Thursday, September 25, 2008

Acronyms: Confusing the Customer

The topic of confusing acronyms came up in a meeting yesterday, and got me thinking about the CE industry and the product sale. It's obvious that a salesperson should "dumb things down" in order to make sure the customer doesn't stare at him like a deer in headlights. But how many CE-related acronyms do we unknowingly take for granted that the average customer understands?

"HD" is the most common. You'd think by now that everyone under the sun knows what "HD" stands for, but the truth is that some don't. Then there's "PVR" or "DVR". The other day, a friend of mine asked me what "SLR" stood for because she had no idea.

Keep in mind that the actual words might not be important to know as long as the customer understands what you're describing. For example, as long as he knows that an LCD is a flat-screen TV, or a DVD is a circular disc that plays movies, then the actual term isn't 100% necessary. Two other examples: JPEG and MP3. No one really needs to know what they stand for as long as they understand what the terms are in reference to. But then there are others. "Who's your ISP?" a retailer might ask a stunned mother of three. "Huh?"

There's a simple way to avoid this: just use the words! Acronyms are meant to shorten sentences and simplify language for people who understand them. If the person doesn't, acronyms only make things more difficult. And that's the key. It could be a really simple word, but using the acronym might mistakenly intimidate someone, and make him think it means more than it is. So rather than say JPEG, just say "a type of digital image called JPEG", or even simply "photo". (The exact terminology will, of course, depend on the context).

It's important to note that you should always know your audience. If you're sitting among a group of CE industry members, well, you're pretty safe to follow the anything goes policy. But at a family dinner, you might want to go light on the alphabet soup.

With that said, for anyone who is interested in the meaning behind the acronyms noted above, here they are (along with a few others you might commonly hear or read about thrown in for good measure):

HD: High Definition. Basically, this refers to the resolution of a TV.

PVR: Personal Video Recorder. This is a device that has a built-in hard drive on which you can record TV programming.

DVR: Digital Video Recorder. Same as above, although the term DVR might be better suited toward a device that is separate from your cable or satellite TV box. For example, TiVo is a great example of a DVR. A set-top box from Bell TV that has recording functionality built right into it is probably better referred to as a PVR. The terms really are interchangeble in my books, though.

SLR: Single Lens Reflex. These are those big (although increasingly getting smaller) digital cameras that have interchangeable lens.

LCD: Liquid Crystal Display. This is a type of display, and refers to the process in which it's made and operates. While LCD can be used to describe anything from your cell phone's screen to that of a calculator, it's most commonly used in this industry to describe flat-panel TVs.

JPEG: Joint Photographic Experts Group. This just refers to the type of compression used in digital images that bear this extension (e.g. blog.jpg). It's the most common photo file type out there.

MP3: Moving Picture Experts Group Layer-3 Audio. Similar to JPEG, this is a type of compression for audio files. As with JPEG, it's arguably the most popular file type.

ISP: Internet Service Provider. This refers to the company that provides your Internet service. For example, Rogers, Videotron, or Bell.

VoIP: Voice Over Internet Protocol. This is a type of communication that lets you make voice calls using the Internet rather than a landline phone connection.

USB: Universal Serial Bus. This is a universal method of connecting a variety of portable devices. If you own a laptop, you'll probably see a couple of USB ports (small and slighty square-shaped) where you can plug in everything from a digital camera to an MP3 player. In the mobile phone industry, mini USB (a smaller version) is quickly becoming a standard as well.

GUI: Graphical User Interface. This one, usually actually spoken as "goo-ee", is the graphical menu that pops up on a device, whether it be a PC, touch-pad control, or TV. The term is most typically used, however, to describe the guide that appears on your TV when you're searching for programs via cable or satellite TV.

Feel free to add your own in the comments section below!

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1 comment:

Saxe Brickenden said...

Some great points... I always love GadgetTalk.

But you omitted one increasingly common abbreviation... "AFA" -- Another f***ing Acronym!

I emphatically agree with your warning of the dangers of intimidating our potential market with cryptic and obscure abbreviations.