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[Review] How To Speak American


Despite the title of the book, “How to Speak American” is not about the dissecting and hypothesizing about the nuances of Southern drawl or the subtleties of New York accents; it’s really a part-sociology, part-marketing book about addressing the need for brand marketers to embrace the largely ignored – in the marketing scheme of things – “New Heartland” of the United States. Authored by Paul Jankowski, the chief strategist of Nashville-based Access Brand Strategies and a marketing professional for more than 20 years, this primer on the heartlands looks at why and how brands should pay attention to, understand and embrace this target segment.

Do you remember Season 7 of “So You Think You Can Dance” (2010) contestant Kent Boyd, the “farm boy” who hails from Wapakoneta, Ohio? And how people can’t even pronounce Wapakoneta, much less understand its inhabitants as consumers? Well, Jankowski is basically referring to heartland folks like Kent. Jankowski – a self-declared heartlander, and proud of it – writes that far too many marketers believe that if they’ve targeted the coasts, they’ve got their marketing plans covered; he believes it’s a mistake to engage the heartlands, such as those in the states of Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Louisiana and Kentucky, amongst others, the same way they do with the “more progressive” people living on the coasts. They are likely to also have preconceived, even derisive, notions that can get in the way of understanding the heartlands consumer.

“This book is about educating brand marketers about the impact of this loyal consumer segment, one that makes up about 60-percent of U.S. consumers,” Jankowski explains. “As a brand marketer, it is your responsibility to help your brand form deep, lasting relationships with Heartland consumers.”

“Advertising decisions are generally being made by people who have no connection to the consumers they’re targeting, and that’s a dangerous risk to any brand,” Jankowski adds. “Maintaining the status quo will kill a brand.  My goal is to help marketers capture this massive opportunity and restructure their branding initiatives to truly connect with New Heartland consumers.”

In the book, Jankowski shines the spotlight on the deeply-rooted core values that underpin the heartland way of life – the focus on faith, community and family. A heartlander, he asserts, tend to have very deep religious beliefs; and they are strongly connected to their families and communities. Marketing messages and campaigns that ignore, or worse, undermine such beliefs, can have undesired consequences.

How to Speak American” is really a well-penned, and beautifully put together, contemplative book of social and cultural observations on a segment of the population that’s usually ignored. Some of the advice given here not only applies to the U.S. – it’s as much Mumbai is to Jaipur, or Beijing is to Harbin. The only downside to this book is that while there’s a lot of thought that goes into dissecting the heartland consumer, one wishes there were more concrete examples and case studies that highlight effective applications of marketing to them.

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