How to stop speaking the language of business

When people ask me what I do, my default, and often short answer is that I work as an Art Director at a B2B marketing firm. This was also my answer when I the other night found myself in a conversation with a man at a social event. After my brief answer, he looked at me and said: I am not down with the lingo. I don’t know what that is.

Not apologetically. Not making excuses for himself. Just stating the facts.

While most other people would have just suffered in silence pretending to know what I was talking about, he told it to me straight, without trying to make sense of something he did not know what it was.

And while his comment was honestly refreshing, it left me at a loss for words. Literally. Because the words I often use to describe what and do and who I do it for, Art Director and B2B marketing, were both foreign to him.

So there I was, as someone who’s job is to explain other people’s product using words and visuals, unable to explain the product of ME.

But even though my lack of ability to “explain myself” made the conversation somewhat embarrassing, it also brought me to think about the question we often ask our clients, but very rarely ask ourselves.

Who is your target, and what is their prior knowledge/experience?

These are crucial questions that need extensive answers before you can craft a message that will resonate with your audience.

In this case, I didn’t just make the mistake of assuming my audience, the man I was talking to, had prior knowledge of marketing terms, I also failed to adapt my strategy once I realized this.

Looking back, I have been in similar situations before, explaining my work to people outside of my industry. But the difference this time was that, when he didn’t understand what I said, he let me know.

I often hear designers and creatives frustrated with people not understanding their profession. “My mom thinks I draw comic books”, a fellow creative once told me. And while the profession of design and marketing might seem abstract, it becomes even more abstract if we try to explain it to “regular people” using industry standard terms. To some, a graphic designer is the same as an illustrator, that’s the same as comic book designer that’s the same as a painter and so on. And even though people might never “get it”, we can and should do a better job and familiarize ourselves with “non-industry” terms. Think “for dummy’s” except these people are far from dumb, they just don’t eat, breath and Sleep that stuff 7 days a week.

Maybe we need to adapt our own explanation, our elevator pitch, (to use an industry term) to be more applicable in real life. Because we never know who will be riding the elevator with us.