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By Lucy Siegel | January 13, 2021

The rapid advance of digital communications is a wellspring of new marketing terms, but not the only one. Shifts in business philosophy, including new ideas arising from research, give birth to terminology to express those ideas. Here are a few recent communications terms that reflect both types of parentage: digital advances and shifts in business philosophy.

Purpose-driven communication

Purpose-driven communication refers to brands’ communication of their values and their positions on societal issues. This concept is often confused with CSR – corporate social responsibility. There’s a big difference between the two. According to Investopedia, “By practicing corporate social responsibility, also called corporate citizenship, companies can be conscious of the kind of impact they are having on all aspects of society, including economic, social, and environmental. To engage in CSR means that, in the ordinary course of business, a company is operating in ways that enhance society and the environment, instead of contributing negatively to them.” Purpose-driven communication is somewhat like having and working towards a mission. But a mission is a goal, whereas purpose is an organization’s reasons for having that goal, reasons other than earning profits. Using purpose-driven communications, an organization lets its stakeholders know why it exists and why it does what it does.

Research has shown that many consumers, especially millennials, favor brands that have a purpose and will switch allegiance to support a brand with a purpose. Deloitte’s recent Global Millennial Survey 2020 backs that up. The survey report says that “…38% of millennnials surveyed said they had initiated or deepened their relationships with businesses whose products…and services have a positive impact on the environment and a third had done the same with companies that achieve a balance between doing good and making a profit…” The survey results also indicated that millennials punish companies they consider to be harming the environment by lessening their business relationships with them.

An example of purpose-driven communication is the story a Canadian tech company tells about its founding. The company, ecobee, was the first to develop “smart” thermostats. The company wanted to help people save energy on heating and cooling without reducing their comfort and to help the planet at the same time by using less fuel. Ecobee realized old-fashioned programmable thermostats were so challenging to use that people rarely programmed them. The result was a lot of wasted energy. They decided to develop internet-connected thermostats that homeowners could turn up or down with the touch of a finger on a smartphone app, whether they were at home or suddenly remembered when halfway around the world that they’d forgotten to turn the heat down.

Linguistic Mirroring

Linguistic mirroring means using the same way of speaking – tone, body language, facial expressions, and phrasing – as the person to whom you are talking. The purpose is to make that person more comfortable, so they’ll hear what you’re trying to communicate to them better. You can use linguistic mirroring in negotiation, presentations, and networking to win someone over to your point of view.

In a December 8, 2020 Harvard Business Review article by Maxim Sytch and and Yong H. Kim, the authors discuss their recent research on this topic. They determined that when someone has a pre-existing relationship with the person to whom they are speaking, they can use the insight gained from knowing and observing that person to tailor their own messages. For example, suppose you are giving a marketing presentation to a prospective client and have seen from prior conversations that the individual speaks very formally and logically. If you mirror that way of talking, you will have more influence with that person. On the other hand, if the prospective client speaks very informally, you will be more persuasive if you do the same. According to the authors, “When you mirror your counterpart’s preferred communication style, they’re likely to find you more convincing — so being familiar with whoever will be evaluating you can give you a significant advantage.”

Variable tags/personalization tokens/merge tags

A variable tag is an email marketing term used in marketing automation. It refers to a small piece of coding that personalizes customer information when added to an email template. It serves to gather information from the records in a customer database. Different marketing automation providers have their own names for this tag. For example, Hubspot refers to them as personalization tokens and Mailchimp refers to them as merge tags.

An email campaign can address recipients personally by name and refer to their actual company names in the email by using a tag. Even subject lines can be tailored to the recipient. For example, an email to a website visitor who has never purchased anything but has just provided contact information to download information can use the subject line, “Mike, here’s a 10% off coupon for first-time buyers.” An email to a site visitor who bought something in the past can read, “Mike, welcome back to – shop our sale today.”

Research has shown that personalized emails are more successful than those that are not. A 2018 email marketing study in the journal Marketing Science reported that “adding the name of the … recipient to the email’s subject line increased the probability of the recipient opening it by 20% (from 9.05% to 10.80%), which translated to an increase in sales’ leads by 31% (from 0.39% to 0.51%) and a reduction in the number of individuals unsubscribing from the email campaign by 17%.”

Email marketers don’t need to know how to code to insert tags when using marketing automation companies such as Hubspot, Marketo, and Pardot; they can select a field choice from a pop-up menu.

Data-driven marketing

It used to be difficult, if not impossible, to provide data to quantify public relations results. In an effort to do so, PR practitioners used to quantify the amount of media coverage that resulted from their work and compare the PR cost to obtain that coverage to the cost of the same amount of space or air time of paid advertising. For many years, that was the only measure of PR success. Since media relations was less expensive than advertising, the PR team would invariably point out better return-on-investment than advertising expenditures.

There are several compelling reasons not to use this method, however. First, public relations provides much more than media coverage. PR counseling can make a huge difference in an organization’s success, but media coverage may not capture that at all. For example, successful crisis management often results in less, not more, media exposure. Secondly, the quality of media coverage is more critical in judging PR results than the quantity. Thirdly, using the costs of advertising in calculating PR success is mixing apples and oranges.

The measurement of PR success has become much more sophisticated over the years. Results measured include not just the output from public relations (such as the amount of media coverage or the number of people who attend a PR event), but most importantly, how well the PR outcomes meet the goals set in the beginning.

Before the digital age, to assess media coverage quality, we used to create spreadsheets with various factors to consider in weighing the value of each piece of coverage: the size of the audience that potentially saw the coverage, the placement of the coverage (for example, a front page print article is much more valuable than an article buried inside a publication); the tone of the coverage, from highly positive to highly negative; the length of the coverage; etc. We assigned a lower-level professional to fill in this spreadsheet manually for each piece of media coverage. In this way, we generated an objective numerical score for the success of a media relations campaign. However, the time it took to do this was usually disproportionate to the budget for PR. The first step towards upgrading this spreadsheet system was the development of measurement software by PR service companies. That sped up the process. The next step was the availability of software that read the coverage and automatically scored its tone (albeit not that well in its early years). However, there was still a big gap between even the most positive media coverage and its connection to PR outcomes – the reasons why a company invested in PR in the first place, such as a better company reputation or more sales leads. This gap often led marketing executives to comment that, while the media coverage was great, there was no evidence that it moved the needle on sales or brand reputation.

However, over the last five to ten years, internet technology improvements have provided the ability to collect and analyze data about consumer engagement. That data provides the ability to predict and track consumer behavior. In turn, that has provided the basis for developing marketing goals and strategies and the ability to adjust them continually according to the data. Data-driven marketing is the term marketers use to describe the process of gaining insights and seeing “trends based on in-depth analysis informed by numbers,” as Wikipedia puts it. Today, PR success can be measured using software to track people’s online actions after their exposure to public relations content.

In closing

We can count on a big crop of new marketing terms growing out of the continual stream of new technology changes coming our way. The current bizarre COVID-19 environment that forces most of us to stay home pretty much all the time has led to a surge in consumer internet use and online shopping that may yield some fresh marketing insights and yet more new marketing terms.