4 quick steps towards a unified marketing vocabulary

THE GREATEST ENEMY OF COMMUNICATION IS THE ILLUSION OF IT Marketing professional share an extensive vocabulary of marketing terms. Unfort...

10 Sep 2012 23276 Views


Marketing professional share an extensive vocabulary of marketing terms. Unfortunately they don’t share common definitions for many of those terms. In day-to-day office chatter the differences don’t reveal themselves. But the minute you start trying to do any real strategic work it becomes an obstacle. This causes a lot of miscommunication and misunderstand that can burden a company’s marketing and brand development efforts.

At The Duffy Agency, we’ve tackled this problem with a pretty quick four-step process at the outset of any branding assignment.

STEP 1: Demonstrate (5 minutes)
First we demonstrate to senior managers that they do not share common definitions for most of the marketing vocabulary they use each day (e.g. words like “position”, “brand essence”, “key selling point” – even “marketing” itself). It’s pretty easy to do.

We get the group together and give them two index cards. We ask for a show of hands for anyone who works with the brand. They all raise their hands. We ask who works with Marketing. They all raise their hands. We then  ask them to define the work “brand” on one index card and the word “marketing” on the other.  We collect the cards and list all the definitions. After eight years of running this exercise in scores of companies I have yet to see any meaningful correlation between the definitions I get back from any one group. The same goes for other common marketing terms like position, marketing mix, or brand architecture.

STEP 2: Decide (5 minutes)
Once we establish that we do not share common definitions to central marketing terms we explore the impact that could be having on their organization and on its ability to achieve its marketing and brand development goals. Usually, it is acknowledged that the impact is significant enough to do something about.

STEP 3: Define (a week)
Many marketing dictionaries exist. It’s just a shame that no one of them is used in practice. Some companies have their own definitions of marketing terms written down. Usually these are larger market-focused companies like P&G. They train their marketing people in each terms meaning and proper use. For less market-focused  companies its usually an odd-ball collection of terms that people have brought with them from previous jobs. We create a custom glossary of the terms and concepts the company will need to use most. This usually involves incorporating those phrases that are entrenched, adding new terms, redefining others and eliminating scores of dysfunctional terms.

STEP 4: Disseminate (ongoing)
Changing people’s vocabulary is not an easy task. It’s also not something that is very high on most executives priority list. We have tried to make the topic more palatable by incorporating the new vocabulary in workshops focused around more interesting topics like “Getting the most from web 2.0”. Its the Mary Poppins approach (i.e. “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”). We also publish an online glossary. This can be done as a Wiki but must then be closely monitored. As follow-through we go through the company intranet to ensure the proper terminology is used.  We highlight and hyperlink all key terms on online documents so people can click and get the definition on the spot.

Is this what your marketing department sounds like? An entertaining take on gibberish from Brentsonr’s tutorial on the subject. 


Some online resources for arriving at your marketing terms (no particular order):
Monash University
American Marketing Association
Brand Channel
Westburn Publishers
University of Texas / Austin
Gloss Artist

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Sean Duffy | @brandranter
Speaker, consultant & founder of Duffy Agency, the flipped digital agency that provides accelerated growth to aspiring international brands.