Watch Your Language

Helping Businesses Grow

How many languages do you think you speak? Presumably you have English in your language repertoire and possibly some additional ethnic languages like Spanish, French, Italian or German. Or maybe Swedish, Danish or Norwegian.  Or maybe Japanese or one or more Chinese dialects. The more languages you have, the better you are able to communicate with those who might become your friends, business acquaintances and possibly customers as well. But are the ethnic languages, if you speak them, the only ones besides English that you speak? Probably not.

You have your regional language — words and phrases that are particular to the city, state, region or country where you live. Soft drinks are typically “soda” on the West Coast of the United States.  They are “pop” on the East Coast.  “Regular” coffee in the East has cream and sugar.  Not so in the West. People “paak the caa” in Boston, while in Texas they might have used “typerwritors” to compose letters before computers. In the U.S. you might be asked if you would like a wake up call in the morning when you check into a hotel. In the U.K., you’ll likely be asked if you’d like to be knocked up in the morning.

You also have your professional language(s). If you are an electrical engineer, you are familiar with terms like volts, ohms, amps and watts. These measure are quite foreign, however, to a cook who uses teaspoons, tablespoons, cups and pinches. If you are an accountant, terms like debits, credits, assets, liabilities and equity have very specific meanings. Their meanings might vary considerably to a small business owner not formally schooled in the actual language of accounting. And just try to get a homeowner considering the purchase of a new something to understand the nanoseconds and picofarads that were traded off during the design of that new toy.

It’s important to consider your language when you craft your marketing message(s), because what works great in one circumstance can fail miserably in another. Remember the Chevy Nova story, where in Spanish “nova” translates colloquially to “doesn’t go?” There are lots more examples like this where not enough attention was paid to the language, literal or not, of the potential consumer.

Effective communication is not what it is you are saying to the person listening to you. Nor what you think you are conveying with your language. It is what the other person is actually perceiving from your language. This, among other reasons, is why expert marketers test language before using it widely, do “a/b” tests with message headlines and convene focus groups to gauge prospective customer reactions to various marketing messages.Knocked-Up-Cartoon

Does what I’ve said here make sense to you?  If not, I’d sure like to know from you where I may have misspoken. Thanks for reading. Your comments are hereby kindly solicited.

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