Think about the last time you had a conversation with your digital marketing partner or vendor. Did that meeting leave you with a better understanding of how your company is using the internet to further your business goals, or were you more confused than ever? In my experience, most conversations with digital marketers result in what would be depicted with active head scratching in a single-cell cartoon. Perhaps there would even be a floating question mark or two to really drive the point home to the reader.

Digital marketers, a group of people whose membership card I proudly carry, are notoriously poor communicators. It doesn’t help that we have invented our own language complete with dozens of TLAs (three letter acronyms). But there’s more to it than just confusing terms, there seems to be confusion amongst the professionals who are proactively discussing the latest techniques and technologies.

In “our” defense, digital marketing is an extremely hi-tech industry that is evolving at the speed of a 3.1GHz quad-core processor. In order to explain the nuances of the latest Panda update to the Google search algorithm, a certain level of “tech speak” is required. However, that’s rarely the topic of conversation when I meet with my clients. Business owners and marketing teams just want to have an understanding of what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how well it’s performing. Beyond that, they’ll sometimes show an interest in “how I’m doing” which I tend to simplify as “good”.

Ineffective communication often occurs when a digital marketing expert speaks over the heads of his or her audience. Why don’t digital dudes and dudettes speak clearly and in layman terms when they’re explaining digital advertising platforms and campaign results? My theory: they don’t fully understand what they’re talking about.

I have absolutely no idea how my car starts up and then propels forwards as I press on the pedal. When I look under the hood the only thing I can consistently identify is the tube where windshield fluid can and will be added. However, when I have to take my car into the shop, the mechanic always explains what the issue is in terms I can understand. Sometimes it gets embarrassing when he has to draw an analogy between the fuel pump and a Diet Coke and Mentos video, but in the end I understand the problem.

Mechanics can explain and relate how cars operate to a dummy like me because they truly understand every aspect of how the machine operates. Unfortunately many digital marketers know as much about how marketing technology works as a car salesman knows about tuning a V8 engine (hint: it requires fewer than eight vegetables). Digital marketers regurgitate sales collateral and product descriptions with great vigor and enthusiasm. All they ask is that you hold your questions indefinitely.

A great example of this in my experience resulted from an attempt to use behavioral targeting. If you’re not familiar, this is a technique that targets an audience with online advertising based on their past internet usage. Which websites a person visits and the topics of the pages they surf can tell a lot about someone and provide both demographic and psychographic information. This is unique to the digital marketing industry and is often presented as the silver bullet to target specific users and eliminate wasted ad dollars. It can be very effective but it doesn’t work in all cases.

A few years ago I was developing a digital media plan for a client who was introducing a new skin cream. One of the vendors I was working with recommended behavioral targeting to reach consumers with dry skin. The person I was working with didn’t understand how data could be used to target this audience. It turns out that people with dry skin don’t necessarily use the internet to find remedies and hence this wasn’t an effective targeting technique.

I’m sure the vendor I was working with had had success for other advertising campaigns using behavioral targeting. If you want to reach someone who is in the market for a new Ford pick-up truck it can be extremely effective. You might have noticed there are a few more websites devoted to car buying than there are for lotion reviews. Interesting business opportunity though, and are both available for purchase.

I should have asked more questions. When your digital marketing partner recommends something that you don’t fully understand, ask for clarification. Sometimes their recommendations are based on the latest buzzword or whatever the sales manager told them to push in the morning meeting. There are a lot of tools in the digital marketing tool bag, don’t try to tune your V8 armed with only a hammer. Unless that’s how you do that, I have no idea.