Language 4U?

Here we were thinking teens might abandon reading and writing in favor of visual communications, and they’ve confounded us again, turning the tables on our predictions. Contrary to expectations, this year’s sales of extracurricular books in the U.S. are up 40 percent compared to last year’s sales. Yes, Harry Potter contributed in fair measure to this increase. But the universally loved books he inhabits aren’t the only reason for this growth in children’s reading. I’ll bet you can guess the three other emerging elements of teen life that might account for the change: texting, chatting, and emailing.

These days, according to ACNielsen, teens are spending an average of 25 percent of their lives in front of computer screens. And most of the communicating they’re doing involves chatting with friends. If you are sitting in a cafe in Europe, Asia, or Australia, I guarantee you’ll hear a beep-beep within the first 30 seconds of your settling down with a coffee, the beep indicating that a text message has arrived on someone’s cell phone. Needless to say, emailing is a more popular means of communication than letter writing.

Yeah, you know all that. But what’s fascinating is the language evolution emerging from cell phone and online communications. Maybe you could call this a language revolution: It’s a completely new thing that I, and perhaps some of you, can’t “speak” fluently. But this language is destined to become common among teens across the globe. It’s a universal language in which apparently superfluous words are dropped entirely and relevant words are abbreviated almost unrecognizably. Could this developing language make everyday, offline languages obsolete to this generation of texting teens? I can certainly imagine them having trouble with conventional spelling and verbosity as online communications make up a greater percentage of their interactions.

This reductive language treatment may portend Orwellian depersonalization of language, or perhaps it represents a step in the progression toward a global communications medium. But that isn’t the subject of this article. I’m considering the topic because it’s my belief that we’ll soon see this language reflected in brand communication. There may even be cases for brands to replace their current language with the new universal language.

Now, I know this sounds extreme. Pepsi, PlayStation, Nintendo, or Abercrombie might be first in line to adjust their language. And, in reality, this shift won’t affect brands aimed at other segments of the population. However, if you’re adapting your brand’s language, you’ll need to constantly evaluate the communication performance of your site, your brochure, your annual report, and your radio ads. You’ll need, as always, to ensure synergy between your audience’s language and your brand’s speech. I’m sure you keep on top of this all the time. Language is ever changing. Or have you fallen asleep over the past many years? Have you forgotten that everything evolves — your product, your audience, and your brand?

The test to make sure your language matches is easy. Ask your current audience to email you, or chat with them on the Internet. Now compare the language you receive with the language your brand uses, and assess if your brand is really talking to your audience. You may be maintaining a perfect match between brand and consumer. But I’ll bet that some of you will be shocked to learn that while you’ve been concentrating on other aspect of your branding, your customers’ language has changed. Look carefully. The last thing you want is to be speaking a foreign language in an inappropriate tone of voice, therefore disabling your audience’s connection with your brand.


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