The other day when I was talking with a colleague, she mentioned an incident that happened back in her consulting days. She was presenting a workshop to a group of young developers, and one of the men rattled off a response dripping with industry jargon. My (very smart and tech savvy) colleague was so dumbfounded by his language, the only reply she could muster was, “I have no idea what you just said.”
The interesting thing about that to me is that she wasn’t embarrassed that she couldn’t grasp what he was saying. She was offended by it.
This sent me down a rabbit hole of notes I have on language — and considering my content marketing methodology revolves around using customer language, this rabbit hole went deep.
In Braiding Sweetgrass, author Robin Wall Kimmerer comments, “In English, we never refer to a member of our family, or indeed to any person, as it. That would be a profound act of disrespect. It robs a person of selfhood and kinship, reducing a person to a mere thing.”
She goes on to make a point that the fact that we refer to anything other than human beings as “it” leads us to be dismissive and exploitative of the natural world. What struck me, too, though was just how a simple pronoun can have such deep impact on a conversation — how using “it” in reference to another human can be so disrespectful.
In other languages, this may be different — the nuances of language may have more or less impact on how people feel about the person addressing them.
But in English for sure, how you use language matters deeply.
I’ve long known (and now there’s enough research to prove) that using customers’ own language in marketing content makes that content more effective. It creates a personal connection between the writer (the company) and the reader (the lead, prospect or customer). It’s the crux of my methodology — it’s a primary tactic I use to implement the strategy of building relationship between company and customer.
The longer I do this work, however, the deeper this connection goes between language and the effectiveness of the content I’m writing for clients.
When someone cares about something, when they’re impacted by something, they stop using boilerplate language and jargon. They start using their own words. They speak from the heart. The language becomes more emotional and more vivid. They naturally start coming up with unique turns of phrases that speak to their mindset. It’s this emotional, vivid language that I look for in my customer research — because when we use that same language to communicate back through content, the connection becomes so much more personal.
Language is a window into the hearts and minds of the people we serve. When we understand the customer mindset and the language they use to describe it, when we hear or read the words they choose to describe their problem and the solution they’re seeking, we can use this insight as a powerful connection point. It’s an entry point into how they think, and we can better understand where to reach to them, how to help them, and what is going to be meaningful in the conversation we have with them.
After all, effective marketing is conversation.
As a writer, I admit I’m particularly sensitive to how language is used. I think this is something that we can all be more aware of though. Not just in our marketing content, but in how we’re conversing with everyone in our lives. Are we using the same language? Or are we using language that in effect alienates the listener because we want to come across as smart or “in the know?”