October 21, 2020

Seek First to Understand: How to Communicate Marketing Like a Human

A client once lamented to me that, outside of their experience in the military, they had never heard more industry-specific acronyms and jargon than when they were listening to someone explain their marketing strategy.  

That’s a problem, and it was one of the main reasons this particular client considered leaving their prior marketing agency. They didn’t feel understood. The use of acronyms like CTA and CTR or commonly used industry buzzwords like “backlink” or “meta description” sounded like gibberish to a person who just wanted to understand how all this affected their livelihood.  

In other words, they wanted to be spoken to like a human.  

How To Speak “Marketing” Like A Human

In many cases, acronyms and jargon provide a concise description of an activity for those who understand the terms. Their efficiency in communicating ideas quickly and effectively is what led them to become so prevalent in fast-paced industries like marketing. The problem occurs when we talk to someone who doesn’t understand the jargon or doesn’t want to. 

That said, here are a couple of lessons we’ve learned when speaking like a human about marketing, although these broadly apply to any industry.

1. Be Humble

An old saying often attributed to Theodore Roosevelt goes: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” By this, he means that we can use big words and have incredibly well-informed presentations, but if these don’t come from a place of love, they are just a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal in the ears of our audience. 

Remember, our listeners care most about what we can do for them. Put any ego aside and put yourself in their shoes. Ask good questions like:

Most, if not all of us, have a desire to show off our technical competence and communicate our authority, but we’d do well to remember that we have to listen to and understand our audience first before we can do these things. 

2. Be Relevant 

Boiled down, being relevant simply means talking about topics that are understood and of interest to our audience. This can most effectively be accomplished through the fine art of empathetic listening. Stephen Covey put it best when he said,

“In empathic listening you listen with your ears, but you also, and more importantly, listen with your eyes and with your heart. You listen for feeling, for meaning. You listen for behaviour. You use your right brain as well as your left. You sense, you intuit, you feel.”

Once we truly know and understand our audience, we can speak to them at their level, and we can better serve them when conveying our ideas and message. 

Depending on the listener, this might be as simple as defining a term, or it may require us to step out of our comfort zone and completely reframe the way we speak about our profession. 

3. Be Clear

The fact is that, no matter how savvy the listener, it would benefit us all to learn how to communicate more plainly. If it deserves to be communicated, it deserves to be communicated as simply and clearly as possible. Complicated words or ideas tend to alienate listeners, rather than to unite them – as evidenced by the example in the first paragraph. 

It’s said that the average American’s reading level is somewhere between 7th and 8th grade. As a test, take all the acronyms, all the buzzwords, all the jargon you use daily, and try to imagine explaining them to your middle school self. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being confused eye rolls and 10 being complete understanding, what kind of a reaction do you think you’d get? 

If you find yourself closer to 1, then you may want to focus more on clarity in your communication. An easy way to do this is to define any acronyms or niche words that you regularly use when speaking to someone outside of your industry. 

Here are just a couple of examples of how we’ve scaled our language to be more clear:

Being clear requires more thought and explanation, but it will undoubtedly improve the communication and connection with your audience. As a serendipity, explaining things simply tends to position you as an authority in your industry. 

4. Be A Guide 

In his book, Storybrand, Donald Miller taught us that every story follows a similar pattern. A hero has a problem, and then they meet a guide who gives them a plan and calls them to action, which results in success and r avoids failure. We see this pattern in everything from Shakespeare to Star Wars but, what most of us don’t realize, is that when we’re communicating information – we’re not the hero – our listener is. As such, we should position ourselves as their guide. 

In other words, when we communicate, we should focus on presenting the information that leads our hero to their desired destination. 

Where this comes to mind most for our team is during monthly reporting. It would be easy to provide our customers with a templated report of all their marketing data over the past month, but, without context, these numbers and charts are meaningless to much of our audience. As such, when we communicate the relevance of this data to their larger story, we create understanding and provide valuable insights to their desired goals. 

For example, would you rather see this?

*Average Florida website users over the last 16 days has been 7.5 users/day.

Or hear this? 

“When we first sat down at the beginning of the year, you told us that your 2020 goal was to reach 2000 new website users from Florida. You said this would provide around 60 new qualified customers per/month from the state, which would lead to a 20% increase in revenue compared to 2019. 

While we started slowly, no thanks to COVID, we’ve noticed that your website sessions from new Florida users have begun to level off at an average of about 7.5/day and increasing over the past few months. To meet your goal for the rest of the year, we need to maintain around 6 new Florida users a day, which feels very realistic given recent trends.” 

Seek First To Understand, Then Be Understood

While not exhaustive, we hope this article will encourage you to better understand and communicate with your listeners. When the message we try to convey is important, we must take the time to be humble, clear, and relevant to guide our listeners to the outcome that best serves their needs. So, while jargon can be useful for digital marketing agencies to use internally, it can be frustrating for people who don’t speak the same language. Making an effort to communicate like a human will allow you to serve your clients more effectively and allow them to serve their own customers better. Our digital marketing team is a team of people first, people who want to help you and your business grow the right way.

Chad Wolcott

Chad utilizes his diverse background in sales and marketing to help our customers win. As a Search Marketing Specialist, Chad marries his love for telling incredible digital stories and his strong focus on results to help clients increase the metrics that matter. As the son of a successful small business owner, one of his greatest passions is serving the local business community.

When not in the office you’ll find Chad spending time with his family, volunteering at church, or in the “woods and water” around Gainesville with a fishing pole, kayak paddle, shovel, or maybe even chainsaw in hand. Chad has a love for the outdoors and would love to talk your ear off about subjects like horticulture and agroforestry, if prompted.