Hey geeks! Think everyone knows what you’re talking about? Think again.

This is a message from one geek to another. I was raised on computers as a teenager in the mid 80’s, capsule and have been on the Internet since before browser technology made it easy for everyone in the 90’s, website like this the question seems pretty straightforward: “what is a browser?” But in April, when Google staffers from the Chrome browser team asked that question of people in New York’s Times Square, they were shocked with what they found out.

Less than 8% of people interviewed knew what a browser was

It isn’t scientific at all, but it makes the point very strongly. You can hear people struggling to distinguish between a search engine, an operating system, office software, and a browser.

And the results are repeatable as you can see in this video from Rotterdam (Dutch with English commentary) – which means we also can’t dismiss the people in the Google video as just dumb Americans /  New Yorkers / etc. Dutch people are pretty smart – and Dutch Canadians even more so (editor’s note: may be some bias here).

The Googlers were trying to figure out how to get people to switch to the Google Chrome browser, but they couldn’t even start the conversation because most normal Internet-using humans don’t even know what a browser is.
To their credit, Google has now gone back to basics with a simple site called www.whatbrowser.org that breaks it  down for the average human (if they care enough to visit).

The results seem incredible to me (because I’m a geek)

As a geek, I naturally assume that because I know what a browser is, so does everyone else, right? And if they don’t, they must be uneducated, luddites, or just totally out of touch. I’m like the mechanic who assumes that everyone knows what a catalytic converter is – because we all drive cars that have them.

But it’s not true. Most people don’t know because they don’t care what the technology is called. They just want to perform their daily tasks and would prefer the technology to be as invisible as possible. 

Three problems this example highlights for branders

I coach executives and companies on sharpening their elevator pitches – 30-second verbal descriptions of their companies or products. And these are smart people too. But one of the first problems we almost always have to overcome is this:

Problem 1: We assume that our listeners know more about our subject area than they actually do.

They don’t. I think it’s because we don’t want to insult the intelligence of the listener by explaining things that seem obvious to us. So we jump straight in at the deep end, using all of the same catch phrases and jargon that we use with internal colleagues.

I catch myself doing this all the time when talking about some obscure brand strategy model, and then have to consciously take a few steps back before I lose my audience.

Problem 2: The audience doesn’t want to seem stupid, so they won’t interrupt and reveal their ignorance.

Just because they’re nodding their head doesn’t mean they get it. Find ways to figure out where they are on the learning curve and help them along it – in terms that make sense to them.

All of which leads to:

Problem 3: If your audience never gets past basic understanding, you’ll never get to the next level.

Forget about “positioning”, “marketing” and “brand awareness”. Especially forget about “sales”. If they don’t have a category for you in their brain, they’re not buying.

They probably don’t even know you exist.