I spent the last couple of days at the Forbes CMO Summit in (mostly) sunny Southern Cal. It was a great chance to hear from a wide array of market leaders facing diverse but ultimately related challenges. I also had the chance to lead off a discussion group about the transformational (and transforming) role of the CMO. One theme that emerged in that discussion, and that carried through much of the rest of the program, was the importance of language in a world where so much of what we do rests on influence.
I described how, before seeking to influence and win over a colleague or stakeholder, I would first try to understand their agenda, their challenges and their hot-buttons. Any hope of enrolling someone in your mission rests on a foundation of empathic understanding of what’s in it for them. I described crafting my pitch in terms that would resonate with my audience.
As we got further into the discussion, we zeroed in on the power of language as leaders navigate across the enterprise to engage and build trust. One CMO who grew up in sales realized that she often brought a salesperson’s vocabulary to her discussions with marketing—and thereby failed to connect as effectively. Another CMO spoke of learning to avoid using the word “brand” when talking with the CEO—for him, the word conjured up images of pointless self-indulgent “creativity”. Instead, she spoke of “fueling future sales” and did a better job of getting his attention.
The CMO of Taco Bell, the amazing and charismatic Marisa Thalberg, told of some linguistic Jiu-Jitsu she pulled off at her previous role at Estee Lauder. In trying to sell a social media agenda to skeptical internal stakeholders, she showed a picture of Ms. Lauder surrounded by customers, helping them experience her products. Thalberg told her colleagues that Lauder was “the original social connector”, and helped them see social media and its relevance to their business in a new light.
We’re like the cobbler’s children. We spend a ton of energy on the nuances of language when executing external marketing programs, but we often forget to do the same when we’re selling internally. Make sure to understand your audience, their agenda and their linguistic triggers.
And choose your words carefully.
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