In Defense of Corporate Jargon
Updated: Mar 10
Corporate jargon vs. feeling corporate, how to avoid both, and why “writing simply” can cost you, and why any of this matters in the first place.
Table of Contents
Over the past couple of years, making fun of corporate jargon has become a core pillar of many B2B SaaS marketers’ content strategy.
I get why. It’s easy fodder that allows marketers to look like they’re “stickin’ it to the man” while reaping vanity metric benefits.
All reward and no risk.
I personally can’t think of a better type of content.
And while there are some words that have no place in copy – not because they’ve been overused by large corporations or software companies, but because they were never effective to begin with – this generalized battle against corporate jargon is both the equivalent of a painter banning certain colors from a creative perspective, and the equivalent of book burning from an intellectual one.
(Oddly enough, the allegedly open-minded, "cool kids" of B2B SaaS are the ones burning the books.)
This battle against corporate jargon is part of a much larger misguided war being waged against “boring marketing” by people who can’t seem to come to grips with the fact that, at the end of the day, they sell software to software companies.
Much like the equally prevalent trope of “don’t work for a CEO who doesn’t get marketing,” this push for the removal of corporate jargon isn’t just immature, it doesn’t get to the crux of the issue with most B2B SaaS marketing.
The issue with B2B SaaS marketing isn’t the corporate jargon or that it’s boring. The issue with B2B SaaS marketing is that it’s bad.
Companies not knowing their customers, or how they buy, always has been, and always will be, the primary failing of B2B SaaS marketing.
Many B2B SaaS marketers, as well as non-marketers in the industry, are misdiagnosing an effectiveness problem with a “boringness” one, and, in turn, prescribing the wrong solution.
Not only will it not cure anything, companies’ growth will be stunted. Some will even die prematurely if they blindly take their advice, which many companies do.
I realize this all may seem like “old news.” B2B SaaS marketers may not have posted for several months about things like boring marketing or corporate jargon.
Unfortunately, the effects are alive and well.
A portion of my work involves competitive research to uncover my clients’ relevant positioning and see what messaging we should stay away from. I look at dozens of B2B SaaS websites and marketing.
Moreover, previously as a copywriter, I was handed their briefs and asked to write their “brand stories.”
And, lastly, I’m a B2B SaaS buyer for a business outside of consulting and writing. I witness and experience the trickle down effects of this anti-boring propaganda first hand as a customer.
Before I go further, let me offer several disclaimers:
I’m not here to debate the prevalence of the trends I describe and allude to. If you’re not aware or familiar with them, please educate yourself on your own time. There is more than enough evidence available on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Secondly, for purposes of brevity, I will be referring to B2B SaaS simply as "B2B." However, I am speaking specifically about B2B software companies, since despite what B2B SaaS thinks, they're actually not the center of the B2B world. They're the rookies. B2B includes dozens of industries.
Thirdly, I leverage words to make my clients’ companies money. I was also overweight as a kid; Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” ad with the chubby kid in the white shirt running down the dirt road will never not put a lump in my throat.
In short, I do not need to be lectured on the importance of copy or the power of advertising.
I am fully aware of both.
Let me also make myself very clear for those who struggle to grasp nuance and hold multiple truths at once: I am not discouraging infusing more creativity into B2B marketing.
There is enormous potential for this and there are some incredibly talented content creators and strategists doing so.
I am speaking specifically to messaging and copy, not content.
This piece is simply a warning for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear about the perils of fighting an easy, seductive war against the wrong enemy.
I’m going to argue why, based on the way it has been pushed by many B2B marketers with large and captive audiences, this alleged creative renaissance in B2B and call to pull from B2C marketing isn’t just foolish, but entirely not possible in most cases.
In this three-part series, I’ll cover:
Corporate jargon vs. feeling corporate and why “writing simply” can cost you
The irreconcilable differences between B2C and B2B marketing
The fetishization of creativity in B2B marketing (coming soon)
First things first, what’s wrong with corporate jargon?
Corporate jargon, like all types of industry jargon, is appropriate in the relevant setting.
Moreover, all of the tactics on B2B marketers’ 2021-2022 hit list (corporate jargon, buzzwords, gated content, ebooks) are simply children getting caught in the crossfire of, then getting blamed for, a messy divorce that never would have happened had their parents gotten their act together and figured out how and why people buy from them.
Anyone focusing on these things and complaining how boring B2B marketing is versus the root cause – not knowing your customers – is exacerbating the issue.
Additionally, these things were all once trending and pushed by B2B marketers. Many of those berating them now would have been singing their praises in 2010.
I’m not sure where marketers got the idea that it was their job to have an opinion on particular marketing strategies or tactics.
It’s their job to learn them, learn their audience, and know when and how to apply them (or not apply them). The same goes for copywriters with words.
However, the issue isn’t marketers on the Internet – those always have and always will exist in some form or another.
People selling things on the Internet, be it ideas, products, services, is the reason I have a job. And B2B marketers are fueling my content right now, I couldn’t be more grateful to them.
The issue is that companies, founders, and copywriters are listening to them.
B2B companies are in the mess they’re in now because they listened to the trends of yore that weren’t in line with how their customers actually bought.
History is repeating itself as companies look to B2B marketers who’ve built up a following with feel good content to solve their marketing woes through more “humanized” B2B marketing.
Which means they’re still not listening to their customers.
Corporate jargon vs. corporate as a feeling
Everyone has become so hell-bent on humanizing B2B SaaS marketing that they’re failing to realize what makes something “corporate” in the first place.
B2B SaaS marketers who have taken up their pitch fork against it are failing to make the distinction between corporate jargon and something feeling corporate.
They’re not digging into the nuance and context of language and words.
And why would they? They’re not copywriters. Plus, content that consists of platitudinous, contextless, and elementary marketing advice and copywriting tips is way easier to scale.
Again, they are not the problem – companies, founders, and copywriters listening to a group of people who have no idea who their target audience is.
But this distinction between corporate jargon and something feeling corporate is crucial to understand if you want to avoid either.
Corporate jargon is individual words or phrases.
However, copy can still feel “corporate” even if there is no mention of the words streamline, synergistic, award-winning, cutting edge, next generation, best-in-class, or innovative.
Corporate as a feeling occurs when copy:
Is too broad
Doesn’t get backed up
Is out of touch with the reality of the target audience
Says something that wouldn’t have to be said if it were actually true (i.e. the majority of companies’ "Brand Values" section)
Global omnichannel solution that streamlines your data so you can leverage it to impact revenue is only “corporate” if it doesn’t explain how it does this.
Otherwise, it’s a perfectly valid description of a product or service.
Conversely, chummy words on a sleek Webflow site for point-of-sale (POS) software for small businesses can absolutely be corporate if it talks about helping business owners “reach their dreams,” as if they have the luxury of “dreaming big!” during a pandemic that shut down the brick and mortar economy for nearly two years.
Put another way, something can still be “corporate” with conversational copy.
If you don’t understand this distinction of corporate jargon versus feeling “corporate” as a marketer or copywriter, “writing simply” may seem like a logical antidote to corporate jargon, as well as good copywriting advice.
It’s not, for two reasons:
Simple doesn’t equate to clear. Things can be “simple” and still make no sense.
Corporate jargon isn’t complicated. They don’t mean anything because they’re not backed up, not because they’re too complex.
Therefore, you do not combat “corporate” with simplicity. You combat corporate with specificity and legitimization.
Not only doesn’t writing simply not cut through corporate jargon or something feeling “corporate,” gunning for simplicity at all times with your copy can have negative consequences.
Why writing simply can cost you
“Write simply” can be a helpful reminder when unlearning academic writing. In my experience, this is the first step of learning copywriting. But make no mistake – academic writing has its place. (The foundation of this blog post, and any blog post for that matter, is a five paragraph essay.)
Beyond that, however, writing simply can be dangerous.
Because when you simplify your copy outright, you sacrifice precision.
When you sacrifice precision, you sacrifice your lead quality. Weak leads means wasted resources and an annoyed, burnt out sales team.
Weak leads are worse than no leads. No leads equals a willingness to change. Weak leads are an addiction few companies are willing to quit.
Good luck getting the sign off to change any copy besides “Get Started” to “Learn More” with weak leads.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
If you asked which one you should use in copy between “make you more money” versus “increase profitability,” most people would argue for the former.
If you’re writing a VSL with equal parts words and ellipses for a coaching program whose price ends in a 7, “make you more money” is maybe the better choice.
But if you’re selling a product or service to anyone who has a semblance of how a business works, you’d be wise to choose the second.
Companies honestly think being clear on exactly who their product is for is risky. They think having a point of view will cost them, not realizing that not having one costs them way more.
Speaking directly to your target audience isn’t dangerous, writing simply instead of precisely is.
Why does any of this matter?
B2B marketers are blaming innocent words for their own laziness and lack of understanding of the most fundamental marketing concept of all time: know your customer.
They’re making a fake enemy out of corporate jargon and a faux hero out of copywriting.
So, what’s the issue?
The issue is that there are numerous other reasons why website visitors, email recipients, or ad viewers aren’t becoming customers.
Here are a few that are a lot more likely culprits than the words “innovative” or “platform”:
Lack of clear positioning because companies refuse to answer the most basic of questions around what their product does, who it’s for, who it’s not for, and how much it costs
Inconsistent messaging and brand voice because copywriters don’t understand the complexities and technicalities of language and such as average sentence length and punctuation
Shoddy demand capture that shuffles leads between multiple SDRs who can’t answer their questions about the product, let alone just book a demo
Your product or service doesn’t solve a problem as well as you’ve convinced yourselves that it has
Your product or service doesn’t solve a problem people are as interested in solving as you think they are
In short, “boring” marketing is a luxury problem B2B marketers wish they had.
When you pedestalize something, it’s only a matter of time before you turn around and vilify it. Meaning, marketers are going to blame the copy if it doesn't convert when the reality is one of the bullets above.
This push for less boring marketing is also incredibly self-serving. “Boring” marketing is a marketers’ pain point, not a customer one.
Do you want to be liked or do you want to grow a business?
Assuming the above are taken care of, here are some other questions B2B marketers who want to avoid corporate jargon or something feeling corporate should consider asking themselves:
Is your copy too “corporate,” or do you just hate the fact that at the end of the day, beyond the cushy salary and the swag and the handful of decently tolerable people, your job (assuming you still have it at the time of this reading given tech’s layoffs) really just isn’t that exciting?
Is your copy too “corporate,” or are you more worried about B2B marketers on TikTok thinking your copy is lame than you are getting through to your company’s or client’s ideal customer?
In other words: do you want to be liked or do you want to grow a business?
Some people tell you these two things can live in harmony. And sometimes they can.
The issue (i.e. what’s bad for business) is when you try to be something you’re not, in this case, when you try too hard to be cool.
Knowing what your audience cares about is just one part of effective marketing. Knowing what your audience doesn’t care about is equally important.
That second one is where many companies are dropping the ball. They’re so traumatized by corporate jargon that they’re overcorrecting and getting way too friendly.
B2B marketers and copywriters that want to be taken seriously need to understand that not everyone has an issue with working for a company or doing business that’s not super exciting.
And many B2B SaaS customers are simply trying not to get in trouble for making the wrong software purchase.
You need to understand that just because the majority of marketing terms outside of acronyms are euphemisms for "simply do your job," that doesn't mean other industries' jargon doesn't mean anything.
You also need to understand when not to leverage conversational copy because the buyers really just need a (potentially very expensive) problem solved.
Otherwise, you’re going to risk alienating a large segment of people who really aren’t looking for a conversation when they read website copy, but instead are looking to feel like a company understands the problems they face, can speak their language (not write like they speak), answer their questions, and help them make more money, or prevent them from losing it.
You cannot bypass a conversation with your customer with conversational copy. This is what people are trying to do to remedy “boring marketing.”
They think copy like Nike and Apple will save them.
Companies and founders, unless your product gives me the same swagger after I slip on my AirMax 90’s or the same excitement as when I slip off the top of an iPhone box, it doesn’t matter that you “like” Nike or Apple’s copy.
It doesn’t matter that you “like” any company’s copy – whether it’s the most well-known athletic or technology brand or your competition’s.
What matters is what resonates with your customers and target audience. There's a really good chance they don't need less boring marketing from you, they just need you to tell them what you, for how much, and then to let them buy faster and more easily.
Copywriters: you do not answer to marketers on the Internet. I don’t care how many LinkedIn followers they have or how big their community or email list is.
You answer to your client’s target audience. Never forget this.
(Whether or not your client actually listens to you isn’t your problem. But you must be able to clearly present and defend your copy, down to the last word.)
If your audience wears suits, don’t rule out suit-wearing words just because some B2B marketer told you to.
Most “copywriting tips” on social media are social media audience building tips, not actual copywriting advice, given by people who don’t write copy for clients or products outside themselves or their own.
New copywriters and anyone hiring one, you must understand this.
It’s easy to criticize copy or make fun of corporate jargon.
But when you’re the one responsible for replacing said corporate jargon because a company is convinced that being their customers’ friend is a better messaging strategy than figuring out why their customers buy from them because they listened to some B2B marketer spewing their Don Draper daydreams on LinkedIn, you quickly see how dangerous these seemingly innocent “tips” are.
B2B marketers can never be Don Draper. I’m not saying that to be cruel. There are legitimate reasons why as it relates to B2B versus B2C marketing.
B2B and B2C actually aren’t as dissimilar as they’re made out to be. But there are several irreconcilable differences that cannot be ignored.