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The Marketer's Word Bank
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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It is believed by researchers of the English language that ordinary people — people without a college education — would know close to 35,000 words. A person who has gone through and completed a university education may know and recognize between 50,000–75,000 words quite easily.

According to the same source, the English language supposedly contains the most amount of words of any other, with the Oxford Dictionary saying that the total could be between one and two million, with certainty.

We had a discussion with one who teaches literacy and writing, with an emphasis on teaching those populations that may have difficulty learning the subject. Her main point was that the learning subject could only learn, understand, use, or substitute the word if they have it in their mental word bank. If not, then the effort to do anything else is completely lost.

How cognizant are we when it comes to our (or the consumer's) mental word bank? Are we using the right words? 

Literacy, overall, in the United States has not been an issue. Yet, there are certain instances when it demands attention. In most writing and public speaking courses, it is commonly accepted that most U.S. audiences can understand communication at an eighth-grade reading level. Which, for the majority of consumers, is fine. 

But what about your audience?

Yes, for the most part, the simpler the message the better. But if your audience can understand at a deeper level, is it worth expanding our mental word bank to see what the audience can handle? When is a message too simple or too complicated?

And on the other side, if we're going too complicated, or taking the education of the audience for granted, is it not worth seeing if a simple message works better?

When we think about or research our audience, it is crucial that we use words that we know will be understood. We must speak and write as they do.

As the digital age continues to grow, and we can reach consumers faster, in more informal ways and channels, language will continue to adapt. This "digital shorthand" will establish norms, phrases, and policies that we must be able to understand, decipher, and deliver.

Are you ready for that?

Let us all continue to exercise, develop, and examine our word banks, and make sure that the words we use are not insulting or exceeding the word banks of the audiences we serve.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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