Lost in translation: The problem with inconsistent language in marketing
Inconsistent language in B2B marketing is becoming a growing hurdle for collaboration.
I attended a workshop recently that brought together members of different marketing functions to train them on ABM. The task was simple enough: Act as the agency and put together an ABM brief. We didn’t have any trouble understanding the assignment. We just couldn’t seem to speak the same language.
We were discussing the same topics and working toward the same goal. But the variations in how each of us used established B2B marketing terms made collaboration harder. And so, it got me thinking. How often have you sat in a meeting and understood what someone has said but not what they’ve meant? Sure, you understand that impressions measure how many times someone’s seen your ad. But why does it matter? How does it contribute to revenue growth and the overall performance of the campaign? What does it mean to me?
I was reminded of when we were learning a foreign language in school. You could try directly translating a sentence to English, but chances are it wouldn’t make much sense. A translation would only add up when you understood its grammatical and syntactical context. So, if we (no matter how humorously) consider B2B marketing a language of its own, why aren’t we as rigorous in policing our use of terminology?
In the past, B2B marketing departments were seen as single-focus, cost center arms of a business. Since then, the Marketing remit has grown considerably. Tools and technology allow us to work on everything from insights and analytics to bespoke, hyper-personalized 1:1 ABM programs. Sales and Marketing alignment is helping prove our contribution to the bottom line. And we’re finally becoming a revenue center.
But I think there’s a catch. The same increased responsibilities that allow us to connect our marketing activity to revenue have made the language we use more inconsistent. Teams are more specialized than ever. And the size of the marketing department has expanded massively. There are even employees in the same functions who’ve never said a word to each other.
This creates bubbles of intradepartmental dialects. Linguistic nuances that create collaborative hurdles between teams, departments, and even organizations. Time that should be spent planning, producing, and activating is lost to soul-destroying email chains and inane meetings clarifying points of uncertainty. Things I’m sure we’d all be happier without.
The effects on business
Then there are the impacts inconsistent language has on your business. Brief your teams unclearly and budget/resource that could be used more productively is squandered on multiple revisions. Chains of stakeholder questions that could have been easily avoided with greater context can result in strained working relationships. Levels of employee stress can increase out of fear of asking a question and sounding stupid. And perhaps the scariest of all – misunderstandings of key deliverables that find their way through to your final outputs.
Standardizing our use of language can help alleviate these challenges. Key performance metrics will always differ between functions. KPIs like leads generated and engagement will be valuable to your Marketing or social teams, but not Sales whose sole focus is accelerating pipeline. But it’s context that helps tie everything together.
It saves you questioning why everyone’s talking about split testing and not A/B testing (before realizing they’re the same thing an hour into the discussion). It clarifies why certain conversations are happening, sets clear expectations of what needs to be done and by whom, and breaks down siloes between departments. It stops important points of discussion from being lost in translation.
Speaking the same language
Driving revenue through a more unified marketing and sales function is becoming core to what we do. But we need to take a step back and evaluate our use of terminology. Before considering Sales and Marketing alignment, our marketing teams have to speak the same language.
Collaboration is a product of good communication. But siloes across your marketing department can stand in the way of productivity. Making a concerted effort to convey the scope and role of specific marketing functions, core metrics necessary for success, and ways of working for each team helps promote a more collaborative work culture.
It’s our responsibility to ensure we’re all on the same page before starting group projects or aligning with other branches of business. Recognizing the inconsistencies in our language and addressing them in advance helps reduce wasted time and resource. It sets us up for success by reducing the number of roadblocks in the way of our work and path to revenue growth.
Marketing departments in B2B industries will likely continue to grow. And for organizations like B2B tech enterprises, the challenges associated with inconsistent language are only exacerbated by teams spread by geo, mother tongue, and culture. Creating clear and consistent rules for the language we use as B2B marketers can help overcome these barriers, allowing us to focus on creating exceptional marketing.
Some ways forward
So, how do we create guidelines for more consistent marketing language? I won’t say I have all the answers. But I do think there needs to be a shift in employee education and training with a view to standardizing nomenclature. Glossaries that include company-specific frameworks can be a great way to provide context and meaning to your business’ use of terminology.
Pre-recorded video resources with your subject matter experts can be paired with an intranet site to offer a more interactive, always-on education and training solution. Or, better still, regular workshops across departments to promote cross-functional understanding of why terms are used at certain times.
I’d also recommend reviewing your corporate team structures to see which stakeholders have a seat at the table. Changes in how your teams communicate can only come from the top down. And a reflection on how your use of language affects those you work with, through researching communication processes/best practices or otherwise, can be a step toward fostering a more collaborative work culture.
Establishing clear definitions for common language allows us to work closer together. It breaks down barriers to collaboration and lets us focus on common business goals. If Marketing really wants to become a revenue center, we need to start speaking the same language.
Do you agree? Have you felt the impact that inconsistent language has on your business?
Let me know your thoughts by getting in touch on LinkedIn.