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Making Sure Words Communicate

  |  January 23, 2001   |  Comments

If you've ever seen Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" you know that even familiar words can lead to miscommunication. This is funny in a comic routine. But it's not so funny when it happens in real life.

If you've ever seen Abbott and Costello's comedy routine "Who's on First?" you know that the use of familiar words can sometimes lead to miscommunication. It's funny when comedians play at misunderstanding. But it's not so funny when professionals from X department in a company really don't understand what professionals in Y department are talking about, even if the Y professionals think they're being perfectly clear.

Some people like to point out how techies create new meanings for words and how that confuses nontechnical people. For instance, a "search engine" or "personalization engine" is a piece of software; however, most dictionaries say an "engine" is a physical machine. Times change, and words need to change, too. So it's not surprising that new technology results in new meanings for words.

While we are getting used to new meanings for old words, techies have also given us confusing processes. What's the first thing you do to shut down a computer running Microsoft Windows? Click "Start."

In our business techies aren't the only ones to originate confusion and miscommunication. Marketers have created their own buzzwords and confusing phrases.

I have been following several online discussions about the meaning of "branding." Some marketers say a brand is basically the name or logo that distinguishes one company's product from a competitor's. Other marketers take it a step further by including in the brand the whole customer experience with the product.

This is more than a semantic exercise because the meanings of these words help define job descriptions and responsibilities within a company.

Even the word "marketing" has several definitions.

Most college marketing programs teach students that marketers are involved in market research, marketing communications, sales, and distribution. However, many companies treat marketing as just marketing communications and create a separate department for sales. And we wonder why a company's marketing message is different from what salespeople tell customers!

In the area of Internet marketing, we face a number of potentially confusing terms as well.

Take "relationship marketing" and "one-to-one marketing." These phrases include words that are commonly used to describe what goes on between people. So how can they be used to describe a company or a company's web site?

A company is its people. Products can't be manufactured, advertised, or sold without the people who make up a company. This means that when a customer has a relationship with a company through its marketing activities, a true human relationship exists. The relationship is between the customer and the company's people who create the brand, make the product, close the sale, and ship the package to the customer.

Words, graphics, and photographs are the tools used to communicate with customers, and a web site is one way to deliver that message. We need to choose our words carefully, sometimes explaining what those words mean to avoid the problem humorously illustrated by "Who's on First?"

However, we need to strive for more than just clear communication. We need to be open to new tools and techniques for creating and nurturing a relationship between a company's employees and its customers.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cliff Allen

Cliff Allen is President of Coravue, a company that provides content management software and application service provider (ASP) hosting for Web and email. Allen is coauthor of three books about Internet marketing, including the "One-to-One Web Marketing, Second Edition" (John Wiley & Sons, 2001).

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