Why Your Business Vocabulary Could Mean Sink or Swim

It's time to embrace those acronyms

I distinctly remember when starting to work for Reckitt thinking, "What on Earth are you talking about?"

"If we look at the HHP for an NPD that's driving NR at scale by the time our basis points will have doubled down"—such business talk was incomprehensible to me. Acronyms coming at me from all directions, and whole meetings where every sentence contained an element of alien.

I very quickly realized that I would have to get my head round this.

More than jargon

This language is not unique to Reckitt. It's the language of global brand owners, big business and commerciality. It is the language of the marketer, the MBA degree course, the everyday of corporate reality.

Those coming from a creative agency background—as I was at the time—might consider this unnecessary jargon. Kendall Roy-esque word salad that doesn't even make sense when you start to unpick it. Does the impression of substance hide pure hot air?

But actually, it's a language that people in business understand. That allows them to make informed decisions. It boils arguments down to phrases that mean something tangible to those looking to make business-critical decisions.

People who use this language understand completely what you mean. So in a business where you want to effect real change, you need to know how to convey information and arguments in a way that everyone understands.

Knowing this language holds weight, but it's unnatural for someone working exclusively agency-side. Sometimes as creative people you're shielded from the commercial aspects of why decisions are being made, or what's driving a direction for a brand. Catching up with what the lingo means, therefore, can only be a good thing—it adds a valuable string to your bow.

Total immersion

Does this language come with a handbook? Not really. When I started, there were various PDFs floating around, a dictionary of acronyms in Sharepoint that I referred to often. But as with every language, the best way to learn is through total immersion.

It's not dissimilar to joining an agency or studio abroad—one where the local language dominates. You have to adapt to be part of and understand the nuances of the conversation.

It's about being around and soaking it all up. I spent the first six months at Reckitt thinking and listening – and absorbing. By doing that, and not trying to pretend you know it all, you will find it bubbles up in conversations. Don't try and fake it, let it infuse until it comes naturally.

A powerful combination

Yet, as designers, we shouldn't leave our creative way of communicating entirely behind. The beauty of learning a language new to you is that it combines with how you already operate to deliver better things. At Reckitt, we call it corporate creativity, the language of design and commerce coming together to drive new opportunities. It's a powerful combination.

We see our role as pivoting between different settings, cuing the way we speak to whichever part of the business we're looking to connect with. There is a pivot between creatively saying what you need to say, while backing it up with commercial justification. That can be a very effective way of getting things done.

In a commercial context, the creative function is often in the minority. So having the business vocab, knowing what is important, allows you to gain trust, validation and influence in the organization.

Speaking of value

We all want the value of creativity to be more recognized. So being able to convey it through that commercial lens is invaluable. "Selling creativity" goes way beyond "it’s a good piece of design." Knowing the language of business allows you to understand those commercial drivers on a deeper level, which in turn enables you to build a solid business case as well as a creative rationale. It becomes a tool for qualification that's used to validate work (alongside rigorous data), rather than just relying on subjective opinion.

So if you ever find yourself in an environment of acronym-laden business talk, resist the urge to roll your eyes. Stop fighting against it and use it as the tool it is. A powerful boost to creativity in the commercial world. In fact, seek it out, as it will make your creative ideas that much more effective, meaningful, tangible and fueled with enough business acumen to get the financial backing.

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Alex Normanton
Alex Normanton is global brand experience lead at Reckitt.

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