Mark’s friend Simon used to be a designer. One of his favourite lines was “Great kerning will save the world”. Chances are if you’re an art director or a designer or, if like us, you work with art directors and designers every day, you’ll find this amusing because it references a whole bunch of things about the discipline, the passion and the perspectives of those committed to impeccably forged design. But it’s also proof of what we refer to as the invisible language.
If you’re not a designer, you probably didn’t even grin. That’s OK. It’s not your dialect.
How sectors make language invisible
Language is about so much more than communication and meaning. It is filled with ideas and references that to some extent reflect the worldviews of those who enjoy them. People preserve those tenets in all sorts of ways. Some they jargonise; others they culturalise or instinctualise. And as they do, these ideas and references, expressed in language, become embedded in the sector and invisible to everyone else.
The acronyms are the easy part, because they are immediately confusing and confronting but at least they’re visible. I think the hardest thing to understand about any new sector you’re trying to market to is the embedded meanings, that invisible language, what goes without saying.
Simplicity vs accuracy
It’s an important nuance in this era of simplified language. We have no quarrel with the need to make language accessible, particularly when organisations are communicating with people outside their sector. But if you are talking to an industry, speaking to them ‘in their own tongue’ positions you as one of them: an insider, conversant with the industry’s invisible language and therefore capable of holding a more advanced conversation.
Sihan Chen points to an important dichotomy here: “In communication, there is a trade-off between two factors: accuracy and simplicity, as one cannot fully achieve both at the same time.” Pursuing accuracy, he says, leads to very complex communications. But “if one intends to pursue simplicity, the resulting system won’t be able to convey any information.”
Our take-out: you can’t just throw a simplicity blanket over everything, because that will simply smother meaning and reduce everything to a lowest common denominator. But equally, over-explaining everything in order to leave no shred of doubt throws meaning into pandemonium.
The opportunity is to speak enough from the inside to be recognisable and credible, and to do so with clarity and conviction.
Language as an invisible connector
The power of learning something of the sector dialect is that language can (and arguably should) be an invisible identifier and connector.
The good people at Grow and Convert make some excellent points about this with their Pain Point SEO approach. If you are selling to people in a sector, invest the time to get to really know how those people speak, and then frame your conversations and content in those terms. Avoid generalisations in favour of specific terms of reference that demonstrate you know what you’re talking about. And finally – spend more time targeting experienced decision makers with content that’s as close as possible to their decision finalisation cues.
It’s human nature to want to speak with people who seem like us. Mastering the invisible language while remaining clear and commercial, and doing so within the specific voice of the brand, is what distinguishes the most effective brand communicators and makes them so valuable. They enable brands to have peer-to-peer conversations that those in an industry connect with and feel comfortable with because they are issues-based, informed, relevant and valuable.
The very real danger with the current focus on awareness level, volume-driven content is that it commoditises communication into worthless noise filled with generalisations, generated by machines, lacking originality and driven primarily by a “first page” metric.
Identifying invisible language
Understanding and using some of the invisible language of those you are targeting is all part of becoming a credible Articulate Company – particularly if you are working business-to-business. Our Mind Your Language workshop focuses on how you use language as a holistic system: one that shifts tone and manner as needed to communicate with people in ways that feel credible, engaging and familiar for them. Find out more about our Audacity workshops.