Does marketing need a new lexicon?

by Nigel Hollis | June 10, 2019

The nice thing about attending a client conference as one of the speakers is that you get to hear some interesting presentations. While I am not sure that I agreed with Diego Bolson’s take on what the future will bring, I was intrigued by his belief that the language of marketing was holding companies back from making disruptive decisions.

Bolson prefaced his presentation by saying that he had changed his opinions over time and some of what he had to say might well prove to be wrong in future. Fair enough. That said, he offered a wide array of assertions and predictions which got me thinking, not least the assertion that the medium of marketing is preventing brands from being truly disruptive. In other words, the language that we use prevents us from being able to think outside the box.

Now, I have certainly suggested that budgets, processes and protocols often box us in, but I had not thought about the influence of the marketing language, other than to express distaste for the word “consumer” only to find myself forced to use it on occasion. Yes, people buy stuff, but sometimes you have to vary the word used just for the sake of variety! However, could the use of the words like “consumer”, “respondent” and “target” be limiting the scope of what we might do?

One thing is for sure, the use of words like consumer, respondent and target do tend to dehumanise the people that we should most empathise with: the people on whom we rely to buy our brands. The best way to make a sale is because the person buying the brand genuinely believes it will make their lives better in some way. So, we need to understand their lives in terms of needs, concerns, desires and more and see how our brand fits (or not). Then we can better craft the brand to meet their needs and market it more effectively.


However, given some of the macro issues that Bolson then discussed, maybe he was thinking at an even bigger level. Maybe we are boxed in by more than just the words we use but the concepts as well. Could it be that the idea of “strategy” is confining because it starts with the assumption that you have a starting context? We all (should) know that the concept of a competitive context is variable. No shampoo? Well soap will do. While brands have made good use of combining categories to gain competitive advantage, shampoo and conditioner in one bottle for instance, maybe there was an even bigger opportunity that went unrealised because it was out of context.

So, while I might disagree with Bolson that the end of the supermarket is near (particularly in Mexico where corner tiendas are still prevalent) maybe it is a good discipline to think about a world in which they did not exist. How would you market a brand? In a similar vein, I played around with a workshop exercise that asked, “If your brand has 100 percent distribution, how would you get to 120 percent?” Pizzas delivered to the beach anyone? Sometimes the barriers we set are completely artificial and exist more in our own minds than in reality.

But what do you think? Pretentious BS or is there a point here? Please share your thoughts.

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