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OPINION19 November 2018

Reassessing marketing language

Opinion UK

Phrases and terminology that are second nature to marketers do not necessarily have the same meaning for shoppers – researchers need to be careful with this when trying to measure brand health. By Helen Rose.

In marketing, we’re particularly guilty of using a variety of somewhat meaningless terms when we talk to consumers about their brand relationships. How many times have we used the phrase ‘forward-thinking’ or the word ‘premium’ when asking people about their thoughts or feelings towards a brand?

Although to marketers these expressions may seem straight-forward and clear enough, they can have an entirely different meaning to ordinary consumers. When this is the case, it’s difficult to gain an accurate understanding of brand health and how effective a brand is at achieving its aims.

We recently conducted a research project in partnership with Reach Solutions (formerly Trinity Mirror Solutions) to better understand this disconnect. What we discovered was that typical industry jargon can not only be confusing to consumers, but also understood in ways quite different to that intended.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

Perhaps surprisingly the meaning of the word ‘premium’ is underpinned by unexpected connotations within a category. Marketers using this term intend it to mean ‘high-end’ or of superior quality, but 35% of consumers in the study were likely to consider this the mark of a brand they enjoy rather than necessarily a brand of ‘higher quality’.

They were also 19% more likely to think ‘well-known’ is a trait of a premium brand. Some brands were considered by some to be premium because they were popular among peers. Clearly, there’s scope to be far more specific to extract more accurate insights.

Similarly, we found that the term ‘love’ was perhaps wrong to use when asking consumers to describe their feelings towards a brand. Only 46% of consumers would ever use it in this manner. Instead, this was a term that naturally felt more appropriate for describing family members or a favourite place, and so on.

The word love is feasibly too strong for consumers – it only ever means a strong liking in this context; people love what a brand can do for them first and foremost. For example, 55% of people ‘love’ (or strongly like) how reliable it is, or how useful it is ( 49%).

‘For people like me’ – what are we asking?

In media and marketing, there’s little agreement on who we’re referring to when saying ‘for people like me’. Some think of it in terms of demographics and others see it in terms of attitude. Consumers feel equally confused by this ambiguous question – one respondent in our study described its meaning to them as “relatable. An average British person, approachable” and another described it as “someone who belongs to a niche set of people outside the norm”. Two quite stark differences in interpretation here.

As this phrase has varied interpretations, it’s clear that people need more guidance on who brands are referring to when they say, ‘for people like me’. It would be better for marketers to focus on specific aspects of context or identity – like ‘someone my age’, for example.

What is ‘forward-thinking’?

Within the marketing profession, this phrase is heavily skewed towards a technological meaning; 30% of marketing professionals are more likely to associate the term with being ‘modern’. Although modern and innovative were indeed among some of the interpretations of consumers, it is often taken quite literally. 

We also found there to be nuances to its meaning within different categories; food and drink brands considered to be ‘forward-thinking’ sold unique products, and news and media brands were considered ‘forward-thinking’ if they were seen to be socially responsible.

It’s important to avoid sacrificing clarity for brevity when it comes to measuring brand health. Our findings show that interpretation of vague phrases can be wide ranging. Ensuring that what is being asked is properly understood comes down to removing jargon and being specific. This is the only way to harvest meaningful and valuable insight from the research.

Helen Rose is head of data, insight and analytics at the7stars