Using Idioms, Acronyms and Client-Focused Terminology in Business Stories
As a self-confessed word-nerd and dedicated storyteller, I enjoy exploring the nuances of language. So this morning as I was writing a resume for one of my clients, I found myself searching for the right phrase to use, deciding upon “come into his own”. Being a consummate perfectionist, I looked it up to see if I was using the term correctly. Then I started to wonder if using idioms in corporate communication is acceptable, knowing best practices in business writing dictates that slang or colloquial language should be avoided.
This thought activated my “I need to know even more” gene so I turned my attention to researching the meaning and use of idioms. My first discovery was a list of the 50 most commonly used idioms in the English language. After reading through them all, the one that really stood out is “Let your freak flag fly”. I’m assuming this is used more in the English of Britain (or maybe Texas) as it wasn’t familiar to me, but it is colorful and conveys the importance of being yourself to stand out.
Idioms are often genre specific. Within literature, idiom represents a particular vocabulary and grammar within different genres. For instance, readers of detective novels enjoy following the adventures of the “Gumshoe”. Murder mystery readers may read the end first, wanting to find out “Whodunnit”. Romance enthusiasts understand that doctors can’t fix a broken heart.
Similarly, within the business world there exists idioms specific to certain categories of professionals and to different industries. For example, accountants seek to “balance the books” and are often referred to as “bean counters”; design and construction professionals need to make sure that their proposed budgets are “in the ballpark”; many private sector employees dream of working “banker’s hours”, knowing they are expected to be on call “24/7”; “programming” means very different things in architecture and computer technology; and everyone wants to make sure they are getting “the most bang for their buck” in order to avoid “seeing red”.
Common Language Demonstrates Specialization and Solidarity
Because there is no limit to my geek capacity, I mentally linked the concept of genre-specific idioms with how and when it is appropriate to use acronyms and client-specific terminology in our professional lives.
Specialization is one of the top thing clients today seek in their service providers. - Hinge Marketing
When developing client-focused stories and case studies, it is very important to understand and use those idioms and acronyms that are familiar to your target client. I learned this when I started working for my first residential design firm. After nearly ten years working for firms specializing in institutional design and construction, I felt lost during project discussions because the language of residential design is very specific. I had to learn about density, FAR, Type V construction, mixed-use development and many other terms to relate to our developer clientele.
Your content marketing needs to be very client-focused. What appeals to one client type often isn't appropriate for another. Sustainable design is a perfect example. Since approximately 2004 institutional clients have required a LEED Certification on all projects. Therefore, I created poetic stories describing how my firm integrated innovative, earth-friendly practices, systems and materials into their architecture. Residential builders, on the other hand, were focused on high margins and making stockholders happy. Their research consistently showed that homebuyers weren't willing to pay more for “earth-friendly” homes. I quickly learned that using my poetic dialogue on the importance of designing a sustainable world demonstrated my ignorance of the homebuilding industry, creating a complete disconnect with my new target clients. My content focus switched to value-oriented designs that are easy to maintain.
Common-Sense Rules on Language Style is Business Writing
Similar to how sales experts have always preached that you need to dress one step better than the client, our marketing teams need to use language and terminology one step above what is standard among our targeted client groups. A good rule to follow is that you should avoid common language styles in formal letters, technical papers, contracts, and proposals. On the other hand, in both on-line and face-to-face casual conversations, it is acceptable to be yourself and don't be afraid to inject a little humor and personality into the conversation.
A note of caution: Professionals in some industries commonly use offensive language. Regardless of how much you want to fit in, be liked, or state your opinion, keep it clean, politically correct and non-judgmental. And never, ever, ask a woman if she is pregnant.
So Let Your Freak Flag Fly! Take pride in what makes you unique. Always remember that in addition to wanting a specialist, clients want to work with people they like, know and trust. It is in our nature as humans to desire forming partnerships with others like us. Using idioms is a storytelling tool that demonstrates a sense of camaraderie, evoking trust within clients who may even enjoy flying under the same freak flag as you.
Note from The Goose
If you want to add fuel to your fire, and are in search of the secret to creating red hot content, give me a honk. - Deborah Briers (firstname.lastname@example.org) at DB Creative Communications
Why the Goose?
Honking is how geese communicate with each other to preserve the "V" formation that enables them to conserve energy and fly for longer distances.
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DEBORAH BRIERS, CPSM, MBA