Knowledge Bank Blog, Shopper Communication

Speaking the Shopper’s Language

Do you speak how shoppers speak?

Have you ever sat bored and confused, as two people who work in a different industry to you, talk about work?  They are having a conversation in English, but you haven’t got a clue what they are going on about?  The discussion is full of jargon.

The dictionary definition of jargon is ‘special words or expressions used by a profession or group that are difficult for others to understand’.  A pretty good definition.

Every industry has its jargon.  Some of this is understandable.  In science, medicine or engineering there are a lot of important technical terms.  However, jargon is also a common currency in a lot of popular areas of life, as anyone who has heard football fans discuss the merits of ‘zonal versus man marking at set pieces’ will know.  There are 3 bits of jargon in that 7 word sentence.

Last week we talked about the difference between ‘internal and external measures’ and how we often measure different things to the shopper.  We also often speak in a different way.  We use a lot of language and references that a shopper would never understand.

For instance, take the shopper segmentations that are used in our industry.  They can, of course, give a deeper level of understanding of a market and help target different activities at different people.  However, they are loaded with segment names such as “Impulse Magpies”, “Healthy Harriets” or “Inventive Imogens”.  Do you know any of these people?

Or take some of the language we use when describing products or occasions.  We don’t say ‘light snacks’, instead we talk about ‘permissible treats’.  We don’t talk about ‘pudding’ we talk about a ‘sweet finish’.  Not sure how many kids are told ‘eat your carrots otherwise you are not having a sweet finish’?

And this is before we get into the acronyms and internal company speak everyone uses.

So, what can we do to avoid some of this and ensure we speak in the same way as consumers and shoppers speak?

Prioritise clarity over creativity.  The objective is not to develop the funkiest language, but to develop the clearest language.  Do you understand it?  Will the people who read it understand it?  Most importantly, would the average shopper understand it?

Provide a one sentence description of what you mean by a phrase.  In many cases we do, for good reasons, want to have more engaging language.  We may want to say ‘Reinvigorate Ready Meals’ or ‘Superior Skincare’.  That is fine.  As long as we are clear what we mean by it.  Having a one sentence description in simple, everyday language is key.  Again, the test is whether the average shopper would understand it.

Test things with people who are not as close to the issue as you.  The person who is closest to something is often the worst person to describe it.  They know too much.  Just having someone else to bounce things off is a really effective way of helping you simplify things. Often distance precedes clarity.  We find Sales & Account people can be really good at this.  They often cut to the chase and get to the essence of things quickly.

Get the right language embedded in the culture of the Business.  We spoke about this last week.  It is incredibly important.   The more jargon you use internally, the more that jargon filters its way into external communication.  Whether that is when talking to retailers or communicating with consumers or shoppers.   Indeed, one big FMCG company has started to talk about “people” not “consumers”.  That might be a good place to start.

We are not saying make the world a boring place.  Language is incredibly important and can be really helpful in landing ideas.  However, we are saying that language should be used to illuminate not complicate.

So, next time you are writing a document, sitting through a presentation, or in a meeting, ask yourself – ‘is this how I would talk if I was with a friend in a café or a pub?’  And if not, you might need to talk about it in a different way.

Feel free to forward.  Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.