November 5, 2022

During the “go-go 1980’s” in direct marketing, everyone seemed to have the answer (i.e., the hot new technology or methodology), especially in the areas of database building, regression modeling and advanced list segmentation techniques through cooperative databases.

Yes…people were into new stuff before the Internet too.

And if any of the terms above do not ring a bell, shame on me for trying to mention things you never heard of…which is precisely what this post is all about.

I’m sure you are used to this sort of thing since every vendor or innovator today seems to have the quick solution to your biggest marketing problem whether you can understand what they are talking about or not.

I recall walking through the exhibit halls at the Direct Marketing Association annual conference for over 25 years (which at its peak probably had 10,000+ attendees and an exhibit hall as big as a football stadium) and being a bit overwhelmed…but also very wary.

My rule of thumb as to whether I would stop at a booth in the exhibit hall for more than two minutes was if the person at the booth could explain their new whiz bang technology in no more than two sentences…and how it could help me.

Or…an elevator speech in an elevator of a building of no more than 2 stories.

Exception: If they had a bowl of Hershey’s kisses at the booth, I might hang out a little longer. 🙂

However, without the lure of chocolate, I needed to comprehend how they were going to help my business…and quickly…with words I could understand.

During those encounters, I often thought that there must be a competition to see who could explain something with the most useless words creating the least amount of meaning.

I guess they thought I would buy out of confusion.

It reminds me of a quote from David Ogilvy:

“Never use jargon words like re-conceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally; they are hallmarks of a pretentious ass”

More times than not, obfuscation trumped clarity…they were selling hard but hiding way too much…and when that happened, I was off to the next booth (hopefully with a handful of kisses for my trouble).

The need for people to use big words, whether appropriate or not, to prove they are the smartest person in the room…or in this case, the smartest person in their booth…was my indicator to run away.

These are the kinds of salespeople/marketers/potential partners/consultants who would prefer to sell you (or teach you about) a black box of wonder rather than have you understand the fundamentals behind what built their black box.

And with language you can’t comprehend.

When they do a lousy job of explaining, you must trust their expertise and that they just know their stuff–which could be the precise state-of-the-art technology you need–but you’d never know it by their explanation.

When this happens, trusting them is high risk/low reward.

This practice of hiding behind big words and the need to impress above all else is as prevalent today as ever before.

I can’t tell you how many tales of woe members of my masterminds, clients and friends have shared with me the money they have wasted when they bought out of confusion, from someone who “sounded like they knew what they were talking about.”

Today I give you permission to say to anyone selling you anything, at any time:

“I have no idea what you are talking about and unless you can explain it so I can understand it, the odds of us working together are pretty slim.”

This is precisely why our written marketing messages (in email, print…anywhere) …and our verbal messages…must be in the language of our customer/prospect/conversation partner.

I have written about this a lot in the past as it pertains to copywriting.

You remember…the appropriate message to the appropriate list.

Read “The wall with a door…” which uses the quote from Ogilvy above…and this quote from Gene Schwartz (in some different contexts):

There is your audience.

There is the language.

There are the words that they use.

I am guilty of this myself…when I presume everyone in my online family knows everything I know…and it’s something we all need to be aware of when we communicate with our audiences and not just when we are selling to them.

However, doing it when selling is a bit more sinister.

And now that I have re-read Gene’s lost masterpiece The Brilliance Breakthrough I understand more clearly why he subtitled it:

How To Talk And Write So That People Will Never Forget You

Here’s another potential subtitle which I know Gene would love as well:

How To Talk And Write So That People Will Never Misunderstand You

Gene realized that there was little difference between communicating verbally or in writing in terms of how we can be best understood.

Check out the P.S. for more about your future brilliance breakthroughs.

And the P.P.S. for ways to work on them live with up to 60 awesome coaches.

Please keep in mind that I am not talking about speaking to the “least common denominator;” but I am talking about speaking (and writing) to educate (and connect), rather than to impress.

And use the words your prospect uses.

Unfortunately, this idea got me a ton of abuse on Facebook.

I ran an article as an advertorial-style ad with the headline, “Use Smaller Words.”

People who read the headline, without reading the article (which I found out is more the rule than the exception on Facebook…my bad!), immediately jumped to the conclusion that I was outlawing all words that are more than four letters, condemning all academic works ever written and endorsing a dumbing down of America (and globally as well).


Obviously, that is not the message behind using smaller words.

I thought I was being cute…but the headline should have been more bland, something like “Use Appropriate Words.”

But being controversial, while attracting some haters on Facebook got me some serious engagement from lazy readers.

And isn’t engagement what it’s all about?

Haters gonna hate…so love them.

But just in case you were one of those haters (how could you be being part of my online family?), here’s the premise:

Always be brilliant…but always be accessible.

Never dumb things down as a shortcut.

Give everyone easy access to your brilliance in words they are used to hearing, speaking, and writing themselves.

And when in doubt, choose small words over big ones. 🙂



P.S. There is no better training to help you choose the right (small or big) words, when you talk or write, than the Gene Schwartz masterpiece, The Brilliance Breakthrough: How To Talk and Write So People Will Never Forget You.

Please click here to purchase your copy with an exclusive workbook.

To read why words matter—and why “grammar is overrated” (another headline that would get me in trouble on Facebook!)–click here for a blog post justifying what Gene meant by “grammar is overrated.

It’s in the same league as “use smaller words.” 🙂

P.P.S. Calling all students of Gene Schwartz!

This week, on Tuesday November 8th, at 11:00 a.m. (U.S. eastern time), we will kick off the FOURTH Breakthrough Advertising Bootcamp.

And since we believe in continuous improvement at Titans Marketing, this Bootcamp will be the best one yet because it will build on everything we learned during the first three.

If you would like to join us for this two-week virtual session (on Zoom), with the goal of YOU implementing the core concepts inside the pages of Breakthrough Advertising, you still have time…but not much.

During the seven (7) packed sessions over 14 days, my marketing partner Chris Mason (and I) will personally show you how to incorporate Breakthrough Advertising into your business.

There will be detailed exercises to help you develop copy and offer to your distinct audience…at whatever stage they are and whether they have bought from you before or not…and we will use small words, big words (when appropriate) …and even pay attention to grammar if necessary. 🙂

There will also be hot seats for participants so they can test out the messaging and offers they develop during the Bootcamp on the other Bootcampers for constructive feedback.

Chris and I will have some opinions too.

There will also be time for specific questions about your niche or business (“ask us anything” segments) …open ended, interactive Q & A…and a private Facebook Group for the members of the Bootcamp to exchange information and wisdom.

At $197 this is a steal to get to hang with me, Chris and up to 60 other students and scholars of Gene’s classic Breakthrough Advertising.

Every call will be recorded and you will have implementation worksheets you can use for the rest of your career.

It really is a special experience for any student of our craft with the “craft” including marketing, copywriting…and the study of human behavior.

Secure your seat here and we’ll see you on the BA Bootcamp Zoom screen this Tuesday! 

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Title Goes Here

Get this Free E-Book

Use this bottom section to nudge your visitors.