Lost in Translation – by Jeff Hirsch

Are you speaking the same language your consumers speak? More and more, I see my job as that of translator.

It stands to reason that whatever language your consumers speak, you would want to communicate with them in that language.

But all too often, it seems that companies are speaking Greek to customers who speak English. Their message isn’t just lost in translation. It’s just lost.

Technology companies are more to blame than consumer goods companies, and understandably so. Their engineers, scientists and programmers spend months or years to bring highly complex products to life. We’re not talking about a snack here, but about serious, complex business solutions for serious business people. When those products are finally ready for market, of course they want their potential customers to know how hard they’ve worked and what they’ve succeeded in doing against great odds. They honestly believe their product will seem more special if they tell consumers every single product feature and the technology behind it.

Unfortunately, customers – even business customers – could care less. In the consumer market, what they care about is driving fast or using a sexy new kind of cell phone that provides easy access to their music, emails and the Internet. Internal combustion and arcane programming codes are the last things on their minds. And it’s no different when selling B2B.

This seems to be straightforward, and indeed, many companies boast that they are consumer, rather than technology focused. But so many companies, in consumer goods industries as well as technology, seem to miss the point.

For example, we just repositioned and developed marketing executions for a software company called Island Data. More than anything, our work was based on marketing research with their existing corporate clients and prospects.

Here was the headline on their website when we first met them:

Is your marketing ROI measurable? Are your marketing campaigns and metrics based on intuition or actual customer experience?

Does that tell you what they do? What is the main benefit? How should their customers feel when they use the software?

It was clear that Island Data had created some incredible, proprietary technology. And we learned about it in depth. We heard about algorithms, the downside of linguistic searches, word clusters, codes, attributes, themes and more. It was overwhelming and confusing to us, and that was with detailed explanations directly from the client – details that prospects could never hope to receive from an ad or even a website.

And if we didn’t get it after all that, it was not a leap of faith to consider that a huge communications barrier was significantly limiting sales. Even in a B2B environment, product benefits need to be delivered in the blink of an eye in a very compelling, emotional way.

Remarkably, Island Data was probably doing the best job of communicating with their target prospects within their competitive set. Consider the product description of one of their key competitors, taken directly from that company’s website:

Attensity’s technology is the culmination of over a decade of research in computational linguistics at the University of Utah. This research led to breakthrough software that allows computers to understand and process free-form text, offering government and commercial organizations the opportunity to leverage the vast amounts of information contained in nonstructured formats.

The technology…creates output in XML and in a structured relational data format that is fused with existing structured data for analysis. Building on its award winning, patented text extraction technology, Attensity offers an integrated Text Analytics suite that enables users to seamlessly extract facts from text using Attensity’s wide-range of statistical and linguistic extraction technologies, and then using a web-based application, further search, classify, discover and analyze text to rapidly and accurately identify issues, uncover problems and drive decisions.

Huh? I use this product why? It helps me how? Sounds like Greek to me!

I cannot vouch for Attensity’s product, but after talking to Island Data’s clients in-depth, both face-to-face and over the telephone, it was clear that Island Data was highly valuable in very tangible ways, but that it also transcended mere functionality.

But what did it all mean, and how could we take this Greek and turn it into English?

First, it was clear that these marketers, both as individuals and part of a larger corporate culture, were highly focused on the customer experience. In the words of the CEO of a chain of restaurants, “I paid dearly to acquire my customers. I need to do everything I can to hold on to them.”

Next, the real benefit of Island Data wasn’t about text mining, algorithms, or patented technology. It was about seeking order from chaos. Taking overwhelming amounts – tens of thousands of emails and other customer comments that come in every month – and making sense of them. To truly understand what customers were saying, in their own words, and having the ability to do something about it. Fast.

It also led to a very important feeling for respondents: “I’m in control.”

This premise was tested in focus groups with sophisticated B2B, Fortune 500 executives along with other positioning concepts, resulting in this very straightforward translation:

Turn mountains of customer feedback into business-building action.

It’s too early to tell how this translation will affect sales, which ironically, begs the question, “Is (our client’s) marketing ROI measurable?” But we do think that we succeeded in transforming Island Data’s communications to a customer orientation, which will indeed accelerate the sales process significantly.

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