‘Good marketing’ isn’t good marketing: Why marketers should get out of the language game

Marketers like to make up new terminology and distinctions. This is easy to do because, in the absence of particular domain expertise, they don’t know the ‘right’ language. Reading is hard. Knowledge acquisition takes time. And marketers need to produce. So they invent novel constellations of terms. Instead of exploring the world as it is, they invent the world for themselves. They do all this under the banner of ‘branding.’ When potential customers see this, they smirk and call it ‘good marketing.’ ‘Good marketing’ isn’t good marketing.

As a personal exercise, there is nothing wrong with this. We all draw personal maps of the world so we can get around. But as a marketing exercise, this creates problems because we start to push novel distinctions based on superficial knowledge upon sales people and customers. When we do this, two things happen.

  1. We introduce unnecessary complexity — by refusing to understand and mobilize existing concepts, we unfairly force our audience to translate our terminology relative to an existing lexicon. This creates a barrier to sales, since we are actually creating a cognitive burden. To the extent that we are successful in getting our sales people and customers to use our terminology, we also make it difficult for them to engage with wider communities of practice.
  2. We, our sales people, and our company look like idiots — the second our superficially informed map of a knowledge domain comes into contact with an expert, the jig is up. We and the sales people we support are revealed, not as experts, but as thinly veiled novices with little understanding of the issues facing the field of practice we are looking to engage. In this case, our language actually undermines our credibility. We are accused of ‘marketing.’ Once that happens, it’s all over.

The best marketing doesn’t sound like marketing at all. The best marketers are educators. They are experts who, as masters of oratory, are capable of communicating the most difficult concepts to the widest possible audience. None of this is easy.

Marketing is hard to do.


Originally published at Timothy D. Harfield.

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