A couple of years ago, one of my clients asked me to come up with some advertising concepts for his custom publishing services. I remember telling him his customers wouldn’t know what ‘custom publishing’ is. Fast forward to last week’s call from the same client telling me the national organization for custom publishing just changed its name to Custom Content Council.
Oh, brother. Maybe the council thinks it has improved on its marketability but, on the customer end of things, my client who now wants to push ‘custom content’ as a service is in for an even more difficult sell, in my opinion.
New Words for Old Stand-Bys
That got me thinking about how some common terms and expressions have changed over the years. If you are involved in sales in any way, or even if your role simply includes discussions with clients, it is important to be able to interject some of today’s most cutting-edge buzzwords so you sound up-to-date and well-informed. While I often avoid just that strategy, preferring to use intelligent language in an effort to sound articulate and smart rather than resorting to common slang, it can be helpful to bring the discussion down to street level to put someone at ease.
Some of the words or phrases that follow are a result of cultural trends influenced by popular books, games, sports, songs, movies, TV shows and teen jargon. Although some may be considered slang, others may qualify as some of the most sophisticated and surprising language to enter our every-day lexicon. In any case, with use of today’s most current vocabulary, we can intrigue our customers and clients, impressing them with our knowledge, and inviting their curiosity, which may serve to break the ice should a friendly explanation be needed.
Over the past few decades, we’ve moved from “awesome” to “epic,” from “phony” to “disingenuous.” We no longer “analyze,” we “weigh in.” Instead of “advancing” or “improving,” we “take it to the next level.” “No problem” has become “no worries” and “stepping out” or looking for some fun (legitimate or otherwise), has evolved to the more responsible and honorable act of “stepping up” with origins from the game of baseball, as in stepping up to the plate. “Right on” (meaning right on target) has been replaced by “spot on” with roots to the game of billiards.
If something we do is worthless, in today’s language that would be described as “counterproductive.” If something is not what we’d expect that, now, is “counterintuitive.” It seems more new words will evolve using “counter,” meaning “not” or “opposite to.” “Counterintuitive” is so new it is not yet found in all dictionaries.
Back to Business
Today, even my most naive clients tell me they appreciate the “branding” I have done for them – that word is now used everywhere. In previous decades, we in the industry used to refer to that as business image, image management or corporate identity, among other similar variations. Had I used those terms back then, my clients would not have known what I was talking about.
Actually, I am happy they can grasp the concept of branding because it is key to marketing success and encompasses every aspect of one’s business outreach. It certainly makes my job easier – not needing to sell them on the necessity of addressing all aspects of business communication when new information should be offered to their market. Of course, convincing them to spend on the full effort is another hurdle altogether.
Another word that is thrown around in every article I read, every commercial I hear, and every discussion I encounter, is the word “engagement.” Our social media must be “engaging.” We must “engage” our viewers when they visit our website. And we must measure that “engagement” when assessing our success. I ask, how is this different from measuring “response”? For years, we focused on getting the coveted response, whether from direct mail, advertising or a trade show appearance, for example. Today, our ubiquitous online presence demands engagement, if not marriage. But that, in today’s lingo, would be “conversion.” Engagement, like response, is the promise of something good to come, while conversion is the climax of our efforts: the sale.
Another marketing concept that has undergone a mind-blowing evolution, is that of message delivery. But we don’t call it our message anymore. We call it our … ahem …”content.” How often do we hear, “Content is king”? And, unlike the old days, (all of five years ago), we don’t think about sending out direct mail to a few thousand recipients, which is so last week. Instead, we must think of “going viral,” posting our content on every social media platform and blog, distributing that same content via e-mail newsletter and online article and featuring it prominently on our websites. We, of course, adjust our SEO, tags and keywords accordingly, to strive for the top of the search returns in the hopes of achieving our 15 minutes of fame.
Our content now has the potential to reach a market far greater than anything we could ever have imagined in the past, at a cost embarrassing in its insignificance and staggering in its affordability. While this is possible, more often than not, the opportunity can pass us by without much of an effect. The language may have changed, but the outcome, for the most part, unfortunately has not. Marketing can be cruel.
I was reminded of this last week while glancing through the grocery flyers. There was a huge picture of blueberries with an attractive price. My husband quickly pointed out that it was only for four ounces.
Feeling sheepish that I had been momentarily tricked by the store’s ploy, drooling over the now pricey, out-of-season delicacies, I realized marketing has a way of luring you to spend on something for which you cannot or should not be splurging, manipulating buyer behavior with textual and graphic tricks of the trade. As we often see in the credits which follow movies involving questionable animal treatment, the grocery circular (and probably every marketing communication) should include a similar disclaimer: “No humans were meant to be subjected to torture as a result of the publication of this flyer.”
Are you aware that the many millions of results we receive as the outcome of our online searches are referred to as “organic,” as differentiated from paid results, which are advertising? While this description seemed a bit “counterintuitive” to me, I guess if you consider the search engine as the organ, its results are a fundamental part of that parental organ, hence “organic.” And, along those same lines, if we want to produce revenue from our e-commerce listings, websites or blogs, in today’s online lingo, that is referred to as “monetizing,” or “making money from” the Internet.
Sometimes our need for success means obtaining completion within an every-day interaction. For instance, what is it called when we telephone our bank or credit card company and are fed through a series of robo-prompts? While I am fumbling for the information I need to press or say my 395-digit account number, I find I can’t get a word in edgewise because the loquacious computer won’t come up for air. In a total abandonment of any semblance of etiquette, I am forced to rudely interrupt this monologue, blurting out responses to try to interject my answers.
In recent years, unlike the days when my mother spent her time policing my every early utterance for inaccuracies of any kind, we no longer “talk to” or “speak to” our listeners. Today, we “talk with” one another because for some reason, we’re not as selfish as we used to be. If it is considered a conversation, by definition it should have more than one participant, unless of course we make it a habit of talking to ourselves.
In this instance with the computer, however, I doubt such an experience can be described as “speaking with,” “conversing,” or least of all, “discussing.” Instead, I think I’d have to say that rather than “talking with” or even “talking to,” I am actually “yelling at” the computer. Whatever it is I am doing, I am getting awfully hot doing it, as if my normally low blood pressure has risen to a boiling point in total exasperation. After all, the reason for my call has to do with some problem with my money, certainly not something I am at ease about and the need to be stuck in telephone discourse with a computer does nothing to keep me cool. I tell myself to calm down. After all,
I can always press star to return to the previous menu of options. Or in the worst-case scenario, I can always hang up and start all over again. (Now, there’s a comforting thought!)
I find if I just resort to repeating the word “representative” to every question, whether it makes sense or not, I am finally routed to a real human being. Actually, if I just repeated the words “dog food,” I’d probably get the same result since the computer tells me it doesn’t understand my reply and will need to route me to a representative.
How Do You Spell Relief?
Now, with a human being at my service, I find I am dealing with someone with the cultural mannerisms and lingual affectations more indicative of outer Mongolia or perhaps Pluto. Not that I am discriminating. Far be it from me, an ethnically-challenged, nonsectarian, apolitical, robotic, American female workaholic to feel superior in any way to another living or non-living being. I’m just looking for a little common ground, camaraderie, perhaps even empathy if at all possible – something to which I know the computer cannot relate. (Actually, the computer and I may have more in common than I care to admit!)
Today, every business has a story to tell thanks to our new world of social media where we’ve moved beyond “schmoozing” and “mingling.” In fact, we no longer “tell all,” “let the cat out of the bag,” “spill the beans,” “bare our souls” or “open our hearts.” What we do is we “share,” representing a new magnanimous nobility we have bestowed upon ourselves as a culture. Yes, in a cosmic shift on our overall human condition, we now think of ourselves as chivalrous and altruistic, a new ingenuous, dewy-eyed society founded on generosity and benevolence, offering our every inner secret from the depths of our being.
While this concept of sharing is more reminiscent of my early years teaching toddlers the social skills necessary for success in daycare, in a sales situation, I fully appreciate the difference between saying to a potential customer: “Let me tell you something” as opposed to saying “Let me share this with you.” The former puts the customer on the defensive – he is expecting to be “told a thing or two,” while the latter makes him feel privileged and special. It is little nuances like these that can mean the difference between failing to connect and breaking a leg, so to speak. It’s all in how we communicate.
Marilyn Bontempo, president of Mid-Hudson Marketing, based in Holmes, New York, has been developing strategies for business success for more than 36 years. A professional writer and graduate of Bard College, she has won numerous awards for excellence in marketing, photography, graphics, writing and web design. As a specialist in branding, she assists many of her clients with management of their social media and public relations initiatives. In addition, she handles e-commerce for a number of online merchants not only on their own websites but also through eBay, Amazon and others. View her work at http://www.midhudsonmarketing.com.
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