SCORE Small Business Blog

Marketing: Speak the Right Language to Your Customers

No Habla Friendles

I’ve always envied those that can speak multiple languages. To be able to communicate with someone in their native language must create an amazing connection. I studied intricacies of the Spanish language all through high school, conjugating verbs and identifying when to use the masculine “EL” versus the feminine “LA.” After four years of studying this, I embraced the Spanish speaking population with an impressive ability to converse, as long as the conversation didn’t require me to say anything aside from. “¿Como se llama? Me llamo Larry. Mi lápiz es grande y Amarillo.” (How are you? My name is Larry and my pencil is big and yellow.)

I often think about taking my Spanish speaking skills to the next level. You know, by actually being able to form sentences. Nothing is more frustrating than watching my favorite TeleMundo shows and only being able to decipher a few words here and there, completely unable to comprehend enough to understand the concept of the program. C’est la vie! (That’s the extent of my French, but in my defense, I never studied French).

On a recent business trip to Cape Cod Massachusetts a co-worker and I went to grab a bite to eat before starting our five hour journey back to New Jersey. We stopped at a local Friendly’s restaurant. It was here that my colleague made a rookie road-warrior mistake: he ordered the Reuben sandwich. When you’ve been on the road for as long as I have you learn what’s best to order in any restaurant. For example, never order the halibut filet at a roadside diner, or the Reuben at the local Friendly’s. The Reuben is a delicious combination of pastrami (according to Seinfeld’s George Costanza, the most sensuous of the all the cured meats), Swiss cheese and sauerkraut. Order this sandwich in a Manhattan deli and your taste buds will be treated to a true sandwich delight. Order a Reuben at Friendly’s and stomach will be taken on quite a different journey.

Me? I stick with the basics when I order food on the road. When asked by the waitress, (in a distinct Bostonian accent) “Wat’ll ya have?” I ordered the very safe turkey club with waffle fries. I assumed I’d given the waitress all the pertinent information she needed to successfully fill my order. I was mistaken and surprised when she belted out the word “LOADED!?”. Neither I nor my colleague had any idea what to say. Again she bellowed, “LOADED!?” and then the conversation went something like this:

• Me: I don’t understand.
• Waitress: Do you want it loaded!
• Me: Do I want what loaded?
• Waitress: The fries!”
• Me: What do you mean loaded?
• Waitress: Do you want sour cream, bacon, cheese and chives on your fries!
• Me: No thank you.

Even though I got a C- in high school English, I have no trouble comprehending my native tongue. The Friendly’s waitress assumed I knew what the term “loaded” meant in relation to Friendly’s waffle fries and was very annoyed when I didn’t understand what I now call the language of “Friendles”.

Most marketers are guilty of these types of assumptions. We assume that our customers and those with passing interest understand the terminology, or the jargon, we use in our industries day in and day out – they don’t.

Our jargon is our own, and, more often than not, customers do not understand what we are talking about. Customers may not always tell us they don’t understand as they don’t want to feel stupid, especially in a selling environment. I remember the first time a car salesman told me I’d have to sign the paperwork with the “F and I” guy. The salesmen said “F and I,” but I heard “Effin I.” I remember thinking, “What’s an ‘I guy’ and why does this man hate him so much?” FYI: F and I = Finance and Insurance.

Communication is the cornerstone of sales and marketing, if we fail to communicate our messages quickly and concisely we fail to connect with potential clients and risk losing a valuable opportunity. With the economy in its current state of disarray can anyone risk losing any opportunity over something as minor as deciphering your jargon into clear and concise terminology?

Take a hard look at your customer communications, marketing material and sales presentations. Put them to the test, by explaining what you offer to someone that has no knowledge of your industry and your offerings. See if they understand your message and value proposition. Don’t forget your Internet marketing! Enlist the help of an outsider to evaluate your website content, website design and any other online materials you may have.

When it comes to connecting with potential customers you only have a split second to make a great connection. Simple messaging always connects, so ensure your marketing message isn’t “LOADED” with jargon.

Larry Bailin, Guest Blogger
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Discussion (4) Comment

  1. Katherine StoneVisitor

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    Katherine Stone

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