The “Non-Automatic” Toothbrush

Point of reference is a very interesting thing.  It is the cause of almost every conflict, proven by the fact that in almost every argument, fight, or war, both sides are convinced that they are right.  I mean, who would willingly die for something they felt was “wrong”?  Point of reference also has a very interesting impact on our language, and the terminology we use to describe things.

This morning, I told my son to go brush his teeth.  About a minute later, I hear his voice call to me from upstairs, “Daddy, can I use my non-automatic toothbrush?”  I chuckled but it started me thinking.  My first thought was that there was a more elegant way to say this, being “manual toothbrush”.  But upon another few seconds of contemplation I realized that the word “toothbrush” in itself should be the way to say this.  I mean “automatic” was added to describe a toothbrush that was NOT manual, so eliminating the word automatic should undo this sufficiently.  However, I soon realized I was wrong, all based on point of reference.


To a six year old boy, who had brushed with an “automatic toothbrush” for as long as he could remember, “automatic” was the de facto standard and base level expectation.  The word toothbrush in itself implies “automatic” in his mind, even when the term itself was not used.  “Non-Automatic” actually describes how his brain has to work to disassociate the two concepts from one another.

So, I know what you’re thinking. . .

“Mark, what point are you trying to make in this blog and its excessive use of “bold italics”?”

Well, it has a few implications to be sure.  We need to be conscious of the point of reference of our audiences and potential customers.  They all bring with them a point of reference that they measure your brand experience against.  This standard will vary greatly across demographics.  Boiling down those expectations to create a message that speaks to all of them, may no be easily done.  Here are three easy rules to follow when creating messaging in these situations.

1)      Reduce and simplify. 

Remember math class when dealing with fractions.  To get to the simplest form, you have to divide by the Greatest Common Factor (GCF).  Determine what your products GCFs are for your audience and use those to craft your messaging.

2)      Tell and retell. 

Tell your brand story in a way that speaks to each audience.  Reinforce key points through the use of multiple points of reference, either in repeating features in different ways, or by creating tracts for your messaging that are used in individual conversations with smaller audiences.

3)      Stay Fluid

Remember that new points of reference are just one event away.  The next smart phone, world event, or news story could have a dramatic impact on creating or changing a point of reference.  Continually assess your audience to make sure you are speaking to the best ones at any given time.

I think Abraham Lincoln had one of the best quotes on point of reference.  He knew that his personal motivations and experience greatly affected the sides he chose on issues in life, both personal and political.

Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”

In the same way, it is easier to proselytize for our brands and products when we choose to meet customer’s where they are at, in their point of reference, as opposed to trying to convert them to our own.



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