A friend of mine is a writer/editor for a company that publishes reference books and research materials. Despite my upmost respect for her as a writer, we often get into debates about grammar and whether or not commonly used phrases are proper English. She favors what you would call a descriptive philosophy of the English language. In her words:
In a descriptive philosophy of English, the language is described as it is used rather than how certain authorities prescribe it should be. In a prescriptive philosophy, the rules dictate the language. For example, our generation often says: “I’m gonna” rather than: “I’m going to” — a prescriptive grammarian would deem this incorrect, whereas a descriptive grammarian would not ascribe any right or wrong to its usage but rather would accept the language as it is spoken and adhere to the belief that language largely dictates the rules.
Whether or not she is right or wrong about this and other arguments is an ongoing debate — however, I believe that the idea of prescriptive vs. descriptive philosophies has ramifications in other areas as well. In my world this means marketing.
Marketing, whether online or off, ought to be thought of as descriptive in this same sense. Your marketing should be defined by the needs and opportunities presented from your customer base.
Chevrolet vs. Chevy
Recently, Chevrolet told its employees that they were to no longer to use the word “Chevy” in an attempt to consolidate their brand. I am not going to even try to understand their thinking on this decision. All I can come up with is “WTF?”
Not only has Chevrolet been using “Chevy” to brand themselves for years, “Chevy” is a part of its customers’ vernacular. I can’t remember the last time I heard someone refer to their Chevy as a “Chevrolet.” It just doesn’t feel right. From a number of standpoints, a case can easily be made for Chevrolet to employ the use of “Chevy” as strong branding tool:
- It has less syllables and is easier to pronounce and spell
- It’s a nickname, which often indicates a term of endearment
- It has been heavily saturated into pop-culture, including various songs
Someone obviously caught on to these things back in 1957 when they started incorporating “Chevy” branding into their television advertisement campaigns, and the two names have been synonymous ever since.
Prescription for Failure
Someone clearly forgot to remind the corporate executives at Chevrolet of the old idiom “If it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it.” Rather than continuing to run with “Chevy” and capitalizing on the familiar and trusted brand that its customers have embraced, the company is choosing to prescribe a marketing strategy that is contrary to its own success. This is a clear and obvious mistake on Chevy’s part because they are trying to conform to a rule they think ought to exist.
When there are no physical, legal, or moral ramifications to breaking a rule, why would anyone choose to continue to adhere? Especially when abiding by that rule means serious detriment to your revenue stream, reputation, or any other measure of success?
Rules Are Meant to be Broken
While there are not necessarily rules that dictate the do’s and don’ts of marketing, there does seem to be a correlation of tactics and methods used. The concept of “descriptive marketing” would say that we ought to use any method or tactic that makes it easier or better for us to market our products/services, rather than following a set method that has been predefined. While this makes sense in theory, I don’t always see it put to use in practice. I see people blindly follow rules set out by Google, not knowing the real consequences or rewards of breaking them. People following a “code of conduct” online, because “spamming” is bad and annoying — but what if it made you more money? Droves of readers follow the advice of bloggers they’ve never even met rather than doing their own testing, prodding, and problem solving. If we are fine with using the phrase “I’m gonna” because it facilitates our speech, even though it may be prescriptively incorrect, what limits us from pushing the envelope in our work, lives, and other areas?
Imagine what your conversations would look like without descriptive colloquialisms; now conversely, imagine how big your horizons could be broadened if you began to think descriptively about your marketing, branding, and vision casting. Maybe it’s time to start thinking differently. I know I’m gonna.