Marketing Language That Resonates

Volume 134, No. 2  - Friday, July 10, 2009

I spoke recently at an olive oil conference, Beyond Extra Virgin, at the Culinary Institute in St. Helena, CA. I was one of only three or four “marketers” in a sea of producers.

The topic was about language, obviously, one of my favorite topics. I am sharing the meat of my comments here with you.

We need to think through with care the language we use to promote our cheeses and dairy products. The difficulties companies are having with probiotics is one example. We tend to see things from within our own bubble and forget that we aren’t the ones who are the potential buyers.

In order to create effective language, you need to change your glasses and see through the eyes of the consumer, your target consumer.

Avoid Talking Like You Are Preaching To The Converted

Use listenspeak™
Marketing language is not poetry, or self-expression. It has a root and a target. Listenspeak™ is a term I coined for talking with the listener in mind.

Which consumer? To paraphrase Frank Luntz, “It’s not what you mean, but what people hear that matters.”

Ask yourself “Which Customer?”
• The 56 percent who say they buy specialty food in the US.
• The 44 percent who don’t.
• Of the 56 percent, are you targeting the 80 percent of whom buy specialty foods in supermarkets or the 20 percent of that self-define as foodies?
• Young adults? Families? Older people?
• Each requires a different use of the language to resonate.

Things They All Have In Common
Shopping for food is, or should be sensual. People buy on impulse. Selling food, especially specialty food, needs language that engages, seduces, or entertains.

Trying to sell food as medicine has yet to prove fruitful, really. I mean, is it really enough merely to live longer? As Gershwin wrote in Porgy and Bess, “You can’t call it living without wine and women, it ain’t necessarily so!” To live longer to be able to enjoy life more; now that’s more like it!

Subjective experiences like flavors are difficult to describe precisely. They require an abstract language. Wine tasters use terms like “cigar box” and “umami” that scare or disgust most people, or make them feel inadequate, because they don’t really understand them.

You should never use language so abstract it could end up in a skit on Saturday Night Live. “Darling, my wine is so deliciously umami with a hint of cigar boxes.”

That is why we have approximation, simplification: to clarify the complicated.

You need language to build trust, not fear or ridicule
Never more than five words. Long phrases don’t work for selling.

Sell The Benefits, Not The Features
You have to answer the question what’s in it for them? Consumers can’t always tell you what they want, until they see it, or how it can be used is made clear.

No one ever wrote Steve Jobs asking for a thumb-sized rectangle that holds three days worth of music, but when they saw it presented as Steve Jobs always does, they just had to have it. You probably have one too!

So, when you come up with your super boffo catch phrases, before you roll them out, to avoid wasting time and money, test them with your target audience in little ways to see if the language works. If it works, reinforce over and over again.

An old salesman pal of mine used to say, you have to keep hitting them over the head with a hammer until it gets through. You have to repeat it everywhere, in every piece of mail, on your site, and with your mouth until you are almost embarrassed to say it again, and then keep saying it some more!

Examples Of Language That Has Worked
“Hugs you back, but never offends” for a cheese that is mild but flavorful, targeted at new consumers of flavorful cheeses.

“Especially good today” for a cheese that is so ripe it will not be good tomorrow. “Go for it!™” from Nike. “The quicker picker upper” from Bounty.

Send me some examples you have seen and I’ll share them in my next column. But be careful!

Right after I saw the first national news cast about a strange new disease called Acquired Immune Deficiency, or AIDS, the station went to a break advertising a new diet plan, called the Ayds Diet Plan. The connection was unintended, but the results devastating, as you can imagine.r

Dan Strongin is managing partner and owner of Edible Solutions, a consulting company focused on helping companies making great food make a profit. He will be writing a monthly column in Cheese Reporter. Strongin can be reached via phone at (510) 224-0493, or via e-mail at


Other Strongin Articles written for Cheese Reporter

dot When Will We Ever Learn?
dot Cheese Competitions In The Context Of Marketing

dot Economy
dot Even The Best Laid Plans Go Astray
dot Root Causes: Communication
dot Partners
dot Diamond Cutting:
It's What You Don't Know That Can Hurt You
dot Integrity and Ethics
dot Pricing:  The Perceived Value
Designing the Effective Sell Sheet
Common Sense
It All Begins in The Mouth
Of Cars...

The Gathering Storm
As Our Industry Evolves, So Should Our Terminology:

Other Cheese Reporter Guest Columnists
Visit John Umhoefer
Visit Neville McNaughton

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