Are you talking Swahili to a Frenchman?

Updated July 5, 2013: This post was written three years ago, but it seems especially appropriate right now. In the last few days we’ve seen the successful coup by the military in Egypt. The military with the help and overwhelming support of the youth, the Millennials – ousted former Egyptian President Morsi in non-violently, in only a few days. What I find interesting is way the two apparently disparate groups (the military and the youth) communicated. It was via social media. The military posted their position and intentions on their Facebook. In other words, they communicated with their allies in their language (medium).

The famous quote by Marshall McLuhan seems especially appropriate at this time: “The medium is the message.” This is something our American President Obama should take a lesson from. Standing behind a podium on network television will not endear nor communicate with the younger generations … the social media generations.

That sounds absurd, right.  Who would try to communicate to a Frenchman in Swahili?  Actually a lot of us do the equivalent of that – a lot of the time.

Communication is essentially “getting a message through to somebody,” with, in many cases getting them to act (i.e. take out the garbage, buy my product, etc.).

I don’t understand Swahili?

Communication can be broken down into four components:

  • Language: This is self-explanatory.  If someone doesn’t linguistically understand what you’re saying … what’s the point in saying it in the first case.
  • Content: A little more tricky and the fundamental issue in marketing.  Would you market diapers to a twenty something single guy?  It actually happens all time with mass media.  The key is to get the right message to right person.  Data base marketing can be the solution to this issue.  Grab the data and structure a message to reflect the characteristics of the recipient.  You market a crib to someone who has a kid on the way.  Presentation is also crucial (when dealing with the sight sense).  For example, the graphics have to correspond to the target.  A message targeted to a twenty year old has to look radically different from one directed to an AARP member.
  • Timing: Do you market Valentine”s Day cards in July … of course not.  But what you do do is get out a message to trade show attendee concerning the product or service they looked at, and getting it out the next day.  Or if you are a hardware store – you should know, for example, your plumbing clients, so you can notify them when you get a good deal on PVC pipe so you can pass it through to them.
  • Delivery mechanism: This is easily the most overlooked of the four.  If you send out a piece mail to someone and you nailed the above three components, your in, right.  WRONG!  If you”re twenty years old, you may not even check your mail every four days.  So much for timing.  Hell, I can’t even get my daughter on the phone … a text or a Tweet, she’s on it – and on it right now.

I read a blog last year, I wish I could still find it – but let me try to paraphrase the message.  This web page designer, excited about his newest project, forwarded the link, via email, to his sixteen year old son to look at.  After two days, he asked him what he thought of latest creation.  His son hadn’t looked at it.  He didn’t even know about it. “Dad, I don’t check my email, if you want to get hold of me … text me.”

Enough said … Swahili is still not the universal language.


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3 thoughts on “Are you talking Swahili to a Frenchman?

  1. I little simplistic however very clear. I have to add that older generation (60+) also prefers texting to E-Mail. I am however an exception. Never really learned brevity.

    1. Yes I agree Vijay, it might be simplistic. But that that’s the point. Communication is about the audience not the source. Empathy is the goal here. If I even get people to think this way …. then I’ve accomplished my mission.

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