What’s in a Word?


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Value is in the eye of the beholder. ~ Defy Gravity

Have you ever found yourself in an argument caused by a single word? Maybe it came from the comment you made on social media, or perhaps an internal corporate debate that began when a single word was taken in a different context?

Our mind contains a vast store of experiences, programs and simple instincts – all of which create our perceptions of the world around us. These perceptions create individual experiences concerning words, concepts or things.

Take a simple image in our lives. Like that snake that just crawled out from under the rock I’m sitting on. To me, it’s a big time threat, filled with evil intent and sending the urge for me to RUN. To my hiking buddy – it’s a potential playmate, filled with wonder and beauty and the urge to pick it up and admire its scaly self.

Or take a phrase from business – for example High Performance in the computing space. Five years ago High Performance was perceived by most computing buyers as big bad number crunching machines sold only to elite big data companies and our government. Today – the phrase High Performance is applied to darned near every IT infrastructure offering out there, including computing, storage, networks, applications and more. The power of that phrase has evolved (and diluted itself) over time as vendors over-used it and buyer perceptions changed based on new experiences. So what does High Performance really mean to buyers these days? That’s the rub. It’s a phrase that is perceived in many different ways – which dramatically lessens its impact in sales and marketing. It’s now become a catch-all for a variety of perceptions with significantly less impact.

Such is the power of our mind to create what we believe to be logical responses to language, images and behaviors – based on our perceptions. Perceptions vary greatly between each of us, between our cultures (business and social) and within markets and segments.

Perceptions can and will shift with experience, which creates quite the nebulous target! How do we know our words and images are triggering the perception we want in our buyers if they’re moving all the time?

Words in Business

Words and images are the key way we communicate in business. Yet every one of us – buyers and vendors alike – have our own unique impressions/perceptions associated with each of those same words and images. That’s the perfect set up for confused communication – if we assume that our buyers perceive the world, our words and images the way we do.

For decades we vendors were able to control and even manipulate the perceptions of our buyers. We could create entire belief systems around single words and phrases. That’s because we controlled the information so we controlled the perception of our words.

I used to guide clients to create words and phrases that were designed to define their value. Unique words meant unique value. We leveraged these words and phrases to carve out a differentiated space by educating the market on their “new and different” value. We created market positions and distinct value based on our unique words and phrases.

Fast forward to today, when perceptions are created by our buyers in the market – not inside our walls. We can no longer use a special word, phrase or image to create our own private perception of value in our buyers’ minds. We might pull it off for a short time – but not for long. Why?

  • Buyers are too well informed. Today’s buyers can smell pure marketing words a mile off. They have the information they need to create their own perceptions. The more we vendors try to manipulate their view of their world, the more they move on to another vendor that’s in sync with their already-in-place perceptions. Our buyers create their perceptions independent of our marketing and sales efforts. It’s our job today to plug into buyers’ perceptions and leverage them for our best results.
  • Competitors will use our words. In a nanosecond. I’m currently judging a set of entries for the Tech Trailblazers awards for technology start ups. I had to laugh as I read through my first ten vendor entries. Everyone of these ‘innovative’ startups was using the same exact words, phrases and images to substantiate their distinct value. It was like reading the same data sheet over and over again, with only the company name, product names and the order of the sentences showing any differences. If we can all use the same words – where’s the distinct communications?
  • Confusion vs. Clarity. I’ve come to realize that communicating with unique words and phrases, the ones we create in our conference rooms on whiteboards, isn’t a powerful way to engage our buyers. In fact – we stand a better chance of confusing them than we do of creating a clear perception. Why? Because we’re creating a new word or phrase that they don’t know – and that they have little motivation to learn. Chances are that word is something we think is super cool – and they think is super confusing. Remember – it’s all about them, not us. That said – if our competitors pick up that word or phrase we might just create an industry standard phrase – but by then any differentiation we’d hoped for is long gone.

Whose Perception Wins?

So with all the deltas in perceptions between us humans – how do we ever hope to communicate? The answer is pretty simple – but it requires a shift in, yes, our perceptions about marketing and sales.

Forget the idea of creating your own words as power for your business. That’s yesterday’s news and big time gravity. Instead – try the following.

  • Plug into their perceptions. Instead of spending time chatting with each other inside our corporate buildings – get out into your markets. Listen and learn to understand buyers’ perceptions that are in play today. Then leverage that knowledge to communicate clearly and compellingly. How? Use their words. Plug into their perceptions, leverage them and make it easy for your buyer to clearly understand what you’re communicating to them.
  • Let your evidence speak. Instead of spending time and dollars creating that unique phrase (which might remain unique for a few weeks if you’re lucky) let your numbers do the talking. Plug right into your buyers’ perceptions and then give them the quantitative evidence they need to clearly see your Value with facts. Quantitative evidence is less subjective than words or phrases. If you want to be clear – get quantitative.
  • Shift your own perceptions. We’re all wired to hang onto the status quo – even when that status quo isn’t good for us. One of the biggest status quos around is found in marketing content that’s focused on what we want to say instead of what matters to our buyers. By simply shifting our focus from US to THEM we can dramatically shift our perception of our company, our value and our best methods for communicating with our buyers – in their words, not ours.

The Bottom Line

Perception is an individual reality and everyone has a perception about darned near everything. Thanks to the gamut of information available today, our buyers have the power to create their own perceptions of value as it relates to their needs and situations.

If we are to successfully communicate with today’s digitally empowered buyers, we must master the art of compelling their actions based on our buyers’ perceptions and beliefs, not our own.

The simple shift toward communicating and evidencing based on our buyers’ perceptions can and will create compelling, clear communications – the first step in any great relationship.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Rebel Brown
Rebel Brown consistently challenges the status quo to deliver optimum solutions and high velocity growth for her clients. She combines the strategic expertise and tactical savvy of a global Corporate Strategy, Launch and Turnaround Expert, along with the leadership and motivational skills needed to get the job done.


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