Most people’s view of linguistics is someone that knows a lot of languages. However, this is not what linguists do. Linguists study language phenomena. There exists an important link between linguistics and marketing. The University of Arizona explained the field of linguistics
Many people think that a linguist is someone who speaks many languages and works as a language teacher or as an interpreter at the United Nations. In fact, these people are more accurately called “Polyglots”. While many linguists are polyglots, the focus of linguistics is about the structure, use, and psychology of language in general… Linguistics is concerned with the nature of language and communication.
Marketing is the process of communicating a set of promises of a product or service so that the consumer buys what is being marketed. The key concept in marketing is communication. An effective communication strategy is imperative to the success of an organization. If you can’t communicate value then all is lost.
Linguistics offers many insights into marketing. Allow me to demonstrate three of the more prominent areas where hiring a linguist would greatly benefit your organization.
Pragmatics is a subfield of linguistics and semiotics that studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning.
While semantics is concerned with the literal meaning of words pragmatics is concerned with context. It relies on extra-linguistic factors such as tone, volume, hand gestures, facial expressions, contextual settings. It’s not the same intended meaning if I say “break a leg” to skateboarder rather than an actor.
We can see this clearly in this hilarious SNL sketch with Ben Affleck and Jimmy Fallon. Ben Affleck’s character made a romantic pass at Jimmy Fallon’s character’s girlfriend and is trying to apologize. You’ll notice he says “bro” many times with distinct meanings every time. He uses hand gestures, tone, volume, and facial expressions to communicate his apology.
In marketing and advertising it’s important to understand the context of what is important to your intended demographic. For example, the Subaru Outback typically show’s their cars within the context of adventure or camping. The intended demographic is obviously an adventurous type of clientele
However, putting this same car in front of a mansion would likely be perceived out of place. Context, therefore, contributes to meaning and ultimately to your brand promise.
Social linguistics is concerned with the variations of words and phrases between group and individual dynamics. Certain words and phrases have preference depending on which dynamics are used. A man will likely speak differently to an elderly woman than he would with a male his own age. A parent will talk differently to a child than they would with a teenager.
An effective communication strategy therefore includes using words and phrases that resonate with your demographic. There is a fine line in doing this. Too many words and phrases can be seen as pandering, too little means you don’t understand your demographic.
What would happen if Harley-Davidson communicated that “we are cool AF”? The message would probably not resonate with an older demographic. Therefore, a solid understanding of how your demographics communicate is important.
…the pricing of a menu item can be based purely off of its accompanying description. Words like “flavoursome” detract from the value of a food (you shouldn’t have to be reassured your dish will have flavour) while words like “succulent” instead of “moist” will add to the price.
I wrote about semiotics recently and you can view that article here but I will just recap shortly.
As human beings, we retain knowledge and memories through the use of language and symbols. The mind maps symbols and the extra-symbolic relationships amongst them to specific meanings. For example, when we experience a bear for the first time and it charges at us, we reasonably classify the symbol of the bear with danger, not innocence as with a teddy bear.
With this in mind, we have to again understand our demographic. Different symbols are interpreted in different ways. Things like color, layout, and positioning affect the perception of your brand and product/service. It’s not enough to have a professional website or brochure, it has to communicate.
Linguistics and marketing go hand in hand and it should never be understated that communication is key to your organization’s success. An effective communication strategy should include a study of your targeted demographic to understand the way in which they understand your product/service.