Are you talkin’ to me?

No matter where you live, there’s a lexicon, language, or dialect that is spoken. In Kenya, there were 42 of them. Now there’s number 43. It’s called Sheng. Why on earth did they need another language? Young people from all walks of Kenya’s population (just over 37,000,000 people) needed a way to communicate with one another, so “their young minds seized the material at hand and wove it into S(wa)h(ili)eng(lish)”: Sheng. You can read more about it in The Walrus.


Why is this important to you and your company? You spend the vast majority of your hard-won marketing dollars communicating with your customers. But you also spend most of your working day immersed in an environment where everyone speaks the same “product dialect”. What if you’re so familiar with your brand and your “family code” that you don’t notice that your target audience can’t understand what you’re saying? What if they don’t speak your language?


How can you be sure they’re going to receive the exact message you’re transmitting? Companies who are truly tapped in to their customers do this a number of ways. First, they are relentless listeners. They pay attention when their buyers make an effort to communicate. Not just to the underlying message (“what they say”), but how they say it. There are nuances in the words they use, the tone, even the tools for delivery.


Everyone knows that when we see the Popeye Doyle method being employed in the movies (“just talk louder, and more slowly”), it’s insulting and doesn’t work very well. So how can we evaluate what we want to say? Won’t customers just tell us if they like or don’t like the message we’re sending? Won’t they all just respond to our blog, write in about our ad, or (if we’re doing it right) buy our products? Not necessarily so. Just as you’re trying to navigate today’s tricky economy, focusing on the critical, so are they.


So before you fly that new ad, or blog, or other communication up the flagpole, try a test-drive with a handful of your most cynical customers or friendly critics. This isn’t a statistical exercise – small n’s are okay, because if a couple of people find it confusing, there are many others who are thinking the same thing. But do make sure a wide variety of stakeholders (buyers, specifiers, users) are included in your set. Each may speak a slightly different language, and to be successful, rather than watering your message down to the least-common-denominator, you need to adapt the delivery to suit each of these groups.


Keep in mind that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. We dare you to find opportunities in the New Year, to listen to your customers at least twice as often as you speak.


Looking forward to hearing from you,


Megann & Steve



Make better decisions, get better results, grow your business. We use a deep toolkit of specialized techniques help clarify your objectives, identify decisions that must be made, and eliminate knowledge gaps, resulting in strategy with a firmer foundation and better results.

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