Tech marketers should lose geek speak

Across from the desk in my office is a framed black-and-white shot of a veteran Joe DiMaggio and a rookie Mickie Mantle at the old Yankee Stadium. A quick swivel of my chair reveals another piece of art, also black and white, but this one is not on my wall. It’s outside my window: a huge photo of some other immensely talented men who go by the names John, Paul, George and Ringo.

There’s not much else on the billboard. A stark white background. A small logo of a once-bitten apple and three words: “Now on iTunes.” Its simplicity is its beauty.

Too bad we can’t say the same about many other touchpoints between technology marketers and consumers. While technology products today are easier to use and more intuitive than they were just a couple of years ago, tech marketing remains ridiculously consumer-unfriendly to anyone without an engineering degree.

The industry communicates in a language most of us don’t speak. Do you know the difference between a Standard-A USB connector and a Micro-B one? Do you care? Well, you kind of have to if you ever hope to throw a charge into any of your digital devices or get them talking to one another. And, ask anyone who’s not a technology buff to explain 4G.

Ever try setting up a home wi-fi network? Quick, what’s your SSID? Do you prefer WPA encryption, or WEP?

It’s ludicrous that this kind of language is thrown at everyday people by mass-market consumer electronics marketers. Imagine if in order to make a batch of pancakes, you first had to read the box to determine how to build an oven. It’s an imperfect analogy, but one that hints at the absurdity of burdening people with things that shouldn’t concern them.

A friend who’s a fan of many of the products made by the company that placed the billboard outside my office has had it up to her headphones with the “jumble of white wires” all over her house. But, as she says, “None are interchangeable. What the heck??” They’re not labeled, either, so good luck figuring out which is which.

“How,” my friend asks, referring to the iCompany that produces the white wires, “does all this confusion and frustration affect your relationship with customers?”

It can’t be a good thing. If the quality and desirability of certain products outweighs the related headaches, it’s not likely to impact short-term sales. But if the headaches are avoidable (and these are), why not avoid them? There’s a lot more to be gained in long-term loyalty and in shining the brand halo.

It’s a real problem for anyone who’s ever packed for a business trip or vacation and realized too late that they’ve remembered the chargers for their laptop, digital music player and mobile phone, but forgot the ones for the book reader, electric shaver and tablet computer.

If we can have one standard plug to attach to the outlet on the wall, why can’t we have one standard connector on the other end? Surely it can’t be that difficult. I’ll bet there are people who will send e-mails after this column telling me exactly what the technology is. Don’t bother; it’s not my problem.

Most consumers don’t understand the internal workings of their cars or TV sets, and they don’t have to in order to operate and enjoy them. The same needs to be true for all the digital devices that are central to modern life (and, theoretically, designed to make our lives easier). If technology marketers truly respect consumers, they should stop expecting us to rise to their level and start talking down to us.

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