Tag Archives: marketing

The language of business

How we speak has a big impact on how we’re perceived. We all make judgements about people, sometimes subconsciously, depending on how they speak, their choice of words, their grasp of grammar and use of idiom. It’s the same in writing – poor grammar or punctuation, clumsy sentence construction and unfamiliar usage can all combine to undermine customers’ perception of your marketing materials, and therefore of your business, no matter how clever or effective the product or service you’re trying to promote.

Once when on holiday in Morocco, I was accosted by a teenage boy who was clearly hoping to sell something to the obvious tourist walking through his town. In broken English, he tried to extol the virtues of his wares but, fearing a rip-off, I was immediately on the defensive.

Seeing he was getting nowhere, he asked if I spoke French. I did. When he spoke to me in fluent French, it wasn’t just the transfer of information that improved dramatically – so did my perception of him. Suddenly he wasn’t a vaguely threatening street boy trying to sell junk to tourists, he was a young man trying to raise some money to help his family.

That’s perhaps an extreme example, but fluent, idiomatically correct language has a huge but often underestimated value in marketing communications. If you want people to buy from you, they need to feel comfortable with you. Speaking their language properly is a crucial first step in that process. Showing you understand the customer’s language and the cultural references and assumptions that come with it is part of understanding that market.

Many who speak English as a second language don’t realise that although their grasp of the language is sufficient for practical day-to-day matters, it’s not quite good enough to convince native English speakers and may even be misunderstood by non-native speakers who have a different first language. A final-pass localisation by a fluent native speaker adds a polish to the words that increases both comprehension and comfort for readers.

And that’s got to be good for business.

Forget simple, let’s be clear

So many promotional efforts seem to revolve around the idea of making things simple or easy. There’s a whole series of ‘for dummies’ books covering everything from SQL to GCSE revision. But if these things could really be done by dummies, there wouldn’t need to be books about them.

Some things are just complicated. And when technology is involved, many of them are. What we really need is clarity – and not just in the language used to explain ideas or describe products, but in the order in which the points are presented.

Some ideas follow a linear logic. Provided you get it all in the right order and are careful with the choice of words, anyone paying attention should be able to follow. Sometimes you need to introduce several thoughts at once in order to make it possible for everything to fall into place; you have to say “trust me on this, it will all make sense later” and put them in as sensible an order as you can find, perhaps starting with the most familiar.

And sometimes there are ideas that can’t be split up into simpler bits. I remember an afternoon at primary school when I was introduced to fractions. I could see there was an idea here but I couldn’t grasp it, no matter how many different ways the teacher tried to explain it to me.

I did get fractions eventually, and years later was able to sympathise with my own children when they grappled with new concepts. It made me realise that some ideas have to be grasped whole and can’t be simplified any further; the best you can do is set up all the right pieces in advance and let them click into place naturally.

So let’s not worry too much about making things ‘simple’ when they’re not. Let’s be clear instead, and simple will take care of itself.