How Intel Cuts Through the Jargon

The marketing chief at the world's top microchip maker offers three simple steps to communicating clearlyand profitablywith customers

A top executive at Reuters, the giant news-gathering organization, recently told me, "It's not an option anymore to not bring your language down to a clear and understandable level." We were discussing the need for clarity in business communications. The dot-com implosion left—and continues to leave—a bad taste in the mouths of consumers and investors who were bombarded with meaningless words and jargon.

Buzzwords and jargon are surefire ways to turn off customers. After all, how can we get excited about a service or product we don't completely understand? Bridging that gap is critical to winning over your listeners, whether they be investors, customers, or sales prospects. Speaking in plain language is hugely important and Intel (INTC) gets it.

The world's largest maker of microprocessors—the chip or "brain" inside your PC, notebook, or server—has recently launched a major initiative to sell the benefit behind its technology. The branding campaign focuses on how the chip giant enhances the lives of its customers.


  For Intel's chief marketing officer, Eric Kim, the approach will help strengthen its position in the marketplace by allowing Intel to be better recognized for its unique contributions. One of the ways the company plans to accomplish this is through "establishing a stronger emotional connection" with its audiences in advertising and communications, according to Kim.

Intel's message must reach multiple audiences: techies and the rest of us—the folks who to talk about technology in simple language and who appreciate the same from others. Think about it for a moment. How can a manufacturer of high-tech products that most of us never see create an "emotional connection" with us? By selling the benefit. The focus is no longer solely on the technology itself, but on what the technology can do for you.

This year, computer notebooks are being manufactured with Intel's "dual-core" chips. Dual-core offers a great example of how a new technology can be made to appear both complicated and simple. I spoke to Ralph Bond, an Intel consumer-education manager. His role is to help consumers understand how they can use computers and the Internet to learn, create, communicate, and have fun.


  He likes to say that he provides a "bridge over geeky waters." I asked Bond to provide two explanations for "dual-core," one for geeks (and I only use the term in the most affectionate spirit) and one of the rest of us.

This was his techie definition: Dual- and multi-core processors have two or more full execution cores within a single processor enabling simultaneous management of activities. In a dual-core computer chip, there are two "performance engines" that can take more data and simultaneously process the data into rich multimedia content at a faster rate.

Got it? Quickly—what does it mean to you? If you're like most people, probably not much. Let's give it another shot. This time, here's an explanation the rest of us would understand.

Every personal computer has a brain chip, or microprocessor. Until recently, these chips had one processing core, or brain. The latest buzz in Silicon Valley is all about so-called dual-core brain chips for PCs. Dual-core microprocessors have two brains instead of one. With all of this divide-and-conquer power, a twin-brain processor allows you to do a lot of fun and productive things simultaneously.


  For example you can download songs from iTunes and chat with your friends via Instant Messaging, while, in the background, you digitally record a home video from a camcorder. Or, you can run a comprehensive file-by-file virus scan in the background while surfing the Web and writing e-mail in the foreground.

I hope you agree that the second explanation is much clearer, more engaging, and more likely to prompt a sale. There are three lessons we can learn from the second explanation—lessons that can help us make the message behind our own product or service that much more compelling.

1. Set up the problem before offering the solution. Notice how the first explanation begins with the assumption that we recognize the need for two or more "full execution cores?" Translating a story into plain language requires that we set the stage—what is the current state of affairs, what's new, and why we need the new product or service.

The second explanation doesn't assume that we know exactly what a microprocessor does, nor does it assume that we know the difference between one or two brains in our PCs. By setting the stage for the discussion, it helps listeners follow the message.

2. Eliminate the jargon. You'll notice in the second example words like "multi-core processors" or "full execution cores" are gone. Every industry has jargon, or buzzwords, that few people recognize outside of that particular industry. Eliminating any words that are not common language for your audience is a necessary step to making your message easy to follow.

3. Use tangible, real-world examples. Examples bring products or services to life. It becomes easier for listeners to follow your story, and to take the action you desire, if they can see how it fits into their lives. The first Intel definition contains no specific example, just an observation that dual cores allow us to process data at a faster rate.

Without a tangible example, this explanation will be lost on most consumers. That's why Bond bridges the gap between engineers and non-techies by offering examples most of us can relate to, such as downloading iTunes, instant messaging, or running virus scans.

Please keep in mind that I'm not recommending that you eliminate all jargon and technical definitions from all your communications. It's entirely acceptable if your listeners expect it. But your message must be relevant to the people you're trying to reach.

The first definition of "dual-core" that Bond provides is perfectly appropriate for engineers at a developer's conference, but not for average customers shopping for new computers at their local Best Buy. So take Intel's approach and tailor your message to the audience you want to reach!