I’ve spent enough time in human factors labs doing usability studies to know that writing in the customer vernacular will deliver the most successful task-based user experience.
Plain spoken text that uses the words and phrases of a typical user will outperform more formal marketing prose that is laden with benefit statements and aspirational clutter.
The best transactional sites have learned this and the digital and marketing communications professionals ignore it (all too frequently) at their own peril.
But what about communications that is not task-based? For example, B2B lead generation and pre-sale investigation versus the instant gratification of a pre-determined consumer product purchase?
This is the kind of question that is rarely asked in the lab, and I don’t have an answer that is based solely on lab-based evidence. I do have a point of view based on usability studies, anecdotal evidence, and personal experience.
I recommend a mix of language, a blend that layers simple labels for way finding above denser, more professional language.
A usability study I ran to evaluate the effectiveness of a client’s online investor and analyst relations helped to form this opinion.
We ran retail, buy-side, and sell-side professionals through three very different corporate web sites. The results were consistent across audiences. The typical labels used in financial communication made for very poor labels, particularly for way finding. Users wanted simple, clear, and plain labels and descriptions.
However, once they reached deeper content they valued more complex business ad financial vernacular. Even the retail investors were not intimidated or put-off; they trusted the content more because it was a bit complex. Please do not confuse vernacular with writing style here. I am not advocating for verbose language. The best online writing is clean and crisp and very efficient with space. Vernacular speaks more the nature of the words and phrases.
This is an important learning for non-transaction online communications, such as business to business or corporate social responsibility. Audiences trust the business vernacular in context (within reason). They want to communicate at that level, in part because they aspire to be able to converse and that level, and in part because they distrust content that talks down to them. Business vernacular makes the reader feel like more of an insider as long as they aren’t left out in the cold through the overuse of acronyms and obscure jargon.
The recommendation seems straightforward, but execution is more difficult than you would think. I know, I’ve spent time analyzing language within a space and building bridges between plain-spoken labels and descriptions and deeper business content. It requires an investment in time and a change in business process. It also requires a client that accepts the premise and allows the business process to be put in place to put it into effect.