June 26, 2017

When what is said is not what is meant

Sometimes language can be a blunt tool to express how you feel. The other day I heard someone use the phrase:

“Uhhh, I’ve got a migraine today. I think I need an aspirin…”

Idle migraine chat tends to grab my attention. Linzi suffers with migraines from time to time. And not the ‘I need an aspirin’ type of migraine. If only.

More like a ‘go to bed for two days and don’t look at the light’ migraine.

I can honestly say I’ve never had a migraine like that, touch wood. If I got up one morning and claimed I had a migraine, it would be like stubbing my toe and claiming I couldn’t walk.

Words and phrases are social handles to express ideas. The lady who claimed she had a migraine wasn’t wrong. I just had a different interpretation for the most appropriate label of how she was feeling.

Sometimes words do become more frequent in use – and get thrown about. Marketing is full of such words. For example:

‘Unique Selling Proposition’

The way uniqueness works in practice is wildly misunderstood. I still like Rosser Reeve’s definition of USP. According to Reeves, a ‘USP’ should be a proposition. It should offer somebody a benefit, reward or solution. It must sell – meaning it must be a proposition people want. And it must be unique. Which means that only you can offer it.

(So next time somebody tells you their USP is “great customer service”, forward them this email!)

‘Return on Investment’

Marketing attribution generally isn’t understood well enough to generate reliable ROI numbers. Often, the numbers that get thrown about are more indicative. You also have to ask: what does the person telling you the numbers have to gain from them?

Return on investment also gets confused with return on ad spend (revenue / media costs). Return on investment would also factor in costs to deliver the product; labour costs and so on. When most marketers talk about ‘ROI’, they’re actually referring to return on ad spend.

I’m reminded of a quote from Confucius:

“If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion.”

Rob Drummond

Rob Drummond runs the Maze Marketing Podcast and Maze Mastery. Rob specialises in content production, ad creation, storytelling and CRM systems. He has two published books, Magnetic Expertise and Simple Story Selling, affordable on Amazon.

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