Buyer Centricity

How Not to Sell a Firetruck

Do you follow @industryjargon? It’s the marketing jargon version of #fail. Even people who understand the need to target their buyer with messages that resonate with that buyer somehow manage not to use the language of their target buyer. Instead, I see over and over again the use of language that should appear on @industryjargon.

To be truly buyer centric, you need to speak the language of your buyer. Think of it like being a translator. You take your ideas but convey them using the words that your audience understands. For example, if I was with the Pierce Manufacturing Inc. and trying to sell one of my vehicles, I would use the language of my target audience, what most people call “the fire department” – however, I would never use those words because those words are not what my target buyer uses.

firefighter language of marketing

The influencers and decision makers for Pierce vehicles work in the “fire service,” not the “fire department.” They are “firefighters” not “firemen.” If I was selling to someone like my SO, who is a firefighter and drives one particular kind of vehicle in real life, I would not call the vehicle I pitch to him a “fire truck.” I’d be sure to specify it was not a “ladder truck” but a “pumper” or a “fire engine” (because the engine carries the hose, water, and/or foam and is actually the engine that powers the pumping action of water or foam).

He told me the other day about how he was standing in front of a member of the public with a female colleague and male member of the public kept referring to “firemen.” My SO corrected him three times before he gave up. Needless to say, the guy’s request for special treatment was rejected by the “firemen” he was talking to.

However, what that guy did is essentially what many marketers do. They don’t speak in the language that resonates with the person they are trying to convince yet they still expect the other person to act in a specific way. That is not how to sell a “fire truck” to a “fireman.”

My fire service example was a highly specialized case compared to what most marketers face but that’s exactly why I used it. It’s too easy to fall into lazy traps and use internal shorthand like “leverage,” “end-to-end,” and “maximize” so on rather than take the extra time to find the perfect word. Sometimes the use marketing jargon stems from a desire to make the product/service sound sophisticated or advanced. However, the mere existence of shaming sites like @indutryjargon proves that these words do not have the value the writers seem to think they do.

That divergence becomes more exacerbated when the target buyer is in a more specialized industry like the fire service but it is really the same for all audiences. They do not want to have to translate your words into their lives. They expect you to know their lives, their words because, really, if you don’t – or you willfully chose not to use their words – how can buyers trust you to deliver a product/service that meets their needs when it’s not at all clear that you understand them and their market?

The beauty of marketing today is that we have so much data on our target audience. Everyone leaves digital fingerprints each second they are online and many of those actions allow us to learn about them. We can even track what words they find most compelling and adapt our content to reflect their preferences (i.e. email subject line testing). If you have this data, why would you not use it to improve your marketing and building credibility with your buyer and, hopefully, influencing their purchase process.

One team I recently worked with was so good at understanding their buyer (whose persona was called “Shawn”) that they called the team “Shawn is my work husband” (yes, even the guys agreed that was the best name for the team). They knew their target buyer so well that they stopped the workshop several times to say “Shawn wouldn’t care about” or “Shawn doesn’t use words like that.” It was awesome, so much so, in fact, that I nominated them for a company award, which they won because everyone else was impressed as I was.

Check out professional associations like CXPA and learn more about customer-centricty and customer experience. Think through your transformation process from the client’s point of view and use that knowledge to speak like your buyer and show them that you understand them. That alone will go a long way in building credibility in your products and services.

Comments welcome, especially if you have examples of how your organization speaks in the language of the buyer.

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