On a warm, sunny spring day last year, my mom offered to take my kids to the park for lunch. Within 10 minutes of arriving, my 5-year-old son complained that he had to go to the bathroom. Grandma looked around and realized there weren’t any bathrooms to be found, so she shrugged her shoulders and pointed to a spot about 30 yards away and said, “Go behind that tree.”
A few minutes later, the boy appeared again with a second complaint — this time with his shorts around his ankles: “Grandma, I can’t find the toilet paper!”
Ah, the joys of communicating with another human being. As we all know, what is so simple and makes so much sense to one person isn’t always so simple and sensible to another. We’ve all experienced the frustration of saying something to an employee, friend or spouse and having them hear something totally different than we intended.
The reason we have these communication gaps has a lot to with what’s known as a wordprint. A wordprint is a collection of information about something or some topic in your memory. If someone says they saw a killer whale on TV, you see something in your mind that looks like a big black and white fish with a smile full of small teeth and a name like Shamu.
But a wordprint is not just a definition that only offers a physical description of something. A wordprint includes a physical description plus attaches a meaning to the word, based on our individual experiences. My wife saw a movie called Orca when she was 6 years old; ever since, her wordprint for “killer whale” has included people in boats being stalked and eaten by those big black and white fish. When we went to Sea World recently, she only agreed to attend the Shamu performance if she could sit on the back row on the aisle — so she could escape quickly if necessary. I’m not making this up.
Similarly, when my teenage son says he’s starving, it means he hasn’t eaten for three hours and he “needs” a pop tart — meanwhile, that same word probably has an entirely different meaning to the nearly 1 billion chronically malnourished people on this planet.
For me, the word “cruise” isn’t just a picture of a big boat on a brochure anymore — not since last October, anyway. Now it’s now loaded with vivid images of my kids laughing, non-stop buffet gluttony (aka eating cruise style), and the gentle rocking motion of an enormous ship. And the phrase “go to the bathroom behind that tree” evidently has two very different meanings for a 62-year-old grandma and her 5-year-old grandson.
So here’s the point: Your wordprint and somebody else’s wordprint might be very different for the exact same word or phrase. Herein lies the root of many serious communications problems — which are almost certainly showing up in your advertising.
For instance, we have a sunroom client who has innovated what they consider to be the industry’s best warranties, including four separate documents: 1) a price protection guarantee; 2) a lifetime glass replacement warranty; 3) a lifetime materials and labor warrantee; and 4) a money-back guarantee, which basically states that if the workmanship doesn’t meet certain requirements within a certain time frame, the company will tear down the sunroom and either rebuild it at their own expense or return the home to its original condition.
Sounds pretty impressive, right? When I tell contractors in my seminars about these warranties, I often get a nervous laughter, as if to say “they don’t really do that, do they?” The warranties really are pretty good — they do, in fact, protect the consumer against poor workmanship and future problems. And given the fact that not every contractor is 100 percent reliable, competent or honest, you’d think that the sunroom buying public would be clamoring to do business with this company with its excep- tional warranties.