By Ken Rosen
Hai! This Japanese word for “Yes” may be the most famous international communication error in U.S. business folklore.
The tale, of course, is Americans say “Yes” when they agree. But Japanese say “Hai” when they understand the speaker … even if they disagree. Many the proverbial American thought they had agreement with Japanese partners only to realise they were still at square one.
Pepsi hit a less famous speed bump in India in 2004. It ran an ad storyline that it, Coke, and others have run a thousand times in the U.S.: Sports team on field. Sports team thirsty. Child brings drinks. Cue music. What could be cuter, right? Except in India, this was viewed as promoting child labour. Result? Litigation and the comically non-controversial court assertion “no advertisement depicting child labour should be aired until further orders.” (Did I just see your eyes roll?)
This post is about knowing your audience enough to communicate in their language.
A story I lived: An IT client with a brilliant team wanted to sell to pharmaceutical firms. Not being the market leader (yet), it hit a roadblock with the pharma firms’ Central IT departments, which had no interest in “yet another vendor.” The vendor’s only hope: Get the attention of senior scientists, who had the power to specify a purchase – overruling Central IT.
The vendor explained to the scientists its superior specs – specs which any IT person knew would help the scientists. And the scientists? They told the vendor to talk to IT … because IT cared about “those sorts of things.”
Our role came next. We did the obvious thing: We asked the scientists what they care about. You know what they care about? Accelerating drug discovery. They care about a few other things, but they all related to was, yes, accelerating drug discovery. So we taught the fantastic reps at this vendor a bit about scientists … and drugs … and drug discovery (including the actual phrase, “drug discovery”). And we encouraged those fantastic reps to walk in the door and explain that their product accelerates drug discovery. And later, much later, they could back up that claim with specs … if the scientist cared.
Sales took off.
To be clear, every rep already knew pharmaceutical firms create drugs and that their product’s superior specs improved time to market. But they spoke in their own language, not that of their customer. So it didn’t work before they learned new language.
And then there’s the business case for social media
How about social media ROI? ROI seems to come up in every third social media discussion. A Google search for “social media ROI” gets 11.5 million hits. I haven’t read every one, but the debate goes something like this:
Fran, the financial analyst: “What’s the ROI on our social media effort?”
Sidney, the social media maven: “Hits are up. Influence is up. We’re getting traction. It’s all good!”
Fran: “Good, but what’s the R-O-I?”
Sidney: “Huh? I just told you.” (Thinking suddenly what a corporate tool Fran is.)
Fran: “I mean the number. After allocations, we spent $183,460 on social media initiatives this year. What was the return?” (Thinking, “Now I know why they stuck Sidney in marketing.”)
Sidney: “You can’t measure social media that way!”
Fran: “Well maybe YOU can’t, but you know we’re in this little recession thing? Nothing gets budgeted without ROI.”
And so the circle goes.
What’s the ROI answer? I’m sorry to sound glib, but if you talk to the finance department (and probably the CEO, for that matter), you need something resembling a numerical ROI for your social media efforts. It can be long-term, it can have caveats, it can have proxy data, heck it can even have hand waving. But if you don’t, send someone else to the meeting.
Of course, if you are talking to the social media team, your language will likely move to influence, engagement, relationships, brand loyalty and so forth. These are things you can only sometimes measure … and they are part of the path to ROI. But they are not what the finance team calls ROI. And that’s just fine. It’s a different audience.
START with what your audience cares about. How do you learn this? ASK. If you stop selling and start asking, customers will tell you their desires, fears and hopes. They actually want you to understand them.
LEARN your audience’s language. How? Usually this is automatic if you do the step above.
TRANSLATE your value into your audience’s language and structure it around what they care about. I promise you, this is not that difficult if you’ve done the two steps above. We do it every day.
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