A Few Words

Elanex GlobalNote | Communicating in Shampoo Language

Posted by Donald J. Plumley, CEO on Jan 21, 2015 11:49:42 AM



​Communicating with your employees (or customers) in English only? Take a lesson from your shampoo bottle.

Why do shampoo bottles from the UK sold in Denmark, a country with very high levels of English fluency, have instructions in Danish? Robert Lane Greene of the Economist mentioned in a talk I attended this is because marketers want to communicate with consumers as directly as possible without the extra mental processing effort*. For Danes, the instructions, “rinse and repeat” are quickly and easily understood with very little “mental cost” when written in Danish. The goal of the marketer is to build an emotional connection to their brand. They also want to reduce hurdles to adoption – even if its only the mental processing time of a bilingual customer.




In the US, there are over 37 million Hispanic speakers and the number of non-native speakers in other languages is growing fast. While global corporations have long embraced the benefits (and challenges) of a multilingual workforce, all companies face a variety of hurdles communicating effectively with their employees in various languages. So many simply don’t, or don’t do much.

So how are shampoo and the multilingual workforce connected? 

Employee communication - everything from monthly newsletters to training materials to health and safety instructions - traditionally happens in English. If the workforce were asked, “would you prefer to have communication in another language,” many would answer “no preference,” leading to the potentially incorrect conclusion that English is sufficient.  Why? Many simply do not want to admit lack of confidence in the language of the company. In the recent US Census, 24% of those that speak another language at home claim to speak English “not well” or “not well at all."**  

With an increasingly diverse customer base, there are obvious advantages to a multilingual workforce. Delivering employee communication in the languages of the workforce helps reinforce the emotional connection with your team. Considering the value of safety instructions or training materials, take a lesson from your shampoo bottle. Then rinse and repeat.


* This is based on research by Daniel Kahneman describing how much less effort it takes to connect with people in their native language. This is known as System 1 versus System 2 in his book, “Thinking Fast and Slow

** As Common Sense Advisory has noted in "Can't Read, Won't Buy", the comfort one’s native language provides is even more pronounced when it comes to customers’ purchase behavior.  

Topics: Global Consumers, Employee Communication and HR

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