EBITDA. Buy-side and sell-side. Risk-adjusted return. A-, B-, and C-shares.
If you’re an investment banker, portfolio manager or financial advisor, you are likely familiar with the above terms–but would your clients know what they mean?
As with any complex and specialized industry, financial services has its own lexicon of words, phrases and expressions. This jargon is useful and meaningful to those who work in the field to which it applies but can be confusing and off-putting to everyone else. For marketers in the financial services space, creating content that resonates with target audiences is critical to building a brand and supporting greater business goals. And as a general rule of thumb, the less jargon you incorporate in marketing materials, the better–particularly when it comes to reaching an audience beyond your own industry peers.
This is not just to avoid alienating those who aren’t in the know. Expressing ideas in plain English forces any writer to fully examine, understand, and clearly explain his or her message. In a fast-moving digital landscape where 280-character tweets have the power to move markets, crisp, concise language resonates–even among audiences who understand the most technical of terms.
A related wording pitfall that often plagues marketing content is business-speak (or as one spirited Financial Times columnist describes it, “guff”). These are corporate-sounding cliches that are so vague and/or overused that they dilute the meaning of your content. Buzzwords like “low-hanging fruit,” “thinking outside the box,” and the dreaded “synergy” can act as a crutch for writers who have failed to finetune their message–or who hope that inflating their copy with corporate-speak will make it more professional or important. Consider the difference between these two sentences:
“Our ongoing benchmarking efforts indicate that our revenue performance year-to-date aligns with our projections for strategic growth.”
“The company met its first-quarter sales goals.”
They both deliver the same message, but one reads like business jargon soup, while the other tells readers exactly what he or she wants them to know, and not a letter more. Depending on your brand characteristics and desired tone, the appropriate style may fall somewhere between these two poles.
Writing in plain, simple language can be harder than it sounds. Fortunately, there’s a tool on the internet that can help: the Hemingway App–named for one of literature’s most celebrated masters of bold, straightforward prose. The app allows users to compose or paste in an existing block of text, then analyzes it for readability. It flags linguistic stumbling blocks like passive voice and overly complex sentence structure and assigns a grade-level score. (The app rated this paragraph at a 12th-grade reading level, and recommended aiming for grade nine).
Of course, it won’t make sense to simplify every piece of marketing content to a ninth-grade reading level. Subject matter experts may need to deploy industry jargon in order to present a complex argument or address a specific need or problem in their fields. But in general, the more clearly you can communicate your message, the more deeply it will resonate with your audience–whether they are sophisticated institutional investors or middle-class consumers.