Speak in the customer’s language

If you want to be a bad product manager, have your messaging reflect language that makes sense to you and your competitors. Write down the words which are used during your office meetings and make sure to use those in your press releases and brochures. Look at how your competitors market their product and make sure the words you use are “cooler” and more buzz-worthy.

If you want to be a good product manager, speak in the language your customers use. Speaking in the customers’ language means two things: making sure that your language and approach resonates with the market, and making sure that you are tailoring your marketing effectively to the type of buyer/persona.

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If you’ve told family members or friends that you work in marketing, you may have received responses of chuckles and eye rolls. Have they followed up with jokes about “paradigm” and “synergy” and “world class”? Their reaction is understandable, given the sheer amount of bad product marketing that is out there in the world. Bad marketing gives marketers a bad name, but good marketing can improve the impression of marketers by increasing overall marketing effectiveness and driving companies’ success and revenues.

Too often websites, brochures, and other marketing materials are filled with jargon that only makes sense to people within the company or to industry insiders. Sure, your whole product development team might know what the acronym means, but does the customer? Does a “scalable, best-of-breed cloud-based framework leveraging cutting-edge XYZ technology” mean anything to your buyer (or even your sales team, for that matter)?

Customers don’t care about features, they care about benefits. They don’t care about whether your solution is “built on the newest JRE platform” or not, so long as it “works on all devices.” Saying that your product “addresses key government regulations” is much clearer — and more concise — than listing a handful of acronyms.

Not only do you need to talk about benefits in language the reader will understand, you also need to think about the target reader(s). For most products — especially those in business-to-business markets — there is not a single individual “customer,” and you need to address those buyer personas differently. With an enterprise IT purchase, for example, the IT manager deciding which product fits the organization’s needs the best is going to have different questions, concerns, and lingo than the finance manager approving the expenditure. In that case, the IT buyer may really want to know about the technical jargon, while the finance buyer may be more concerned about long-term maintenance costs and licensing terms.

When you address the right buyer in their terminology, it allows them to determine better whether the product addresses their needs and allows you to overcome any potential hurdles they may have in the purchase process. There are few things worse than convincing several key stakeholders that you have the right solution for them, only to be hung up on one required approver because your messaging didn’t speak their language.

The most ineffective product marketing is filled with internal jargon, overused hyperbole, and targets the wrong audience. The best product marketing connects with the customer by speaking in terms which they understand and which resonate with their needs.

By understanding the language your buyers use, and understanding the differences between your different buyer personas, you’ll not only make your marketing much more effective, but your company revenues may grow dramatically. Plus, as a side benefit, you just may change the reaction you get from family and friends.

Note: A version of this was originally published in 42 Rules for Product Marketing, along with 41 other rules contributed by leading product marketing experts.

3 thoughts on “Speak in the customer’s language

  1. Jeff, great points here–these really help build empathy with and an understanding of your customers. It really requires some great listening skills and continually asking “how would our customer say this?” I saw a great quote today on this topic that said something like “make the customer the hero of your story.” This is tough advice to follow because we’re so used to putting ourselves and our products in the spotlight, but when the shoe is on the other foot and we are the customer, that’s what we want, too. Thanks!

  2. Jeff,
    Thank you for the post. If you are a technopreneur, some times you don’t really know the customer language well and resort to jargon.

    How do you find out your customer’s language especially when you have customers from different industries for the same product?

    From your post, i also feel that speaking customer language is useful not only in marketing material but even in product usage information like help, frequently asked questions etc.

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