Languaging – Why the Words You Use Matter in Marketing

Mark Donnigan

There was a blind man begging on the streets whose bowl was always empty. On his sign were the words “I’m blind, please help”.  An Ad Man noticed people passing by but instead of giving him change, he wrote a few words on the sign. To the beggar’s delight, his money cup was overflowing. What did the Ad Man write? “It’s springtime and I cannot see it.” 

The words we use matter, and how you communicate can determine whether a market moves toward our company or to the competition. Whether they adopt our innovation or maintain the status quo. 

For tech startups, this matters even more since the audience (today audience equals prospects and customers) you want to capture has a high likelihood of not understanding how your product can solve a problem that they may not have even realized they have yet. Technical startup founders have one thing in common – they are highly intelligent and are prone to use a different language from the market (their audience).

“A major challenge in marketing is how to bridge the communication gap between the problem your product solves and what the market is expecting. This requires languaging.”

Finding a language that works with your target customers should be the first priority of every startup. Before making any interactions or improvements in your product, discovering whether your message resonates with your audience can bring more impact. And it is relatively easy to do with A/B testing and talking to customers.

A key component to discovering the right words (language) to use in your marketing frameworks is to uncover the unmet needs in your market. In reality, unmet need always goes back to uncovering a problem that your product, technology, or solution is uniquely equipped to solve.

Once you discover the unmet need (customers primary problem), you will craft your messages around your customers’ struggles, focusing on the end result your product or service will bring. To start, you should avoid overused, vague buzzwords such as “innovative”, “cutting-edge”, or  “all-in-one solution”. Words such as these can elicit cynicism and do not clearly define what you want to communicate. Be more specific. Let’s look at the example below.

Drift is a chatbot technology company. Though, even simple things can be complex under the hood. Let’s face it, chatbots are pretty standard fare on all tech platforms. So, let’s look at how Drift “languaged” their product.  

Starting with the tagline, “Conversational Marketing.” Aren’t we all ultimately looking for connection, and through conversation (talking) it’s the surest way to make that happen. With this slogan, Drift was able to describe what their company does and its strengths. 

Think for a moment, would you rather buy a chatbot for your website, or install a conversational marketing tool? I for one would much rather buy a tool to strengthen the ability to build relationships with my customers. The languaging of Conversational Marketing was so good by the way, Drift even published a book on how to use and apply conversational marketing. Do you think it helped them sell more of their product? You bet it did.

Another excellent example is Medium.com. As a reader, I know what I will get when I click on the “Start reading” button.

Finding the right words may take several rounds of tweaking before you finally find the right message. But you better believe it’s important. Think of you and your customer separated by a vast divide. The only way to bridge that gap is to find the right message about you and how you will help your potential buyer overcome obstacles and achieve success.

How to close the language gap.

Step 0 – Mindset – not yours, the customers!

Before you even attempt to craft an effective communications strategy, you must adopt the correct mindset in approaching your potential customers. The most important thing to remember is that the world does not revolve around your company or your product

Sure, you may have developed the best ever cutting-edge solution using the latest technology, but that is not what matters to your audience. When a potential buyer reads your website, he’s not thinking “Wow, this is great!” He’s thinking “how does this help me?” or “can this solve my problem?”.  Even here however, we must be mindful that the customer may not actually know they have a problem, or have not identified and named it yet. Which is why having ecosystem and domain knowledge is more than knowing all of the most common three and four letter acronyms. It’s being able to empathize with what your customer is doing on Monday morning at 9am and how your product relates.

Take Steve Jobs for example. When he launched the iPod in 2001, he never emphasized its features or how high-tech it is. Instead, he simply said “A thousand songs in your pocket.” And people went crazy for what was actually just another MP3 player in a somewhat crowded market, even then. This brings us to:

Step 1 – The hero of the story is your customer – not your product

You know your product is good. You know it addresses a need the market has. But your customer does not know that right now. Your job as a marketer is to help your potential customers and clients discover how your product or service can help them solve their difficulties and guide them towards a decision to choose you. Doing this involves walking in your customer’s shoes. Know their difficulties. What are they trying to solve? Only if you know what they are struggling with can you craft a message that resonates with them. The goal in this stage is to make your customer say “wow, these guys understand me”.

Step 2 – Your role in the story is a guide

When faced with a problem, business people are looking for partners who can help them overcome their obstacles and achieve their goals. Now that you know what they are struggling with, your role as a guide is to show them that you understand their problem and that you have a solution that can address that. The key qualities here are empathy and authority

You understand what they are going through and what they are trying to do (empathy). You manifest  your authority by showing your customer that you have the solution they are looking for. Your job is to present them an option, but ultimately, they will be the one to decide. Which brings us to…

Step 3 – Give them a call to action

Whether a customer is fully convinced or still a bit hesitant at this stage, your next step is to ask them to act following your conversation. You can do this in two ways. For fully convinced customers, use the direct call to action approach, such as “buy now” or “get started.” Once they sign an agreement you have basically done your job.

For those that need a little more time to make a decision, use transitional calls to action to continue the conversation – “sign up for our newsletter” “register for the webinar” or “download our product guide.” Take the opportunity to engage potential clients so you can gain additional insights about their difficulties which will allow you to tailor your succeeding messages. Think of this as a courtship stage where you’re trying to woo your customer into choosing you as a partner.

Step 4 – Paint a picture of success

Once a potential customer is comfortable with you and is receptive to your messages, show them what it would be like once they have solved their problem using your solution. Enumerate the different benefits and how their business would go smoothly using your product or service. Higher sales volumes, faster turnaround times, or an increased market share are some examples you can use, but if you have done your homework in Step 1, you know exactly what to say in order to convince your customer to go with you. At the same time, you can…

Step 5 – Present an alternative picture

This may sound like a bit of fear-mongering, but presenting realistic scenarios of what would happen if they did not use your solution should be part of your communications process. This is your chance to highlight your advantages over your competitors and to reinforce the success story you presented in Step 4. Remember, your role is to be an empathic guide that accompanies the hero on his quest. And are you really being a good guide if you don’t point out where the danger is lurking?

In summary, people respond better to stories than information. Our brains are wired this way. It’s why you may struggle to remember a string of numbers as a simple dataset, but when presented in a narrative context, you have much less difficulty. I have long said that there is no such thing as B2B or business to business marketing and sales, rather it’s all H2H (human to human). Business buyers are still human and they make decisions exactly like the rest of us – a combination of both rational and emotional. Communication, language, is the bridge that connects us to the buyer. How strong the bridge is depends on how you deliver your message, and how well you understand your audience’s problem and the mindset that they are in at the point that you are interrupting their day with a sales or marketing message.

Listen to more of my podcast interviews. Here's one about creating a community that helps you boost your social interaction with your future clients.  Learn how creating a community around your content marketing can be far more effective in the long run.

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