Posts Tagged ‘a dog is for life’

Woof woof, woof woof (Dog blog, part two)

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

I blogged before about how I had no problem with jargon. Jargon, that is, that relates to dogs. That was because I was getting a Labrador puppy and I was keen to find out all I could from the experts. And I argued how my view on dog jargon was likely to be different from the view of someone who was getting an insurance policy or a pension plan.

Well I’ve had the dog for a couple of months now. Quite hard work. Bit like having a toddler, but with sharp teeth and no nappies. We’re doing puppy training, which is really helping. It should be called owner training, though, because it’s not reasonable to expect the dog to learn English, so you have to learn Dog.

That means using physical handling and rewards, and associating those with hand signals and – eventually – vocal sounds or words.

When the slightly scary training lady told us this, it immediately reminded me of that cardinal rule of effective communication – talk in a way that means something to your audience.

If you’re trying to interest young employees in the idea of a pension plan, don’t show them pictures of old people. Especially those pictures of old people with shiny dentures and comfortable sweaters. That might be what retirement means to you, but it won’t resonate with your audience. Show them pictures of things they relate to.

If you’re trying to keep hold of a long-standing customer who’s cross about something you’ve done, don’t tell them what a great company you are and how everyone else is really satisfied with you. That might be how you like to talk about your company, but it doesn’t address the customer’s issue. Say sorry. Explain yourself. And fix it.

I don’t want to push the analogy too far, as there are an extremely large number of ways in which customers and dogs are entirely different. But as I continue trying to get my head around how to communicate with my dog, I find it useful to remember that my everyday methods of communicating with my own species are not the place to start.

It doesn’t matter how many times you say something, if you’re using your own language instead of the customer’s, they’re unlikely to take any notice.

Dog blog

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

I’m joining a club. Around one in three people in the UK are already members, so I shouldn’t feel that keyed up. But I do.

Despite a lifetime of indifference to dogs, I’ll have one in my house in a couple of weeks. A tiny black Labrador, that will soon become a large black Labrador. I came about 80% round to the idea over the last year. The final 20% was achieved by visiting some litters. To my surprise, I was bowled over by the cute little rascals, and now I can’t wait to be one of those one in three people – a dog-owner.

Like most clubs, social groups, organisations, and yes, financial service providers, dog people use some jargon. Words that are either completely unfamiliar outside the club, or have a particular meaning that sounds odd to outsiders.

‘Bitch’ is the obvious one. Whilst we all know what it means, who but a fervent dog-lover would ever say, “Yes, she’s a lovely bitch”? ‘Castration’ is another one that stops you in your tracks, but in dog land it’s just a word.

Who says ‘whelping’ or ‘spayed’? Would you know what crate training involved? I confess I didn’t know the word ‘conformation’ before but a ‘breeder’ said it to me as casually as if she’d been saying the word ‘cheese’.

Some of this jargon is odd, some is disturbing and some leaves you reaching for the OED. But I don’t mind it. In fact I quite like it. It makes me trust the speaker’s opinion and follow their advice. And I’m reading books and pamphlets and websites to learn even more about our exciting new family project so that I get it right and make the most of it.

So what’s the problem with jargon in financial services then? Why can’t customers embrace it as they  join the club of pension schemes and insurance policies? Two main reasons occur to me:

Firstly, dog-ownership is a club I want to join. When I come across jargon in pensions or insurance, it’s usually aimed at people who may need quite a lot of persuading before they sign up. No one naturally wants to buy a pension. No one gets a warm glow at the thought of insurance, despite what the TV ads suggest.

Secondly, you don’t see many door-to-door dog salesmen. Dogs sell themselves. You see the product bouncing around the park and you think, I’d like one of those. When you look into it, you find there’s a bit of jargon involved, but you still understand the product, and you’re keen to do what’s necessary to get one. If someone tried to sell you something you can’t see, and may never need, using words like ‘castration’ and ‘conformation’, you’d be off like a whippet.

Without a full understanding of the product, or a pressing desire for it, customers need the experts to explain and reassure in everyday language. This doesn’t just mean getting out the jargon-buster for a quick translation – it might take more time and care than that. And it’s not dumbing down, it’s making a connection.

Jargon is one of the reasons that one in three people have no form of emergency financial provision, such as substantial savings or life insurance. And one in three over-50s have no pension savings. I wonder if it’s the same one in three people who have dogs.

In a Manner of Speaking

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

A dog is for life not just for Christmas. But where does that leave cats? Are they to tide us over – perhaps an Easter egg substitute, a cute cuddle to replace a Valentine’s card – until it’s time to start Santa’s list all over again?

Slogans like this are all around us. The most successful ones have achieved a longer shelf life than the products they once plugged. They are used countless times every day and yet their origins are often a mystery.

Some are just old adverts which fill us with a certain amount of nostalgia. Let the Train take the Strain. We did, but what ever happened to British Rail? Up, Up and Away with TWA. I would if I could but I can’t any more. So while The Man from Del Monte says Yes, perhaps he should just Say it with Flowers. And does letting our Fingers do the Walking really make us Naughty but Nice?

Often things that sound like advertising slogans are in fact proverbs, their origins lost in time. An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away might have been thought up by the Garden of England Tourist Board yet it comes from a 19th century Welsh nursery rhyme.

Sometimes we think we’re being cool and ironic by peppering our conversation with slogans and never quite realise they are in fact something very different – and much older. When we assert that someone’s going from strength to strength or that a thing is as old as the hills, we’re really quoting the King James Bible, surely the largest single source of famous proverbs. When we talk about the Fruit of our Loins or a Fly in the Ointment, we’re, well…. you guessed it. You may describe your best friend as being the Salt of the Earth, you’d still be quoting chapter and verse. We’ve absorbed it without realising. The Writing is on the Wall and Money is the root of all Evil. I’ll stop now (or you might Give up the Ghost).

So when does a good slogan turn into a maxim or a maxim into a proverb? Does it matter? The reason we often use these phrases without really knowing where they came from, is that they are satisfyingly solid and feel true. Surely this authenticity is what all writing aspires to?