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David Kepron

Brain Food: Talking Shop

The Language of texts, emoticons and communicating ideas to shoppers




When sales associates and customers communicate, the dialogue between them is a key milestone on the path to purchase. The exchange may be short or long, as simple as an approving look or as in-depth as an involved description of why a particular product is best for the customer.

A well-delivered validation often transforms a hesitant shopper into a committed customer through effective communication. The relationship-building piece that comes as a result of communicating in stores promotes confidence in the brand and a customer’s commitment to buy. The emotional aspect of communicating through language is key and very much in the world of the right brain. It’s not just what is said, but how it is delivered that matters.

The left brain will process the factual words, “that fits you,” and the right brain will embrace the emotionally laden “you look beautiful,” with rising intonation, an expression of sincerity and body language of approval. The second of these two messages sends more than simply the information about fit. It affirms the customer’s beauty or style aspirations and implies a host of other benefits that will come when the consumer wears the outfit in public. By a simple turn of phrase based in relational content, the customer sees herself inthe context of other women out on the town, imagines her appearance among others, feels herself to be desirable and brings out of long-term memory a wealth of other imagery about what it means for her to feel beautiful, vibrant and validated.

Words matter. Not just because of the information they convey, but moreso because of the feelings they engender in the person to whom they are directed. A comment about fit is fine, but a compliment that fills a customer with emotion makes the experience memorable.

This is the right brain in action.

By some estimates, the totality of the English language has almost one million words (while estimates vary widely, and it’s difficult to be definitive on total English word count, the Oxford English Dictionary includes entries for 171,476 words that are in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words). The way we as a culture use language and its written manifestations is changing. Thanks to email, texting, tweeting and other forms of digital communication, we are seeing an interesting evolution in a rich history of words to a simplified version that seems more like hieroglyphics than rich prose.


Today’s lexicon is under a drastic revision to a form that expresses thoughts in 140 characters, if even that many, per text. One might view the change in communication as taking a reductionist path in both written and spoken communication. But that might not be entirely true if you reframe the development of text-speak and as additional from of language (see John McWhorter’s TED talk “Txtng is killing Language. JK!!”). The question at hand is whether or not one form emerges as predominant in the way we communicate, and what effect it has on sharing ideas. Communicating in the shopping aisle will undoubtedly be affected.

As the digital world evolves, the divide in the use of language as we have known it, and that which is evolving due to the use of the technological communication, will continue to grow. English will be good to know, but the language of the younger shopper will be that of the digital world. There is something intriguingly creative about the development of a new form of communication as we see it now in youngsters fully immersed in the digital world. Truncated forms of language act as a shorthand, conveying thoughts and feelings in a more expeditious manner in a world where things move at the speed of light. While it won’t entirely go away, language as we have known it will morph to accommodate a younger generation’s new communication tools that facilitate connection through digital devices.

Digitally created text-speak and emoticons are, in some sense, a promotion of communicating in symbols or pictures more than letters and numbers. And this, by the way, is how we communicated for millennia prior to about 2000 years ago when the first fully alphabetic language was developed by the Greeks. Pictures, dance and songs were the tools we used to share our understanding of the world. They satisfied our right brain’s proclivity to understand the world that way.

Brands, as well as the shopping places created to embody them, need to keep in lockstep with the evolving ways people are sharing the stories of their lives. This changing mode of communication is fundamentally rewriting language-based communication and rewiring the brain.

In terms of right-brain engagement, picture-based, contextual-relational-emotional content of “showing and doing” retail experiences are far more effective than left-brain engagements, and they build more long-lasting body memories. People have deeper and more memorable experiences when they actively participate rather than simply hear or talk about something.

When customers use a truncated form of language, without the subtleties that our rich history of the lexicon has to offer, it begs the question of how to get the brand message from a sales associate to a customer who is not likely to be as adept at putting full sentences together as he or she might have been in the past.


Not only will the younger generation be less skilled with the use of traditional forms of language, they are likely to have shorter attention spans as well. It will be the retailers’ job both to figure out this new form of language, and provide content that is understood by the emerging shopper. If retailers use words at all, they might likely be graphically arranged to create attractive visual images.

The strategy of combining fewer words with more pictures to get the idea across is a direct play to the time-starved individual who needs the facts, quickly, as well as a younger generation for whom short text blasts and pictures are the favored form of communication. Regardless of the method of transmitting the message, accessing the emotional content within the context of the brand experience will be a key driver to promoting sales. This is independent of whether or not it is delivered through poetic manipulation of written or spoken language, short blasts of truncated phrases or pictures.

We know that more is conveyed through facial gestures, body language and the rising and falling of the voice than simply the words alone. Emotional connections to our beloved brands are largely the workings of the right side of the brain. Delightful in their effects, emotions have often been considered mere entertainment aside the true dominant left hemisphere’s calculation and linguistic ability. Nevertheless, the emotional connections customers have to brands are extraordinarily important in making shopping experiences memorable, and they are masterfully coordinated by the relational right brain.

In the coming years, the way we will do business will be very social – more right brained, emotionally connected and focused on the social network of customers that include touchpoints far beyond the sales floor. There will be an expectation that the communication of brand ideology and emotional content born out of interaction between customers will be as easy as a text punctuated with a smiley face. Fast, simple, engaging, relevant, to the point, and above all else, validating.

David Kepron is Vice President – Global Design Strategies with Marriott International. His focus is on the creation of compelling customer experiences within a unique group of Marriott brands called the “Lifestyle Collection,” including Autograph, Renaissance and Moxy hotels. As a frequently requested speaker to retailers, hoteliers and design professionals nationally and internationally, David shares his expertise on subjects ranging from consumer behaviors and trends, brain science and buying behavior, store design and visual merchandising as well as creativity and innovation. David is also author of “Retail (r)Evolution: Why Creating Right-Brain Stores will Shape the Future of Shopping in a Digitally Driven World,” published by ST Media Group Intl. and available online from ST Books. @davidkepron;




MasterClass: ‘Re-Sparkling’ Retail: Using Store Design to Build Trust, Faith and Brand Loyalty

HOW CAN WE EMPOWER and inspire senior leaders to see design as an investment for future retail growth? This session, led by retail design expert Ian Johnston from Quinine Design, explores how physical stores remain unmatched in the ability to build trust, faith, and loyalty with your customers, ultimately driving shareholder value.

Presented by:
Ian Johnston
Founder and Creative Director, Quinine Design

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