a 4 minute read in Stories

How I fell prey to curse of knowledge

a 4 min read

I have messed up our company messaging in the past and it took me a long time to understand how and why it happened…

In my business, I have people who are not that familiar with the marketing world come to me and ask me how I might be able to help them. I think I’ve confused a lot of them in the past.

I’ve used too much jargon, and I’ve made their heads spin. 

It’s funny, because these kinds of things (like jargon prospect are likely to not understand) are easy for me to spot in one of our clients’ elevator pitches or on their website, but it’s harder to see in the mirror.

The reason why is an example of a “cognitive bias” we have as humans. There are many of these biases that hamper our decision-making abilities. The only way to avoid these traps, is to study them. So that is what we will do together.

The Curse Of Knowledge

An example of the curse of knowledge is demonstrated in a classroom setting, where teachers, or subject experts, have difficulty teaching novices because they cannot put themselves in the position of the student. A brilliant professor may no longer remember the difficulties that a young student may be encountering when learning a new subject. – Wikipedia

When I have run into problems with this in my own business, I found I was no different. I had my head way up my own ass.

The folks who understood the language I was using had no problem understanding me, and deals got done. But I tended to have a harder time beginning relationships with complete newbies to inbound marketing marketing communication & strategy.

I’ve had people tell me they “just aren’t ready to tackle all this”, and some have said things like they just straight up “don’t get it”.

What I realized after one such conversation earlier this year, is that there’s just a bunch of junky words that had to go. Since then, I have mostly thrown out any of this language in my sales conversations.

Going Airborne

Take a look at this instruction on the inside of a Boeing 737 airplane.

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The photographer entitled it Technical Writing for a reason. These were clearly written for other engineers and not passengers. To me that door reads, “Don’t ever touch this!”. So, to a certain extent, I guess its doing the intended job.

But, let’s pretend we had to warn passengers about that door and explain more than Which is how I read that currently How would you word it?

Well, I don’t know… I was asking you. I’m not an engineer.

The lesson here is that you have to balance technical knowledge with being able to put yourself in the intended audience’s shoes. You may need to bring in someone who isn’t as close to your stuff as you are to translate your version of the signs above into human English.

Attacking the Curse of Knowledge in my Business

The CEO of a manufacturing company doesn’t care about content marketing, social media marketing, or even lead generation.

She cares about creating more valuable and profitable long-term relationships with customers because this brings in more revenue and makes her company more profitable. Those jargon-filled words above only lead to more confusion about the overall process.

What I have learned is that when I frame some of the things my company helps folks figure out in way that is relevant to their world-view, they start to get it.

Time for some Jargon Surgery

So I am tearing down our company website over the next week and we are updating our messaging to try to eliminate some of these biases.

I plan to validate these changes with real prospects, and just folks who aren’t intimately familiar with the day-to-day buzzwords and pulse of our world.

I hope you will join me in doing the same.

Are you in?

  • Take a look at your own company website or other collateral and show it to people who do not know your space.
  • If you have customer service or sales reps, do a ride-along. Listen for their use of jargon, including intra-office abbreviations that are absolute gibberish to the customer. Eliminating these and using the customer’s words for these things/roles/processes instead will make a world of difference when it comes to retention.

Photo Credit: Michael Coghlan


Also published on Medium.

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