Don't Dumb It Down Make It Accessible

It’s Not “Dumbing It Down,” It’s Making Your Content Accessible

 

One of the content-related problems that I’ve come across more than a few times when helping clients with online marketing strategies is the dilemma of how to deal with technical topics. Some businesses, especially medical, tech and science-related fields, involve a lot of “jargon” – technical terms that aren’t familiar to those outside of their field. This is problematic because:

  1. In order to be interested in your content, your audience needs to be able to understand it.
  2. If they can’t understand it, they won’t pay attention.
  3. If they don’t pay attention, then your content won’t get dispersed. Congrats, you’ve now written some lovely content that is great for you and your peers, but no one else!

It’s not unusual for me to get pushback from people in these fields when it comes to making content accessible to a wider audience, because they don’t want to “dumb it down.”

Sheldon

I (and many of my content marketing peers) hate this term. The implication is that your audience is stupid because they don’t know very specific vocabulary, and that’s ridiculous. If you’re approaching an audience with that level of disdain, then you might as well just not reach out at all.

Engaging people with your content means that you have to stay open and meet them on their terms. No marketing campaign in the history of marketing has ever worked on a strategy of, “Well, I’ll make some stuff and if they like it great. If they don’t, I’m not going to change a damn thing, because it’s clearly the fault of the audience for not being interested.” If the goal of your marketing is to draw people in, then you need to give them information that they can digest, even if that information doesn’t give them 100% of the material behind whatever technical topic you may be discussing. Instead of thinking of this as detrimental, think of it as having a wealth of content to share at later times. This happens all the time across many industries – even on my blog, I find myself taking a single topic and turning it into three entries, because trying to explain everything in one post would be overwhelming.

So, how do you simplify topics without losing important technical information?

Recognize That Online Marketing Isn’t Technical Writing

When I refer to online marketing, I’m talking about content written specifically for social media, blogs, press releases, and online advertising sources. The content created for these venues is extremely different from content you’d expect to see in a journal, grant proposal or trade publication, and “different” doesn’t necessarily equal “bad” – it means that there is a different goal for the writing. The most formal of these sources would be a press release, but even here, your goal may not be to draw in an audience of peers – it may be to interest investors, or just get more media attention for your topic. This means your writing style needs to match the venue. If you are writing for social media, content needs to be short, engaging, and informal. Blogs can be a little more in depth, but should still be accessible to novice audiences. Advertising is selling, so you need to draw people in with something eye-catching.

Write Out Your Goals For Your Marketing Campaign

I don’t mean specific numerical goals, such as “get 15 more likes on Facebook,” event though that should be a part of your marketing process. Here, I’m referring to what you want your audience to take away from the content. Even if your online marketing is nothing more than keeping content fresh on your website and social media, you should still take the time to write out your goals for the content you post. Having this information can be extremely helpful when you are writing, because it provides a starting point. If the topic you are discussing is complex, it’s so easy to fall into a rabbit hole of writing. When you have a specific goal, you can analyze your content and say, “Ok, what can I get rid of to better accomplish the goal?”

Don’t Think About How You’d Explain It To A Child – Think About How You Would Explain It To An Investor

I don’t mean specific numerical goals, such as “get 15 more likes on Facebook,” event though Sometimes, when those in technical fields try to write as though they were explaining to a child, the copy can come across as condescending. Your audience may not have the specific knowledge required to fully understand a topic, but that doesn’t mean they can’t sense tone, and a condescending tone isn’t going to go over well. Instead, imagine this – an investor with limited knowledge of your field is interested in your project, and is willing to invest $1,000,000 to get things going, but first you have to explain how your project works. How would you approach this conversation? It’s probably very different than you’d approach a student asking questions.

Watch Your Jargon Use

Sometimes, using jargon is unavoidable, or is a part of your marketing strategy (e.g., you want to educate your audience about specific vocabulary). Whenever you use technical terms that your audience may not be familiar with, add a definition. It doesn’t have to be every known definition for the word, just the one that is most relevant to the topic being discussed. That way, you’re showing your audience that you have a vested interest in helping them understand the topic.

Find a Revising Buddy, Preferably Outside Of Your Field

If you are writing for a non-peer audience, finding someone outside of your field to help you revise can be an invaluable resource. My fiancée and I do this all the time – he’s a geologist without a Facebook account and I’m a marketer who clearly was not going to be a science wunderkind. We revise each other’s writing routinely, and we’re both better off for it. Someone outside of your field can point out areas where your writing may not be clear, and may also pose questions that you never considered that a non-expert might ask.

As with any new skill, simplifying technical information for marketing purposes may seem awkward and difficult at first, but with time, it will open up a new set of communication skills you never even knew you had.

 

The Takeaway

Don’t “dumb down” your content – make it more accessible by recognizing the purpose of online marketing, creating goals, staying away from jargon and thinking about how you can simplify topics without losing essential content needed by a non-expert audience. Find a revising buddy outside of your industry who can ensure that those who may not be familiar with your field will understand your writing.

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