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Failing to use good English is costing us sales

April 10, 2013

For the consumer, truth is made demonstrable following the personal satisfaction by categoric examination of recognisable component elements. Fail to substantiate a claim and credibility collapses. This is why integrated marketing communications are critical to commercial success. Yet many brands are let down by poor quality communication. Integration falls at the wayside of output necessity.

Image of Lord Nelson

Engage the enemy more closely! Nelson’s order is as relevant to marketers as it is at sea. Discipline of message is all

In Great Britain, and in other English-speaking countries, we are blessed with a language of fundamental power, flexibility and performance. Eloquence combined with subtlety can be used to extol the virtue of anything from a humble clout nail to a complex aero engine.

Yet many companies have little understanding of message or its fundamental significance in a world where perception is all. Many marketing teams today do not work with the power of the language. There has been a decline in the acceptance of good English and a preference for poor diction, imperfect grammar and “dumbing down”. An obsession with playing to the gallery has replaced a focus on disciplined rigour. Germany, on the other hand, does not tolerate poor quality.

Yet it is surprising that many in Britain take the view that issues such as correct English, detailed definition and fundamental quality can be ignored. Only recently, Waterstone’s felt that the apostrophe was an irrelevance and Mid Devon Council have recently followed suit. These organisations feel it is easier to cower in the shadow of ignorance and to “move with the times” than to enforce “old fashioned” values. Rubbish.

Quality and loyalty, I argue, are defined by attention to detail. We know from bitter experience how British manufacturing has suffered by lazy, surface-led marketing and has ignored the substance of fundamental product delivery. Marketing spin, like political spin, is viewed – rightly – with contempt. The test of any message, therefore, is in the consistent demonstrability of self-evident fact.

Yet managerial indiscipline leads to collapse of message. In their weakness, managers paying scant attention to detail can rot their brands from within. What use is a well-written brochure if a website is unusable? What use a well-designed website if a poorly-written email never leads a consumer there? What use any marketing collateral lest it speak the same language – in a disciplined way – as its fellow components elsewhere in the marketing mix? What use a team of marketers if they know not what they do and have no direction from management? What use a sales person who cuts price to grab the sale and ignores all other marketing message?

Discipline, says Robert Fripp, is never an end in itself, only a means to an end. So it is that discipline in marketing message requires fundamental attention to detail in order to create inherent credibility and, ultimately, sales. So it was recently that the appointment of Kent Youth’s Police and Crime Commissioner,Paris Brown, did enormous reputational damage to the recruitment practices of that police force as a result of crass communications not matched to service delivery. Self over substance, we might say, is a curse of the modern age. An indisicipline of thought process led to significant reputational damage. 

Image of George Osborne

Mockney equals mendacity? Rigour in communication is crucial if message is to be believed.

Yet message structure is also let down by message presentation. Modern politicians from the Miliband brothers to George Osborne and Ed Balls have all adopted a multi-regional “mockney” approach to diction in order to appear as “normal” rather than appear to be “out of touch”.  The result is a lack of credibility. Indeed, careful study of TV performances of these individuals and others reveals that the greater their use of “mockney”, the more likely it is that their message is uncertain at best and mendacious at worst. 

If we seek to speak in language which aims to show affinity rather than being structured to define truth then we will fail in our objectives. Such an approach is rightly seen as patronising; a classic example is the current advertising campaign for Ariel washing powder where two girls are speaking with unfeasible accents as they attempt to portray “today’s youth”. One only needs to observe the stereotypical presentation of flat-capped northerners or be-kilted ginger-haired Scotsmen to realise that this form of presentation is flawed and divisive.

Ordered, structured language – supported by packaged evidence which can be objectively assessed – leads to reader/listener conviction. Squawked claims from a soapbox do little other than to excite the basest of instincts. So it is that when we create any marketing communication it must speak in a consistent fashion so as to withstand the scrutiny of probing examination. Wherever a brand is “touched” – from strapline to sales presentation – consistency will create a much greater likelihood of success.

So marketing message – and message management – is a crucial discipline. Who is the target market? What do we offer? Why is it necessary? What will it provide? How can we prove it? If we make a claim here, are we substantiating it there? Wherever the marketing message touches the consumer – on whatever part of the customer journey – we must hold fast. Indiscipline of message will cost us sales.

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