I should have been a linguistics major. I really love talking about languages—where they originated, how they evolved and, more than anything, the impact they have on culture and vice versa.

In Chichewa, the official language of Malawi, there is no differentiation between wanting and needing. The word “kufuna” means both simultaneously. In English, on the other hand, the distinction between these two words is evident each time we are faced with a decision to buy something.

We work with a lot of companies in a crowded space. It’s always challenging to figure out how to explain what sets a company apart without sounding like everyone else in that particular industry. You often fall into the trap of using the same words; words like innovative, savvy and cutting-edge carry strong meanings, but they begin to lose their poignancy when you hear them over and over.

The best way to talk about your business is to use language outside of the cultural context of your industry. It allows you to reframe the conversation in a way that presents a different contextual lens and, when done correctly, changes your audience’s perception.

We recently finished a research and development project for a nationwide nonprofit organization that provides education and counseling to first-time homebuyers. During the course of the project, we heard a lot of hesitation from its customers about the need for these types of services. They aren’t seen as a necessary and or desirable thing. Words like counselor and nonprofit carry cultural connotations that are negatively perceived within certain communities. This makes it difficult to get people to see the value these services can bring to the homebuying process.

So, we reframed the perspective.

Rather than projecting all the reasons we think counseling is a good thing, we talked about the topic in a different way. We compared it to Lamaze. Childbirth is a complicated process that has a major impact on your life. Lamaze prepares you for that and makes the experience more successful. That’s what homebuyer counseling and education services do for the process of buying a home.

The words you use on a daily basis mirror your cultural understanding, and your cultural understanding extends only as far as the words you know. By communicating something through metaphor or a different contextual lens, you’re no longer limited by your vocabulary. You don’t need to rely on buzzwords like agile or engaging because you can articulate your message in a completely different way. That's what will give you the advantage you need to make sure your message is heard loud and clear.

Heather Heigel

By Heather Heigel

Former Strategist

Published on June 12, 2013