Listen up (why your customers’ native tongue matters)

Tongue1 Have you ever been out in a public place, maybe enjoying coffee with a friend when all of a sudden, your ears perk up?  You hear a familiar voice and you can't help but listen for it?  Or you hear a phrase or word that trips off your own tongue on a regular basis?

It's human nature to be drawn to voices that feel familiar.  Steve Lovelace from Build a Better Box has a great post about a study from the National Academy of Sciences about how infants respond to people speaking in different languages.  The study suggests that even as young as five months, the infants recognize the tones and patterns of their native language and respond accordingly.

Customers are really just big babies.  No, I don't mean fussy.  I mean, just like the 5 month olds, they respond to their native tongue.  But all too often — we don't write that way.

Look through your own communications pieces and see if you can spot one or more of the following:

Sales speak:  "You can drive it home today!"  Okay, yours probably aren't that blatant.  But if it sounds like a slick salesman, it isn't going to fly.

Insider jargon:  Do your materials look like an eye chart with all their acronyms?  Are you sure your audience uses those same shortcuts?

Vague buzzwords:  You know the words I'm talking about.  Empower.  Paradigm.  Value add.  It's not that those concepts are bad or irrelevant to your customers.  But the words are so over-used that we assign very little meaning to them any more.  Don't talk in generalities — be concrete.

Listen to your customers for awhile.  Then, read your materials out loud.  If they don't sound like your customers talk — re-write them.  It really is that simple.  Be sure you're speaking in their native tongue. 

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4 comments on “Listen up (why your customers’ native tongue matters)

  1. Great one Drew. I wrote my client in a revised website outline recently that all the copy in the ‘services’ section will be lengthy and academic, but very conversational. Also avoiding the first person voice as much as possible.
    We’ll add in the details of how the client fits into the picture after the section is written. This is at least what I feel is going to work well for them, since their company founds itself largely on scientific management principles.

    After reading a Joe Vitale book, I completely understand a stick point about effective copy, long or short. Write as if you’re speaking directly to someone, not as if you’re addressing a big audience. The perceptual difference will have an amazing effect on your writing. I noticed it in my work after transitioning from a pure academic, sales pitchy, “I know it all and I’m going to use these big words to show you how smart I am” style……to a mixed style that included conversational techniques and also the use of similes, metaphors, and stories.

  2. Mario,

    Vitale is an excellent writer, in terms of helping someone understand the psychology of selling and copywriting.

    And the idea of writing to a specific person is a trick I’ve used for years. It helps my writing stay approachable.


  3. Charlie,

    I think it is our job to help clients reduce assumptions and pay more attention to their customers.

    That’s how they’ll learn to write in that native tongue.


  4. Howie,

    I believe it starts by being very purposeful in listening and asking questions. How do your customers ask questions? What do they ask about? Why do they ask those questions.

    If we approach it like a detective gathering clues, I think we can find out the “how” and implement it.


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