Jargon Kills: Creating an Epic Comms Failure

Volcano eruptingRecently, my friend/web developer Pam Saxon alerted me to a great article on LinkedIn that explained how astoundingly bad communications helped tank Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), and I wanted share it with all of you. Here’s what happened:

When the investments where SVB held depositors’ cash started to go sideways, they sent out an all but incomprehensible press release about it. This monument to jargon was released right after another bank liquidated, so they also blew the timing. It was a case study on how to make a bad situation catastrophic – shortly after publication, a run on the bank began.

The article’s key takeaway: “Corporate comms isn’t about positioning and buzzwords, it’s about stories. When you don’t control your own story, you risk everything.” In this case, they didn’t just lose control of their messaging – they actively threw it overboard.

Who’s the Audience?

Equally important, it was also a failure to consider the nature of the audience they wanted to reach. A vital part of controlling our stories is to understand to whom we’re talking. “You are not your audience” is one of my favorite mantras. In reading the press release, I found it hard to believe that it even came out of the bank’s comms department. It read like a CFO writing it for other CFOs, not for depositor lay people.

As it says in the LinkedIn article, “Humans are storytelling animals” because “stories are how we understand our world.” If you’re only telling the story to yourself, even unconsciously, you’ve set up the potential for a big fail. It may not result in a meltdown like SVB, but missing the mark to any degree is never good.

Here’s a related article I wrote a while back that explains why it is essential to get into your customer’s mind-set and out of your own. Otherwise, fails at all levels of awful can happen. When you have a communications project and need to zero in on the nature of your audience, give me a shout and I’ll help you suss it out.

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