Matt Lerner, writing for First Round Review:

Dozens of times now in my career as an operator, investor and advisor, I’ve seen changes in a handful of words yield jaw-dropping differences in conversion.

Which words, precisely? Those that describe our offerings. Leveraging our understanding of product/market fit, Lerner describes the goal as being “language/market fit” — i.e.,

when you find the exact right words to explain your product or service to prospective customers, words that resonate with goals and struggles that are already in their brains.

The advantages of finding the right language go beyond merely improving conversion rates:

While low conversion rates are the most obvious symptom, language/market fit runs much deeper. It helps you understand and size your market, narrow in on what to build, validate demand and demonstrate traction, which can really help with hiring and fundraising. The business impact is abrupt, not gradual. It’s like picking a lock. And when it finally clicks, it’s thrilling.

The article offers examples of phrases that resonate better with potential customers, leading to increased uptake. It also provides suggestions for finding and refining the right language. Lerner argues this is “step zero” — an utmost priority for startup founders. “If you’re doing anything else,” he writes, “you’re wasting precious time.”

Alas, as the article points out, many teams (and not just in startups) consider finding the right descriptive language as mere marketing. As such, they delegate or delay the process. But crafting the language we use to describe what we do doesn’t just influence how others see our efforts: it also changes how we see them ourselves. As Lerner suggests, good phrases and terms drive internal alignment and focus. This can make all the difference.

Language is infrastructure. Anything we undertake with other people — especially anything as complex as a business — is based on a foundation of words. How we organize those words — and to what ends — makes the difference between success and failure.

There is an analogous situation with design. Many people still consider design to be about making cosmetic interventions on existing systems. Because of this, they delay involving designers in the process until the key decisions have been made. Design becomes about selecting the best lipstick color for a particular type of pig.

But designing the thing — and finding the right language to describe it — are ontological activities. The aim isn’t to make the product or service prettier, more understandable, usable, or engaging, but to define what it will be and how it will manifest in the world — to others and ourselves. It’s upfront (yet also emergent) work.

Finding Language/Market Fit: How to Make Customers Feel Like You’ve Read Their Minds | First Round Review (H/t Harry Max)