A few months ago, Oxford Dictionaries Online made some additions that included words like “twerk,” “selfie,” “emoji,” and my personal favorite – “food baby.” Even as a twenty-something, I was surprised that these words were so widely used that they should be included in the dictionary. And while these words might be “buzzworthy” (another new word), my grandparents likely wouldn’t know what you meant if you told them to take a selfie or use an emoji. And they even have cell phones and Facebook profiles.
The point is, we as marketing communicators have to keep in mind that while some words may seem to be widely understood, not all words are mainstream, especially words that become common within certain industry communities.
Within the construction industry, for example, a variety of terms and buzzwords are being used in regard to green homes and building standards, and we’re beginning to see these phrases pop up in consumer-facing communications. But do consumers understand what the buzzwords mean? For our soon to be released Energy Pulse 2013 study, we provided a list of terms and asked respondents to check the ones they could confidently and correctly explain to a friend. At best, almost half (45%) thought they could explain an “efficient home,” but 70% or more couldn’t explain any of the other terms that are regularly being thrown at consumers.
One of the hottest topics in the green construction industry is the move toward net-zero buildings. It’s an exciting movement, but we suspected that this term, in particular, would be confusing to the general public. We asked respondents to select the right definition for “net zero,” and the results confirmed our hypothesis. Almost one-third (31%) had no clue what the term means and very few checked the correct response, “the home has zero energy costs” (11%). (Admittedly, this is a simplified definition. We know that, technically, it means the home produces as much, if not more energy than it consumes – but that seemed to be a too-complicated definition.) Almost 30% thought it meant that “the home has zero environmental impact.”
Bottom line: Take note of terms and phrases that have become a part of the jargon within your industries. Make sure you only use them in consumer-facing messaging with explanation.
And we’ll keep our fingers crossed that terms like “net zero” end up in the dictionary someday.