Lost in translation

Getting to know your customers and how they talk is important. I began learning this lesson in my first year of university when I went to a pirate party dressed as a software pirate. I scrawled ‘photoshop’ on blank CDs and hung them around my neck. I thought it was pretty funny but no-one else did. One girl who apparently didn’t make the connection stated “That’s not piracy, that’s just copying.” Whatever. I went back to my room to sulk. Another time I went to a hip-hop party as a B-Boy. “What’s a bee boy?” they asked while peering at me through their Kanye West shades.

The problem was that I was a little older than the other students. I’d deferred my place a few times because I was learning to earn money, be proper and wear a tie. In those few short years the world had moved on and I was confused to discover that much of the time no-one knew what I was speaking about. I was still listening to rave music while they were fans of ‘nu rave’; I’d gone from being the youngest person wherever I worked to the oldest person in halls. In a bid to demonstrate my cultural awareness I once tried to recreate a scene from ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of here’ which had recently started airing. It involved moths. People didn’t like it.

Back to reality

After a couple more years I graduated and moved on and all of a sudden I was back amongst people I had things in common with. Once again I felt like a part of society rather than a social outcast. It’s exactly the same in business, if you’ve nothing in common with your potential customers you’re going to struggle to make connections. But find an audience which understands your values and you’ll be seen as a supportive business partner or even friend rather than an irrelevant organisation. When customers feel a connection with you they’ll actually want to buy your product because it’s genuinely helpful or desirable.

Getting to know your customers

So how can you make sure that you’re speaking the same language as your potential customers? Start by writing down everything you know about them. How old are they, where do they work, what do they do for fun, what’s important to them and so on. What kind of language do they use? There are probably terms you use in your business that mean very little to your customers. Whenever you refer to such things on your website try to use the words your customers would use, or provide a link to an easily understood definition. As an example I avoid saying ‘development framework’ opting instead for the less specific but much friendlier ‘website code’. You might also like to create a set of profiles of typical customers to help you make sure your website and marketing are aimed at the right people.

I’d love to know if you have any advice for making sure you use the right language when talking to customers. Have you ever missed the mark like I did at uni? Leave me a comment below or let me know on Twitter.