Congratulations! Those of you in the Future of Work space have not only identified a new industry or category that you and your company can sell into, but you’ve also identified a product or a service that serves a key market need, and solves the most prickly pain points of important players.
You’ve targeted potential customers. Your renegade sales team is lined up to begin selling. The horse is rearing to go.
The phrase “move fast and break things” coined by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg is commonly repeated in the offices (or these days more likely, co-working spaces) of many a startup. But according to linguist Jeffrey Punske, director of undergraduate studies in Linguistics at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, it’s worth pumping the brakes—or at least relying on an anti-lock brake system—when on the precipice of selling into a new category in order to deeply examine the specific terminology used.
Doing so will help customers better understand your product, enable members of your company to be on the same page while communicating about vital business decisions, and stand at the forefront of defining a new industry. Here’s three tips to help you gain traction.
1. Keep It Simple
Is your job title “Atomization Specialist,” “Challenge Architect,” “Sales Team Soothsayer” or some other similarly confusing mashup of names? Chances are your team needs to simplify the language within your company. Complicating your business’ internal terminology may alienate potential clients, and even place stress on employees trying to figure out their career paths.
Generic language, says Punske, can often be more clarifying than complicated when defining unfamiliar and even quirky-sounding terminology. “Just as a unique thing is best described with a unique word, a generic thing is best described with a generic word,” says Punske. In other words, keep customer-facing terminology easily understandable to better communicate what aspects of the business your sales team works on.
2. Take the Sense-ibility Test
Sure, the agreed-upon terminology your colleagues use in meetings every day make sense to your team … but what about to your mainstream audience?
There’s a key way to test if your company’s language conventions make sense to everyday people: ask them. “One simple way to see if your language is mainstream is just to ask people what any certain terms mean to them,” says Punske. “Ask a range of both individuals and groups what these terms feel like, if they have a negative or positive context, and if they’re being used in the way they would expect them to be used.”
Punske adds that modern social media tools can enable businesses to conduct what linguists call a “corporate search,” meaning a study of a large array of naturally occurring language, and look for specific usage patterns. These practices will help you understand if the terms specific to your industry and business make sense to a broad swath of customers.
3. Launch New Terms Intelligently
Launching new terms for a new industry is often difficult, as it’s equal parts art and science to come up with optimal new word combinations. “There is a significant body of research on the sort of creation and adoption of terminologies that looks at an array of different factors,” explains Punske. “These factors include the semantic field, the sound pattern, the types of elements that would sort of relate to the type of term being used and trying to be introduced, and much more.” Myriad industries, such as the automobile industry, understand the importance of such research, and typically hire linguists when creating new products. (Who else would make up names such as Impreza, Corrolla and Elantra?)
One tactic to help consumers understand terms better is to craft “association anchors” in more recognizable words. For example, we at Open Assembly often use the term “open talent.” As both of these words have a positive connotation as opposed to “closed” and … should I say it? … “untalented,” this helps “anchor” our fledgling industry in an upbeat, confident and hopeful tone.
Let’s keep the momentum going.