martech. And now, brandtech.

Micro-moments are the new lifecycle stages. Our solutions are crossplatform, transmedia, and omnichannel; our campaigns are social-by-design (never by accident), mobile-first, and influencer-curated.

You need content? We’ve got both liquid and snackable. Want to try your hand at the media game? We’ve got brand publishing, brand journalism, or we can just build a brand newsroom that’ll monetize itself with the next Chewbacca Mom or Hodor meme. Better yet, we’ll host — and livestream — a hackathon in our cloud-based innovation lab, led by millennial mompreneurs, to build a bot that’ll crack the masstige market. Who’s with me?


Remember that leaked Scientology video? The one where a wild-eyed Tom Cruise goes on about hack-ack orgs and out-ethics, SPs and KSW? We all had a good laugh at his unhinged ramblings. What’s not so funny is the feeling that media and marketing folks are starting to sound like that outside our closed circles.

Introducing new products, practices, and specializations has long been the McGuffin of our business. After all, we’re always looking for new things to up-sell, cross-sell, basically sell at all costs. And today, in a crowded and complex marketplace, where more money changes hands with greater opacity, only one thing’s certain: it’s a seller’s market.

I recently wrote about the rise of ad blocking, and how it’s just another indicator that we’ve failed our audience. Now, I want to address how we’re failing ourselves. How our abuse of jargon is creating unnecessary confusion at a time when stakeholders are looking to us for clarity and confidence.

For evidence of how bad it’s gotten, look no further than last week’s press release from tronc, the newspaper conglomerate formerly known as Tribune Publishing.

Born again as a “content curation and monetization company,” tronc “is focused on leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve the user experience and better monetize our world-class content in order to deliver personalized content to our 60 million monthly users and drive value for all of our stakeholders.”

Huh? If this corporate horrorshow doesn’t scare us straight, what will?

And just to be clear, I have blood on my hands too; for years I’ve been a shameless and habitual abuser of jargon. But the recidivism stops here. To that end, I’ve sketched out a few guidelines to keep myself on the path to more meaningful and inclusive discourse.

1. Talk like a human

Like you’re sitting at a bar or coffee shop, not on a panel at an innovation summit. Like you’re having a real conversation with real people, who have real hopes and fears, wants and needs. That starts by asking questions. Lots of them. And really listening to the answers. The best conversations are grounded in genuine curiosity and empathy, and it’s no coincidence that they rarely happen in the guise of networking.

2. Words matter

Those of us who communicate for a living should have a higher burden to provide substance in the words we choose. And it’s not just made-up words, like eventize, and portmanteaus, like prosumer, that erode our collective credibility, but also the flagrant misuse of real words. Like ecosystem. Or worse yet, disrupt, disruptive, or disruption, which have been used ad nauseam to describe anything resembling innovation, with little regard for the basic tenets of Clayton Christensen’s twenty year-old theory. Enough, already.

3. It pays to be simple

As renowned designer John Maeda points out in The Laws of Simplicity, it’s a principle that rings as true in business as it does in life. Because making things simpler can help people emotionally cope with — and tactically manage — a world that’s only getting more complicated. And there’s measurable value in it too. According to the Global Brand Simplicity Index, developed by brand consultancy Siegel+Gale, a stock portfolio of the simplest brands has financially outperformed the major indexes by 214 percent over the last six years. What’s more, that survey data finds that people are more likely to recommend simpler products and pay more for simpler experiences. In this context, simple starts to sound pretty smart, right?


My father used to tell me that you never look as dumb as when you’re trying too hard to look smart (or cool for that matter). Harsh words, for sure, but I’m reminded of them as our pundits confuse what may sound powerful and knowledgeable to insiders with real-world meaning and impact.

And the thing is, we are smarter than that. We understand the value of accessibility and inclusion, if only from an enterprise perspective. So isn’t it time we open up our conversations, and include those voices from adjacent or peripheral worlds by finding common ground in universal themes and more human language?

My guess is we’ll all become more enlightened, and maybe even more likable, for it. Now, who’s with me?

Sean McNamara is an independent marketing consultant living in Venice, CA. Find him at seanmmcnamara.com/ or on Twitter at @smacknamara.

Sean McNamara

Written by

Head of Strategic Growth at Sid Lee @smacknamara seanmmcnamara.com

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