Marketing Means: Speaking Your Customers’ Language

Today, we’re talking about language. When your customers hear you talking about KPIs, resin codes, single stream recycling, holiday delays, commercial front loaders, and CNG, they’re potentially impressed by your expertise but most likely confused. They want you to keep it simple. Savvy marketers are bilingual in corporate jargon AND the language their customers speak.

The Origin of “Two Languages”

A note from Jessica Shrout, President of Circle Three Branding: If you know me, you know I have a pretty intense thirst for knowledge and I’m a collector: I collect facts and tidbits that will serve me later. This often comes in the form of books and tools that fill my library shelves. I was recently stuck in an airport between legs of a journey and found myself browsing the bookstore. That’s where I saw a deck of cards called “Marketing Mess to Brand Success,” by Scott Jeffrey Miller. Each card is meant to serve as a marketing challenge to change the way you think about marketing for your organization. I’ll be honest: I don’t love all of them, but some of them are worth conversation. So that’s what we’re going to do: talk about my favorite challenges. Over the next few months, I’ll post those favorites and we’ll explore what it means for waste, recycling, and sustainability organizations.

Two Languages in Business

Most of us in the business world speak two languages: one in the office and one out in the real world. One is casual and common. The other language is specialized. Only other insiders know it. Here’s an example: let’s say your emergency room physician orders a CBC and ABG. Would you know what these abbreviations stand for unless you were also in healthcare – and specifically in a field of healthcare that regularly deals with blood tests? Probably not. (It’s “complete blood count” and “arterial blood gas,” by the way.) You don’t have to because it’s not something you need to know. We often forget that in the waste, recycling, and sustainability world. Our common business language comes out because we’re fluent in it and we forget that the rest of the world isn’t…and they don’t care…and they also don’t need to care. They don’t live it. Our job is to remember this and reduce complexity in marketing whenever possible. That’s why it’s critical to switch back to your common language when marketing for your organization.

Tips for Speaking One Language in Marketing

Simplifying language without patronizing your audience is key to effective communication. Here are some strategies to help waste haulers, municipalities, and brands in the sustainability sector speak in a more relatable, understandable way:

  1. Know Your Audience: Understand who you’re speaking to. Tailor your message to match their familiarity with industry terms. Municipalities contracting with you might be well-versed, while their citizens need simpler language.
  2. Use Analogies and Stories: Relate complex concepts to everyday experiences. For instance, compare recycling processes to a recipe or sorting waste to organizing a closet. Stories about how recycling impacts communities can make it more tangible and relatable.
  3. Visual Aids and Infographics: Use visuals to simplify information. Infographics, charts, and diagrams can convey complex processes or statistics more clearly than dense paragraphs. Also keep in mind the average reading comprehension of your audience and the fact that many of us are visual learners.
  4. Focus on Benefits, Not Features: Instead of diving into technical details, emphasize how your service or product benefits the customer or community. Highlighting the positive outcomes of waste reduction or recycling resonates more than technical specifications.
  5. Ask for Feedback: Engage with your audience to understand if your messaging is clear. Conduct surveys or focus groups to gather insights on how your language is perceived.
  6. Avoid Acronyms and Technical Jargon: While these terms might be common in your industry, they can confuse others. Spell out acronyms at first mention and consider using simpler terms that anyone can understand. Do you really need to mention your trucks are ASLs or is it easier to say “automated trucks?”
  7. Educate Without Overwhelming: Gradually introduce industry-specific terms alongside explanations. Create a glossary or educational content on your website or marketing materials to help audiences understand terminology. Allow people the chance to opt-in to more complexity…if they want it.
  8. Simplify Call-to-Actions (CTAs): Make your CTAs (see what I did there?) clear and straightforward. Use simple language to guide people on what action you want them to take, whether it’s recycling a certain material or participating in a community clean-up.
  9. Collaborate and Partner: Work with influencers or organizations that can help bridge the gap between industry language and consumer understanding. Partnering with community groups or schools for educational campaigns can be impactful.
  10. Be Authentic and Transparent: Avoid using simplified language at the expense of accuracy. Maintain honesty and transparency while simplifying complex concepts. We don’t want to patronize.

Two Bonus Language Exercises

Are you feeling stuck on how to disambiguate between office language and real-world language? We got you! Try our two favorite methods for weeding out jargon and reducing complexity: The Grandma Test and The Word List.

  • The Grandma Test: Create your marketing piece (a social media post, a flyer, etc.). Now, review what you’ve made and think of the oldest person you know – specifically someone who isn’t so savvy with technology, newer trends, or your job. The person most people think of is their grandmother. Would your grandma understand what you’re trying to get customers to do? Or would she have a bunch of questions? Would she get frustrated and give up? If it fails The Grandma Test, start again and simplify.
  • The Word List: Write a list of your most commonly used industry terms. Get some associates from outside the industry (a supplier, a print shop, a municipal contact) to review them and let you know if they use any of them in daily conversations. The answer is likely that none of those terms are recognized or used outside of the industry. Your next step is to find replacements and make yourself a list of synonyms that actually resonate with the real world!

Wrapping Up

Remember, the goal isn’t to talk down to your audience but to make your message more accessible and engaging. By using relatable language and accessible communication methods, you can effectively convey your message about sustainability and waste management without losing your audience along the way.

We’ll cover more Marketing Mess topics, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies in upcoming blog posts, so be sure to stay tuned. If you’re interested in see how Circle Three Branding applies these to your marketing strategy, contact us.