Speaking Your Market’s Language

Imagine for a second that you decided to move rural China and your dream was to set up a little cafe that specialized in serving bagels and filtered coffee.  You’re very excited about your idea, so you go through the appropriate channels to get your business license and immigration sorted out, you order the ovens, find suppliers of the essential ingredients and basically, you’re ready to go.

You have everything ready for opening day and there’s a queue outside the door on opening day waiting for you to swing the door open.

As people come in, they realize that all of your signage is in English, not Chinese and that none of your staff speaks Mandarin at all.  In fact, you’re not even charging them in Yuan, you’ve decided to only accept US Dollars.

It’s safe to say, you’re probably not going to be very successful.

That’s an extreme and somewhat absurd example, but I had a somewhat similar real-life example of this today.

I was at my usual shopping mall, Macquarie Centre, here in Sydney.  The Gap closed all of its stores in Australia and for the last two months, the old Gap store was being refitted for a JD Sports shop.
JD Sports is a UK based store that sells running shoes and sports fashionware – kind of like Foot Locker in the US or Rebel Sports here in Australia.

Today was the first time I walked by the JD Sports store at Macquarie Centre since it opened and one thing jumped out at me was the number of big signs that they have declaring themselves “The Undisputed King of Trainers”.

From a marketing perspective, declaring yourself as something is often a good move – it’s a form of “staking your claim”.  I talked about this a couple years ago in a post entitled, “What Are You Waiting For?

The upside of staking your claim is that it draws attention to you as being an expert in something and most people simply aren’t sceptical enough (or frankly care enough) to mentally challenge your claim.  So it anchors you to that position in their minds.

The downside of staking your claim is also something I talked about a couple years ago in a post called, “Staking a False Claim“.  The problem with this move is that you have to live up to it when people buy in – if you say you’re the World’s Greatest Magician, then you have set a pretty high bar for yourself.  It becomes easy to fall short with this strategy which undermines you.

So JD Sports calling themselves “The Undisputed King of Trainers” is a double-edged marketing sword.  They are memorable, but in this one particular spot at Macquarie Centre, they are in a precinct with Nike, Adidas, Foot Locker and a bunch of other sporting wear shops that will put their claims to the test quite easily, so they’ve set themselves up to potentially look stupid.

But there’s something even more fundamentally flawed with their marketing and tagline that is so stupid it is almost laughable.

Pretty much nobody in Australia refers to running shoes as “trainers”.

That’s a British thing.  We know what they mean by “trainers” in this context, but the word “trainer” is more commonly used here to mean a “personal fitness trainer” rather than a running shoe.

JD Sports has big illuminated signs everywhere declaring themselves the Undisputed King of Trainers in a country where that’s not even what the market really calls the product.

It gets worse.

Macquarie Centre is frequented by a high percentage of Asian (predominantly Chinese) migrants for whom English is a second or third language.  Introducing a British colloquialism as your tagline will be utterly lost on them – they struggle a bit with Australian colloquialisms and you’re introducing foreign ones?  Duh.

This is a business that is utterly tone deaf and stupid.

Australia is a VERY strong market for overseas fashion retailers.   Australian retailers have always had ridiculously high margins, poor competition and have delivered second rate service with a high concentration of the money going to a few below average department stores.

In the last few years, it’s been a land grab by companies like Zara, Uniqlo, H&M and others to come to Australia, set up their big stores with competitive prices and a wide selection of items and clean up.  These companies which predominantly operate in the northern hemisphere have been able to take advantage of Australia being in the southern hemisphere, thus having opposite seasons, and use this market as an inventory disposal buffer for out of season clothes in their major markets.

But they’ve all done their homework.  Most people wouldn’t have a clue that Zara is Spanish or that H&M is Swedish.  They behave like Australian retailers… Just a bit smarter and better.

Obviously, Uniqlo is Japanese, but again, their service quality, selection and pricing are so much better than Australian retailers that it “feels” Japanese in nature, so people like that about it.

But not JD Sports.

They just rocked up and decided to be the Undisputed King of Trainers.  They planted their flag less than 50 meters from Nike, Foot Locker, Adidas, Athlete’s Foot, Platypus Shoes and City Beach who all sell high-end running shoes and used a product name that most of their potential customers don’t identify with.


I give them 12 months before they close down.

The lesson here is pretty straightforward.  You need to be speaking the same language as your audience.

This is especially true if you’re just entering a new market and you’re trying to establish yourself and your business.

I’m revisiting my Sleep Apnea site for Authority Matrix as a case study.  This is a prime example of having to speak the language of your audience.  If I started talking about snoring as “sleep gurgles” and calling a CPAP Mask a “sleeping air mask” nobody would know what the hell I was talking about.

I’d instantly have no credibility.

Equally, if I talk about things like “mask rash” or “dry mouth”, the people on CPAP therapy will instantly know that I’m “one of them” because I’m speaking their language.

This is the part of niche marketing that people who aren’t “in the market” struggle with the most – sounding authentic.  The simplest way to sound authentic is to use the native language that the locals are familiar with.

Don’t set up your bagel shop in rural China and only have English menus and service staff, you won’t do well.

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