Marketers often talk about quality, value, strategy, performance, reputation, position and brand – all of which are important concepts.
However, your president, CEO, chief financial officer, and other members of management talk about “assets,” “return on assets,” “speed,” “leverage,” and (if you work for a public company) “multiple / fixed value” and “fixed value.”
All these words form the common language of the company.
As I mentioned in my previous article (Demonstrating Marketing to Execs – Part 1), you need to translate marketing into business to get more respect for the C-suite.
But there is another problem with marketing – the main way for marketers to use marketing language.
Other marketing language issue
Each business function has its own special vocabulary, but if marketing professionals from different parts of your company define marketing differently, you will create confusion and skepticism in your company, among others.
You can see why marketers’ credibility can be undermined if marketers in two different divisions use the same words but mean different things below them. The resulting confusion becomes particularly detrimental when marketers interact with managers in other parts of their organization (such as R&D, finance, and sales) and even other companies (such as advertising agencies).
In some ways, the problem is specific to marketing. For example, languages are standardized in accounting and finance. “Net present value”, “assets and liabilities”, “cash flow statement”, etc. are all in a standardized sense. The definitions of these business areas are derived from Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).
There are no such principles in marketing. Confusion over the meanings of the terms leads to confusion in the marketing department’s strategy and how that strategy should be implemented.
For example, a marketing practitioner might say, “We put our value proposition in this product brochure.” But “value proposition” means different things to different groups and people in a company.
Your sales representative may view a value proposition as the price of a product or service relative to the price of competitive bids. The Vice President of Engineering can provide another insight into the value proposition of a product, such as how efficiently it can be produced compared to competitors’ offerings.
The same confusion arises when people use the word quality. When you say “quality” in your business, what do you mean? Product reliability? The attractiveness of a product brochure? Anything else?
Moreover, do the other leaders you discuss “quality” give the term the same meaning as you? And what about your customers: how would they define “quality”? Often, the word means something different to each customer – even more muddy water, which is a “quality” product or service.
Another confusing expression is “reputation.” For some people, reputation refers to a company’s brand capital. For others, reputation means what a brand is for. The problem is that you can have a reputation for everything: reliability, good service, or just a nice human reputation.
“Picture” is another complicated term. When thinking about a brand (such as a physical product or its logo), some drivers use an image that consumers see in their heads. Other executives talk about branding in terms of advertising. For example, an “image ad” doesn’t contain much product information; rather, it associates the product with a certain type of person or lifestyle.
So how do you avoid the problems described above?
To get started, gather your marketing team and list the marketing terms you use each day. Then reach agreed definitions.
To persuade people to invest time in the meeting, explain to them in advance the importance of refining your vocabulary. Cite the benefits of developing a common understanding of the meaning of each term, such as the generous support of the C-package for marketing initiatives or the greater willingness to provide feedback on proposed marketing strategies.
Also, think about it: Avoid using words like “value,” “quality,” and “reliability” (or choose your favorite ambiguous term) that have different meanings for different people in your business and can be interpreted broadly and often in confusing ways. Instead, use words that people across the organization can agree on their meaning.
Translating your business into business
Since they are already part of the company’s financial language, use financial terms such as “speed” and “leverage.”
Technically, “speed” means the number of times a company’s products or services are sold and replaced with a new inventory over a period of time. But your marketing activities – such as campaigns and discounts – actually increase speed. The idea of these activities is really to sell more products and services as soon as possible.
The more you can show implementations how the speed of your work increases, the more they see the link between marketing and measurable financial performance.
“Leverage” is the ability of a company to use someone else’s assets to produce cash for itself. Business language includes a variety of risk-related terms (“business risk”, “financial risk”, “risk averse”, “risk neutral”), but in our definition the word “risk” refers to the possibility that the actual return on a marketing investment differs from the expected return.
Let’s say you want to use a trademark to expand a new brand. Instead, you can say you want to amplification to enter a new market. Whenever you have assets (even intangibles) that you want to use for something else, you are dealing with leverage.
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By creating a common marketing language, you introduce effectiveness in your marketing meetings. It is equally important that you create coherent marketing strategies that everyone understands and perform as prescribed. Lastly, it’s easier for you to translate your marketing vocabulary into the business language used by your company’s top executives.
This article is adapted from the book Masters of marketing, co-authors Roy A. Young, Allen M. Weiss and David W. Stewart.
You can find Part 1 of this two-part series here. https://www.marketingprofs.com/articles/2021/44769/proving-marketing-to-execs-part-1