I Got It (I Got It)

April 5, 2009


An exec in a meeting recently said “You gotta dumb it down for me, dude. I’m an executive.”

Both funny and true. But execs aren’t the only ones who need things simplified. Customers need it. Business partners need it. And Sales needs it. Why do marketers so often act as though they’re paid by the word? (Maybe because we think “value proposition” is plain English).

That doesn’t mean we avoid polysyllabic words and jargon. If your customers are network engineers, words like SNMP, MIB and OID are commonplace. So smart marketers think in terms of their audience’s plain English, not their own. A co-worker gave me a great lesson in that the other day when he needed to explain IP addresses and subnets to a non-technical audience. He said:

“An IP address is like a phone number. If you know Jenny’s phone number is 867-5309, you can call her. And if you know a device’s IP address, you can talk to it on the network.

“More than one person has the phone number 867-5309. But we don’t get confused because they have different area codes. A network has different subnets, and those are like area codes. If two people in the same area code had the same phone number, there would be a problem. On a network, that’s an IP address conflict. As long as they have different area codes – subnets – they can have the same phone number.

“If you move you keep the same cell phone number. That’s like a static IP address; it’s always the same number. But when you move you get a new home phone number. That’s like a dynamic IP address. Everytime someone moves their notebook to another wireless access point in the building, they get issued a new dynamic IP address.”

Every person there got it. They don’t get this or this, but they know Jenny’s phone number.  I’m lucky I’ve got smart co-workers to learn from.

Abstract away complexity. Keep it as simple as possible and put it in your customers’ language.

Photo by erenata


3 Responses to “I Got It (I Got It)”

  1. The Closer Says:

    Great article and I love your sites look and feel (too often overlooked). I am amazed by the number of people who can’t explain what their “own” company does… if I was a CEO that would worry me.

    Until then I’ll keep it simple:

    The Closer

    PS How many hits a day are you getting on this site?

  2. Bill Fitzpatrick Says:

    Great analogies. As a trainer I’ve always found the better your analogies, the faster your students learn. The only trouble is sometimes we go overboard on analogies. :^(

    For IP addresses I’ve always used the PBX phone scenario – no two people in a single location have the same phone extension, but two different businesses can repeat them because they don’t have the same outside telephone number. :^)

  3. rsomers Says:

    Bill, I should’ve known the idea of IP addresses as phone numbers goes back to you! Just shows your level of influence around here.

    PBX is a great illustration and drives home that even within a small space there can be duplication.

    Yes, it is possible to go overboard on analogies. Going overboard on analogies is like…on second thought, never mind!

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