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Words and Context Matter

AcxiomNovember 24, 2014

Time and time again we are reminded that words matter and the context in which we use them can make a huge difference.  It is a lesson that becomes more and more important as we embrace a world of big data and sophisticated analytics.  To clarify this point, let me provide a few examples.

In a recent meeting with several business, regulators and privacy advocates, we were discussing marketing segment names and marketing messages, and what they imply to the business and to the individual.

The focus was initially on sensitive data about illnesses.  While all health related segments should be considered sensitive, there are subtle, but important differences between an individual being labeled as ‘having type II diabetes’ and ‘being interested in type II diabetes’.  The latter may be because they actually have the disease or a family member or friend suffers from the illness and the individual wants to be supportive.  However, from the marketer’s perspective, it make no difference.  If they want to advertise a new treatment for type II diabetes, they want to reach people who are in either category. 

To further refine the importance of appropriate messaging, let’s take a different example.  How would you feel if you had been the victim of domestic violence and you got the following email advertising a home security system or a class on self-defense?

“Dear Jane, because you have been a victim of domestic violence, we wanted you to be aware of our new home security system [class on self-defense], which we believe will increase your peace of mind.”

Would you react differently if the message read?

“Dear Jane, because violent crime is on the rise in many communities, we wanted to make you aware of our new home security system [class on self-defense], which will we believe will increase your peace of mind.”

While these changes may seem subtle to the marketer, they are not subtle to the individual.  The former would have completely alienated the individual while the latter may have resulted in a sale.

The bottom line is – words matter.  They matter a lot.  When we label things that involve the consumer, marketers should pause and think about how the individual we want as a loyal customer would react if approached or labeled a certain way.  If they would be offended, with just a slightly different approach or different labels we can turn the message from one that alienates to one that endears.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!