11th March 2015

Speaking My Language

Blog Michael 1


A couple of incidents this last week have got me reminiscing about my French and Linguistics courses at university. First of all, I translated a trade website from French to support an account team researching ways to grow a client’s profile on the other side of the Channel. Later in the week, I proof-read a global report to ensure it was consistently in American English, before transcribing it back into British English for release in the UK.

Last week’s work brought back pleasant memories of translation seminars, lectures in Global Englishes, hoodies, scarves, far too many espressos… However, what they helped to remind me of most of all was the importance for brands of communicating with target audiences not just in the same language, but in their own language – the tongue they use every day.

This means more than simply translating PR or marketing collateral into a foreign language, like French and German, for distribution in a key overseas market. It also means using the standard dialect of the language spoken in each country, like writing in British English for the UK market, or Canadian French for Quebec. It even means making sure you use the correct register for the target audience, such as taking a more formal, corporate tone when talking to shareholders, and a chattier, more down-to-earth approach when reaching out to young consumers.

Whether we are speaking about different tongues or dialects, sociolects (how posh we sound), or idiolects (an individual’s unique dialect), our language forms a crucial part of our identity, and even plays a key role in establishing and reinforcing relationships with the people around us.

It’s been observed by linguists, for example, that two people meeting for the first time, if they feel a rapport with each other, will begin to mimic the other’s speech patterns and vocabulary, and talk in a more familiar, colloquial register. People who dislike each other, on the other hand, will either use more formal vocabulary or even strengthen their regional dialect, seeking to distance themselves from each other. In short, friends talk alike, enemies talk gobbledegook.

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But what does this have to do with marketing, I hear you ask?

Well quite simply, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it as well. If a brand wants to build a stronger relationship with its customers, it needs to communicate using the language they use every day. If it has a number of target audiences – from different countries or regions, or from different age or social groups – then it needs to ensure that its marketing collateral is in a dialect or register that each group will relate to, all the while making sure brand messaging remains consistent.

Tailoring communications in this way will help to establish a rapport between the customer and the brand, demonstrating that it understands their wants and needs, and encouraging them to buy the business’s products or services.

Language, spoken or written, is such an important means of reaching out to other people that we can take for granted the subtlety and flexibility it offers. It’s so much more than just a communications medium, it is a vital tool in any PR and marketing campaign, helping to reinforce key brand messages and build the customer relationships that help to secure those all-important sales.

By Michael Wood, senior B2B copywriter