• Some acronyms have become so integrated into everyday language that they are almost universally understood.
  • While acronyms can simplify communication among those in the know, your customers and newcomers might feel like they’re being forced to decipher an entirely new language if acronyms are overused.
  • When attempting to reach the customers and partners that fund your business, it’s a good idea to first introduce the full term followed by its abbreviation.

By Karen Kimerer


In specific industries or communities, acronyms can signify membership or expertise. They act as shorthand that only a select few understand, which can foster a sense of belonging. Acronyms shorten phrases or collections of words, making verbal and written communication quicker—of particular importance in industries where precision is essential. Using an acronym can ensure that everyone is talking about the same thing without confusion.

The purpose of an acronym is to streamline communication, but if a conversation is laden with acronyms the audience needs help understanding, the speaker or writer may spend more time explaining the acronyms than conveying the actual message. The reliance on or overuse of abbreviations, especially without proper context, can unwittingly exclude those unfamiliar with their meanings.

Successfully applying today's acronyms when talking with your clients involves more than just inserting trendy terms into conversations. It requires understanding your audience and the context in which the acronyms are used. This article explores the ins and outs of acronyms and offers strategies on using them without alienating your customers. 

Acronyms Are Still Important

In industries, academic fields, and even social circles, certain acronyms have become popular and remain prevalent for several reasons:

  • Efficiency: Acronyms condense complex terminologies into bite-sized chunks, helping to streamline communication.
  • Ease of Use: Once familiar, it's often easier to say or write the acronym than the full term.
  • Cultural Bonding: Shared jargon can foster a sense of belonging among members of a specific group.
  • Catchiness: Some acronyms are catchier (and therefore more memorable) than their full counterparts.
  • Standardization: Acronyms ensure that everyone refers to processes or tools in the same manner. 

Some acronyms have become so integrated into everyday language that they are almost universally understood. Examples include ATM (Automated Teller Machine) or NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). Meanwhile, some acronyms have become brand names or entities in their own right, such as IBM (International Business Machines) or BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke).

The Challenges

Despite the widespread belief that using acronyms can help enhance communication, there are drawbacks to this practice that should be recognized. 

Imagine starting a new job, excited and eager to contribute, only to be bombarded on the first day with phrases like, "Be sure that the PIJ tests align with the CMYK requirements mentioned in the SOP given by the customer CTO after the QBR." It might feel like everyone else received a secret manual that you missed out on. An overwhelming surge of unfamiliar terms can be termed an "acronym avalanche," and many face this phenomenon when unfamiliar with the language that is specific to an industry.

In today's fast-paced world, acronyms have become a linguistic shortcut. From NASA and NATO to BRB (Be Right Back) and LOL (Laugh Out Loud), some abbreviations are ubiquitous. While they can simplify communication among those in the know, your customers and newcomers might feel like they’re being forced to decipher an entirely new language. As such, the reliance on acronyms in specific settings can create unexpected language barriers, leading to feelings of exclusion and confusion.

In our industry, often without realizing it, we speak in a stream of acronyms that can quickly distance ourselves from our customers and turn important communication into little more than jargon.

Doing It Right

Using acronyms is appropriate in various contests, but it's critical to be mindful of the audience and the situation. Acronyms can be useful shorthand when addressing a familiar audience, such as industry peers or members of a particular community. When attempting to reach the customers and partners that fund your business, though, it's good practice to first introduce the full term followed by its abbreviation, allowing for smoother subsequent mentions. For example, consider this sentence: To promote a better customer experience (CX), the United States Post Office (USPS) offers Self-service Postal Centers (SSPC) or kiosks that (at certain locations) allow customers to mail their packages without needing to talk to a USPS worker. Many acronyms will likely be foreign to most, so the USPS publishes a list of over 650 acronyms to communicate internally and externally.

A List of Acronyms

To navigate the maze of industry jargon, print service providers (PSPs) can use an updated list of frequently used acronyms as another touchpoint to engage their audience. Providing a fun directory to customers and prospects at large companies can be a source of knowledge and offer a tool that simplifies and decodes business language in our industry. A few common abbreviations worth explaining and expanding on include:

  • Production Inkjet (PIJ)
  • Pantone Matching System (PMS)
  • For Position Only (FPO)
  • Knock Outs (KOs)
  • Optical Character Recognition (OCR)
  • Personalized URLs (pURLs)
  • Quick Response Codes (QR codes)

Without an acronym directory, the average customer would likely find it difficult to make sense of the following: "In the world of PIJ printing, effective use of PMS ensures vibrant color accuracy. While FPO images guide design layout, KOs ensure precise color overlaps. The use of OCR for text scanning, pURLs for tailored marketing, and QR codes for easy information access has revolutionized the digital interaction landscape."

Having been in the industry for years, seasoned professionals might pepper their conversations with acronyms out of habit. These veterans must remain conscious of their language, particularly when interacting with customers or newcomers. An extra moment spent clarifying or choosing more straightforward terminology can help make that individual feel valued and understood.

While PSPs can make strides in simplifying their language, customers, too, have a role to play. They should be encouraged to seek clarity whenever they're uncertain. Ways to promote this culture include adding reminders in newsletters or during regular touchpoints with clients, reassuring them that no question is too fundamental, and stressing that their understanding is paramount. At its core, educating customers is about more than just vocabulary—it's about inclusion. When customers understand the language, they're not just clients; they become part of an exclusive club. They're insiders who are privy to the nuances of the industry. This sense of belonging can significantly enhance loyalty and satisfaction.

The Bottom Line

While acronyms can capture attention and promote brand identity, the genuine value and solutions behind them lead to successful client relationships and outcomes. Always prioritize a client's needs over the desire to sound current or trendy. In an era where the customer experience is paramount, the ways in which PSPs communicate can play a pivotal role. By demystifying the language of acronyms, businesses ensure clearer communication and forge stronger, more inclusive relationships with their clientele. Always remember that in the business world, it's not just what you say but how you say it that counts !

As part of the Business Development Strategies Consulting Service at Keypoint Intelligence, Karen Kimerer has experienced the many challenges of expanding current market opportunities and securing new business. She has developed a systematic approach to these opportunities, addressing the unique requirements of becoming a leader in our changing industry.