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Purpose of paper: Evaluating the Communication and Critical Thinking in Scholarly Articles

This assignment is three- fold: first you will demonstrate your ability to use the Microsoft Office Word software; second you will demonstrate your ability to research in the library; third you will demonstrate your ability to evaluate the research based on this week’s learning. Instructions: From the KU online library’s ProQuest database, locate 2 recent (2015 or later) scholarly peer-reviewed journal articles on business communication. Summarize the articles and evaluate them based on communication skills you have learned this week. How well did the authors’ communicate their research? What did they do well? What needed improvement? Support your analysis.

Security and Communication Networks
Volume 2022, Article ID 9809952, 9 pages
Research Article
An Intelligent Teaching Strategy of Cross-Cultural Business
Communication Course Based on Big Data
Yali Gao
and Faiza Latif
Xianda College of Economics & Humanities, Shanghai International Studies University, Shanghai 200083, China
Department of Business, University of Central Punjab Lahore, Lahore, Pakistan
Correspondence should be addressed to Faiza Latif; faiza_latif@ucp.edu.pk
Received 8 January 2022; Revised 19 January 2022; Accepted 10 February 2022; Published 11 March 2022
Academic Editor: Muhammad Arif
Copyright © 2022 Yali Gao and Faiza Latif. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution
License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is
properly cited.
The Internet’s growth has opened up new avenues for educational reform, and educational informatization has shifted the
traditional classroom-teaching model. Teachers’ teaching techniques have changed dramatically because of the introduction of a
variety of new mobile intelligent terminals to the campus and classroom. This paper examines the design content of intelligent
teaching methods against the backdrop of big data, using a cross-cultural business communication course as an example to reform
the classroom-teaching mode, with the goal of resolving the current classroom-teaching dilemma and improving teaching
effectiveness through the new intelligent teaching mode.
1. Introduction
Communication is a process in which people convey information and meaning through systematic symbols and
behaviors. It is one of the most basic practical activities of
human beings. Having good communication skills is of great
practical significance. First of all, in order to improve the
competitiveness and make the operation of the enterprise
more efficient, the enterprise will try its best to reduce the
expenditure and reduce the scale and level of management,
which requires employees to have various qualities, especially the ability to communicate well between colleagues
and customers [1]. Secondly, the pace of globalization has
strengthened international economic exchanges and cooperation. In order to better realize the optimal allocation of
resources, many multinational companies have emerged,
which requires employees to have the ability of teamwork
and respect and understanding of multiculturalism, which is
also the basic quality of qualified business communicators.
Finally, due to the development of electronic information
technology, communication channels have been further
expanded. For example, the popularity of fax, e-mail, network instant chat tools, and other technologies has higher
requirements for the quality of business communicators [2].
Therefore, in the process of setting up relevant subjects in
colleges and universities, the course of cross-cultural business communication is getting more and more attention.
Although the teaching year is short and the range is too wide,
there is not a good teaching system. But in the practical
application, cross-cultural business communication course
is involved in all aspects of the face of the actual business
work after a very important guiding role [3].
Combined with the Internet, this paper proposes an
intelligent teaching method of cross-cultural business
communication course under the background of big data.
Through the deep integration of Internet and education, this
method forms a new architecture, so that 1 + 1 is no longer
equal to 2. Through the sharing of resources and the superposition of advantages, we can promote the integrated
development, collaborative development, and balanced
development of teaching reform and seek the agglomeration
efficiency of 1 + 1 > 2.
2. Research on Intelligent Teaching Method of
Intercultural Business
Communication Course
Teaching mode is a favorable auxiliary teaching method for
teachers in the process of teaching activities. Each teaching
mode is a part of the teaching process, suitable for specific
learning types, and the purpose is to achieve specific learning
objectives and tasks [4]. The ability of teachers to use
teaching mode determines the improvement of students’
learning ability. There are many types of teaching models,
and different teaching models are based on different learning
theories and teaching value orientation [5]. Intelligent
teaching is a new direction of classroom-teaching mode in
school teaching under the extension of the concept of intelligent education. The value orientation of intelligent
teaching mode is to improve the students’ problem-solving
ability and cultivate intelligent creative thinking by building
personalized and digital classroom learning environment.
B. Joyce and M. Weil of the United States believe that the
teaching mode consists of five elements, namely: theoretical
basis, teaching activities, realization conditions, teaching
objectives, and teaching evaluation. Teaching mode is the
reflection of teaching theory and the norm of teaching
behavior supported by certain theories. Teaching objectives
restrict the process of teaching activities, and the realization
conditions include personnel elements, information elements, material elements, and other elements that make the
teaching mode work. The teaching activities stipulate different teaching process and sequence. Teaching evaluation is
a measure of whether teaching objectives are achieved after
the completion of teaching tasks [6]. The five elements are
interrelated to form the teaching mode.
The design of intelligent teaching method is based on the
research of relevant scholars, referring to Joyce and Weil’s
point of view, and is designed from five elements. Figure 1
lists the design plan of intelligent teaching method under
Internet plus thinking.
This chapter focuses on the teaching objectives, realization conditions, teaching activities, and teaching evaluation of intelligent teaching mode as Figure 1.
2.1. Realization Conditions. The realization conditions include the personnel, information, material, and other
conditions involved in intelligent teaching to promote the
effective occurrence of teaching. In the third chapter, the
author analyzes the characteristics of the four components,
namely, teachers, students, information, and material elements. This section mainly discusses the information and
material elements of intelligent teaching [7].
2.1.1. Intelligent Teaching Environment. Intelligent teaching
environment is the basis of intelligent education, which
mainly refers to the intelligent classroom that meets the
conditions of intelligent teaching. The traditional classroom
environment is mainly composed of teachers, students,
blackboard, and chalk. With the development of education
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informatization, the traditional classroom environment has
evolved into teachers, students, blackboard, chalk, and
multimedia equipment [8]. In the traditional classroom,
humanistic environment is the main factor to promote
intelligent teaching. Teachers affect students’ cognition,
emotion, and will. The simplicity of physical environment
does not affect the production of humanistic intelligence.
With the development of big data, rich media, and other
technologies, the teaching environment in line with the
development requirements of the times has been replaced by
the intelligent classroom jointly built by electronic whiteboard, multiscreen display equipment, computer terminal
equipment, etc. Visually, the intelligent classroom is convenient for students to learn knowledge better, and students
can draw mind maps and take notes at any time by using the
equipment at hand. From the auditory effect, the noise
reduction of the intelligent classroom creates a good interaction space for teachers and students. In terms of
equipment layout, the mobile table and chair equipment can
meet various teaching organization forms. According to
different organizational forms, timely setting of classroom
seat layout, wireless network coverage, teacher-student interaction system, situational awareness, and other devices
make it easier to obtain learning resources, make learning
behavior more intelligent, and make intelligence produce
simultaneously in intelligent environment and humanistic
environment [9].
2.1.2. Teaching Resource Base. High-quality teaching resource database is the key factor of intelligent teaching. The
teaching resource database includes curriculum standards,
online courses, digital teaching materials, exercise database,
etc., and it also includes teaching dynamic data and teaching
management information. A perfect teaching resource database is the basic support condition for intelligent teaching
and learning [10]. High-quality learning resources are the
guarantee of the implementation of intelligent teaching. What
kind of learning resources are high-quality resources, or what
are intelligent learning resources? This study believes that
intelligent learning resources should have the characteristics
of compatibility, easy access, generation, interest, etc. in the
intelligent environment; this kind of resources can be intelligently pushed and contextaware. Compatibility means that
the format of learning resources can adapt to the system of
students’ different electronic devices, and accessibility means
that learners can easily meet their learning needs when they
have needs. Generative learning resources refer to the resources that learning information can be shared, discussed,
and recreated by learners. Interest is mainly for teaching
videos. The presentation form of teaching videos should be as
interesting and memorable as possible.
Interesting teaching videos can ensure the enthusiasm of
teaching, and the content that can be remembered can reduce the cognitive complexity of students [11].
2.1.3. Education Information Learning Platform and Electronic Terminal Equipment. Learning platform is the support of intelligent teaching process and the carrier of
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Intelligent Teaching Activities
Before Class: Preview Feedback,
Draw up teaching Plan
In Class: Knowledge
Internationalization, Interactive,
Teaching between teachers and
Smart Goals
After Class: Personality
Guidance, Taking into account
Student’s Differences
Online Evaluation
Formative Assessment
Summative Evaluation
Offline Evaluation
Intelligent Teaching Evaluation
Figure 1: Design of intelligent teaching method.
teaching information. Connect the whole process of intelligent teaching, and assist in resource sharing, timely interaction, task publishing, collaborative learning, and other
teaching activities. Rely on the software platform, through
efficient interaction in the classroom, automatic sending and
receiving and correcting homework, personalized hierarchical teaching, students’ learning situation evaluation,
growth track record, education big data analysis, profound
changes in school teaching and learning methods,
throughout all aspects of learning, covering the whole
learning environment [12].
Common electronic terminal devices include PC, iPad,
smart phone, etc. Compared with PC, mobile terminal integrates processor, memory, input, and output, so it has the
advantage of lightweight and easy to carry. The application
based on major operating systems involves education, entertainment, communication, and other aspects and can
meet the needs of all parties. Mobile terminal devices, especially smart phones, are widely owned in the crowd, so the
support of terminal devices in this mode is mainly mobile
2.1.4. Intelligent Learning Technology. In the traditional
classroom, due to the lack of technology, teachers cannot
track teaching data and can only rely on teaching experience
to make judgments. In the intelligent teaching, intelligent
learning technology is the guarantee of teaching activities,
teaching decisions, and teaching management to achieve
intellectualization and is also the inevitable choice of “Internet plus” thinking and education and teaching. At
present, intelligent learning technology mainly includes big
data, context awareness, artificial intelligence, learning
analysis, and so on. A large amount of data is generated in
teaching, and big data realizes the capture, management, and
processing of these data. Learning analysis technology aims
at enhancing learning, providing personalized learning for
learners by integrating learning data, and providing targeted
teaching suggestions for teachers by integrating teaching
data [13]. The higher the dependence of intelligent teaching
on technology, the more it can support learners’ autonomous learning and mass creative learning needs, so that
intelligent teaching can change from digital to intelligent.
2.2. Intelligent Teaching Objectives. In real life, people are
engaged in various activities, i.e., are purposeful. Before
engaging in activities, we will imagine the possible situation
and expected results in the mind, and in a sense, it has
certain behavioral guidance function. This is also true in
teaching activities. The teaching goal exists before teaching
activities, and it is a kind of conception and expectation for
the teaching workers for the results of teaching activities. The
ultimate goal of intelligent teaching is to promote the
generation of students’ intelligence through intelligent
teaching and train them to become intelligent talents. The
discussion on intelligent teaching objectives is divided into
three parts, the total goal, the three-dimensional goal, and
the specific goal. The relationship between them is shown in
Figure 2.
2.2.1. General Goal. The generation of students’ intelligence
is a long-term and implicit process. From the perspective of
the relationship between the subject and the object, the
growth of human intelligence includes three aspects: the
subjective understanding and grasp of the external world by
the subject (i.e., rational intelligence), the active
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Cultivate Student’s
General Objective
Course Objectives
Intelligent Teaching
Teaching Objectives
Course Objectives
Class Objectives
Knowledge and Skills
3D Target
Process and Method
Emotional Attitude and
Figure 2: Relationship among general goal, three-dimensional goal, and specific goal.
transformation of the external world by the subject (i.e.,
practical intelligence), and the understanding and grasp of
the external world and the relationship between the subject
and the world (i.e., value intelligence). Intelligent teaching is
different from the past classroom, its purpose is to guide
students to learn from the simple to the deep and cultivate
students’ learning ability, and the most important thing is to
promote students’ creative learning and ultimately achieve
the goal of enlightening students’ mind and promoting
students’ intelligent growth. Intelligent teaching can be said
to be a combination of multiple intelligences, including
virtue intelligence, rational intelligence, practical intelligence, value intelligence, etc. In short, intelligent teaching is
a kind of active classroom full of creative spirit, which is
accompanied by intellectuality and rationality, science and
humanities, theory and practice, and technology promoting
intelligent generation [14].
2.2.2. Teaching Goal. Teaching goal, also known as learning
goal, is the starting point and destination of students’
learning, determines the direction of teaching, and guides
students’ learning behavior [15]. We should design learning
activities and evaluate learning results based on learning
objectives. Learning objectives, like learning content, have a
hierarchical structure, including curriculum objectives, unit
objectives, and class objectives [16]. Curriculum goal refers
to the goal that students need to achieve after the end of the
whole course, involving moral, intellectual, physical, aesthetic, and labor and other macroaspects. Unit goal is a
subgoal after the subdivision of curriculum goal, which
specifies what students should learn after the end of each
unit, and specifically involves the level of learners’ cognition,
motor skills, and emotion. Class goal is the subgoal of the
unit goal, detailed to the knowledge point of each class.
There are many ways to represent learning goals. At present,
bloom and Gagne’s classification theory of learning goals are
widely accepted. Bloom classifies learning objectives mainly
from the perspective of form, while Gagne classifies learning
objectives mainly from the perspective of content. The
purpose of this study is to show that different learning
outcomes have different learning conditions. The learning
outcomes are speech information, intelligent skills, cognitive
strategies, attitudes, and motor skills. The first three belong
to the cognitive field. In the field of cognition, verbal information refers to the knowledge that can be expressed by
linguistic symbols, which can be divided into three categories: symbolic memory, factual knowledge, and organized
knowledge. Intelligent skills refer to the ability to use
symbols to interact with the outside world, which can be
divided into four categories: identification, concept, rule,
and advanced rule (problem-solving). Cognitive strategy
refers to the various ways in which learners control the
learning process. Movement skill refers to the ability to
coordinate one’s own movement according to certain rules
acquired through practice. Attitude refers to the acquired
emotional reactions to people, things, and so on. For college
students, it mainly refers to the various emotional reactions
to learning.
2.2.3. Three-Dimensional Goal. The presupposition of intelligent teaching objectives should conform to the Trinity
curriculum objectives proposed by the new curriculum
reform, namely, knowledge and skills, process and method,
emotional attitude, and values. The specific meaning is
shown in Table 1. When designing objectives, teaching
implementers should be good at making use of the favorable
environment of intelligent teaching, design specific learning
objectives according to the characteristics of each class’s
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Table 1: Specific meaning of 3D target.
3D target
Specific meaning
Declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge
Knowledge and skills
Information collection and processing ability, innovation ability, practical ability, lifelong learning ability
Experience in the process of learning and teaching
Process and method
Autonomous learning, cooperative learning, and inquiry learning
Learning interest, learning attitude, scientific attitude, and life attitude
Emotional attitude and values
Personal value and social value, scientific value, and humanistic value
teaching content, and properly integrate three-dimensional
objectives into the process of intelligent learning in the
intelligent teaching environment.
2.3. Design of Intelligent Teaching Activities. Teaching activities can be understood as the sum of teachers’ and
students’ behaviors in order to achieve a certain teaching
goal in a certain situation. In the construction of intelligent
teaching, the design of teaching activities is the most important, which is the practice guide of intelligent teaching in
practice. Intelligent teaching activity design integrates
teachers’ teaching and students’ learning. With the support
of information platform, intelligent teaching activities are
designed from the whole process of before class, in class, and
after class [17].
2.3.1. Before Class: Preview Feedback and Draw Up Teaching
Plan. In the process of preclass preview, teachers can analyze the learning situation according to the students already
mastered and check the master of the relevant basic
knowledge of the students in the past. According to the
results of student characteristics analysis, teachers make the
preview content and choose the appropriate way to push the
preview data. Students complete the preview task according
to the resources pushed by the teachers and give feedback of
the unsolved problems to the teachers. The teacher will draw
up the teaching plan according to the students’ preview
2.3.2. In Class: Knowledge Internalization, Interactive Teaching
between Teachers and Students. In the traditional classroom,
knowledge is a top-down indoctrination relationship. In this
case, teachers’ pay more attention to the progress of
teaching, ignoring the development of students. Students are
bound by the authority of teachers, they are in a state of
depression in the development of thinking and expression of
views, the classroom atmosphere is relatively indifferent, and
there is a lack of effective communication between teachers
and students. In intelligent teaching, teachers no longer
appear as the authority of knowledge in the classroom, but as
the learning partners of students. Students are the main body
with their own learning views. Teachers and students explore
knowledge together and develop their ability. The relationship between teachers and students is an interactive
teaching relationship, and the students’ main position and
main role are respected. The words and thoughts between
teachers and students, students and students communicate
with each other. The free atmosphere permeates every corner
of the classroom. More inspiration and sparks of creation are
collided out. The integration of life and the development of
intelligence are achieved here. Teaching activities in intelligent teaching class mainly adopt the “5 + 5″ teaching
process structure, including five stages of teachers and
students, namely, cooperation and mutual learning, difficult
breakthrough, creating situation, assigning new tasks, cooperative exploration, classroom testing, practice consolidation, real-time comments, and self-reflection [18].
2.3.3. After Class: Personality Guidance, Taking Into Account
Students’ Differences. In the traditional classroom, the
teacher will arrange the homework uniformly after class. The
students finish the homework independently at home or
school after class. The next class or the time specified by the
teacher will give the homework to the class representative.
The class representative will give the homework to the
teacher after completing the task. The teacher will finish the
homework after receiving the homework and then wait until
the next class to give feedback about the homework correction results to the students. It takes at least two to three
days for students to get feedback from receiving the assignment to completing the assignment. The feedback time
is obviously too long, and there is no way to strengthen it in
time. Traditional classroom is more of a model; it is difficult
to take into account the differences between students,
let alone personalized teaching. In intelligent teaching,
teachers can design and implement personalized tutoring
activities according to students’ different levels and personalized characteristics by virtue of the strong technical
advantages of intelligent teaching information platform, so
that different students can get different guidance from
teachers according to their learning level and learning basis.
This increases the pertinence of students to consolidate their
knowledge, increases their spare time, reduces the amount of
homework, and improves the efficiency of personalized
teaching guidance.
2.4. Intelligent Teaching Evaluation. Teaching evaluation
refers to the process of collecting and analyzing the relevant
data and information generated in the teaching process
according to certain teaching objectives, so as to make value
judgments on the teaching effect, learners’ learning attitude,
and behavior [19]. As the feedback mechanism of the whole
learning system, teaching evaluation plays an important role
in the learning process. The purpose of teaching evaluation,
on the one hand, is to check the results of learning activities
and, on the other hand, is to motivate learners. As the last
link of teaching mode, teaching evaluation is very important.
Good teaching evaluation design can guide learners’
learning activities. The results of data analysis remind
learners to make relevant adjustments to make learning
activities more efficient. Under the background of the new
curriculum reform, teaching evaluation must reform the
traditional teaching evaluation in order to truly reflect the
dominant position of students and take students’ all-round
development as the foundation. The evaluation thought of
intelligent teaching evaluation is to evaluate the teacher’s
“teaching” based on the students’ “learning,” that is, the
thought of teaching based on learning. In the intelligent
teaching mode, students’ learning is divided into extracurricular and in class, extracurricular learning is mainly
online platform learning, and in class is mainly offline
classroom learning. At present, the curriculum evaluation of
college students is mainly a combination of formative
evaluation and summative evaluation. Formative assessment
mainly comes from students’ homework and classroom
attendance, which is lack of effectiveness and rationality,
resulting in students’ lack of attention to their usual learning,
and students only review in the near term, which leads to
poor learning effect. Compared with the single teaching
evaluation, the intelligent teaching mode adopts the method
of multiple evaluation, that is, multiple evaluation subjects,
multiple evaluation methods, and multiple evaluation
contents, so as to give full play to its incentive and guidance
functions. The traditional evaluation method is single and
one-sided, which cannot comprehensively evaluate the
learning effect of students. The evaluation of intelligent
teaching learning will be designed from online evaluation
and offline evaluation [20].
2.4.1. Online Evaluation. In the process of online learning
with smart phones, students will leave a lot of data about
learning behavior, learning preferences, learning habits, and
so on, which can be said to be the information assets of each
student. The behavior data recorded by the learning platform
is an important basis for online learning evaluation. The
specific evaluation indexes are shown in Table 2.
2.4.2. Offline Evaluation. Offline evaluation refers to a series
of evaluation of students’ learning behavior in the physical
classroom. Classroom teaching is based on the traditional
classroom environment, including a series of learning activities, such as teacher teaching, problem exploration, group
cooperation to solve problems, showing results, teacher
comments, and so on. Offline evaluation is an important part
of teaching evaluation based on intelligent teaching, which
mainly includes students’ classroom learning status, selfevaluation, and learning outcomes. Learning state is embodied in students’ communication state, emotional state,
attention state, thinking state, and result state in class. Selfevaluation refers to the objective evaluation of one’s own
learning process. Learning outcomes include students’
works, assignments, and test results. The specific evaluation
indexes are shown in Table 3.
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Table 2: Online evaluation index system.
Secondary indicators
Before class
In class
After class
Third-level indicators
Learning experience
Learning engagement
Classroom test
Teacher-student interaction
Learning engagement
Chapter assignment
Learning effect
Final test
Learning attitude
Table 3: Offline evaluation index system.
First-level indicators
Result status
Emotional state
Attention state
Thinking state
Learning outcomes
Secondary indicators
Communication between teachers and
Student exchange
Learning outcomes
Emotion in learning process
Attention retention
Classroom thinking
Final exam, course assignment, or work
Evaluation scale
2.4.3. Evaluation Method. The entropy weight method is
selected to calculate the index weight. According to the
characteristics of information entropy, it can be used to
measure the degree of dispersion of an index. The greater the
degree of dispersion of an index, the greater the impact of the
index on the comprehensive evaluation and the greater the
weight. Entropy weight method is an objective assignment
method which depends on the discreteness of the data itself.
It is used to score the samples comprehensively in combination with a variety of indicators to realize the comparison
between samples. The specific process is as follows:
When n samples and m indexes are determined, Xij is the
value of the j-th index of the i-th sample
(i � 1, 2, …, n; j � 1, 2, …, m).
Step 1. Normalization of indicators.
Positive indicators X’ij �
Xij − min
max − min
Negative indicators X’ij �
max − Xij
max − min
In the formula, X’ij is the normalized index; max is the
maximum value of the index set; min is the minimum value
of indicator set [21].
Step 2. Calculate the proportion of the i-th sample value
under the j-th index in the index.
eij �
􏽐k�1 Xij
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3.2. Curriculum Platform and Resources
Step 3. Determine the entropy value of index j.
fj � −k 􏽘 eij ln􏼐eij 􏼑.
In the formula, k � 1/ln(n)•0, fj ≥ 0.
Step 4. Calculate the information entropy redundancy.
gj � 1 − fj .
Step 5. Calculate the weight of each index.
hj � n
􏽐j�1 gj
Step 6. Calculate the comprehensive score of each sample.
Qi � 􏽘 hj eij .
3. Application of Intelligent Teaching Method
3.1. Curriculum Analysis
3.1.1. Problems Faced by Traditional Lecture Courses.
Cross-cultural business communication course is a professional elective course in many business colleges, and the
teaching form in most colleges is still the traditional
classroom-teaching mode. Of course, it has a certain relationship with the professional teachers, hardware conditions, and teachers’ concept. At this stage, the emergence of
mobile phones has become one of the biggest obstacles in
classroom teaching. Students have changed from listening
up to listening down in the past, and the teaching effect is
difficult to guarantee. In this paper, with the help of the
Internet, with the help of intelligent mobile terminals, applied to the intelligent teaching mode for teaching reform,
we hope to achieve better teaching effect.
3.1.2. Solutions. In view of the problems of traditional
teaching style classroom, the application of intelligent
teaching mode is carried out in order to improve the current
teaching situation and bring new choices to teachers and
students. The subjects of this study are 38 foreign trade
majors of a business college in 2018. The intercultural
business communication course is an elective course for
foreign trade majors in the first semester of their senior year,
with 2 class hours per week and 15 weeks of teaching. The
intelligent teaching mode is introduced into the course of
cross-cultural business communication, which makes full
use of the two stages before and after class to encourage
students to change from passive learning to autonomous
learning and from teachers’ teaching to practical operation.
The course of intercultural business communication tends to
be practical, which encourages students to design the course
by themselves.
3.2.1. Introduction of Course Support Platform and Its
Functions. Due to the promotion of blue ink cloud class
intelligent teaching platform in our college, it is applied to
classroom teaching, so that teachers and students can have a
new classroom experience. We should turn mobile phones
into learning tools in class. The blue ink cloud class provides
free auxiliary teaching platform for teachers and students. In
the teacher port, the teacher will automatically generate the
class number after creating the course, and the students can
input the class number to join the class through the mobile
phone. Teachers can insert ppt courseware, share links,
assign assignments, and preview questions. At the same
time, all the students’ learning behavior data can be collected
in time and be collected completely to help teachers quantify
the students’ learning effect. The course also introduces the
communication simulation platform, through which
teachers assign students transaction account numbers, login
passwords, and communication topics. Students can log on
their own student interface to conduct simulated business
3.2.2. Curriculum Learning Resources. Through the blue ink
cloud class platform course learning resources are mainly
teachers’ courseware and online courses. Students can
preview before class and review and consolidate related
courses at any time after class through the blue ink cloud
class platform. The first chapter of cross-cultural business
communication course recommends students to watch the
movie “intimate enemy” involving “business negotiation.”
The teacher inserts a network video link into the teacher’s
port, and after the successful push, students can watch it on
the mobile phone.
3.3. Implementation Process
3.3.1. Preparation for Teaching
(1) Student Analysis. The design of intelligent teaching mode
is to change students’ learning style and improve learning
efficiency. Most of the students hope that teachers can add
case teaching content in the teaching content, better understand the theoretical content in the case, and master the
relevant operation steps. However, most students think that
learning this course is the arrangement of the school syllabus
and have to accept it. Their motivation is to get credits, so
their motivation is weak. Therefore, the reform of teaching
mode is imperative.
(2) Learning Content Analysis. The course name is crosscultural business communication. The opening of domestic
financial market, the continuous expansion of market scale,
the growth of traditional business, and the expansion of
innovative business have become the focus of the development of various industries in the new era. The crosscultural business communication professional high-quality
talents have a huge demand, due to the frequent flow of
talents, making the current type of talents highlight a huge
gap. This course takes “cross-cultural business communication course” as the textbook, which is the “12th Five Year
Plan” textbook for application-oriented universities, with
the characteristics of wide application, strong applicability,
and employment orientation.
There are 9 training projects in this book. The training
items 1 and 2 are part of practice preparation, mainly including downloading and installing the software of crosscultural business communication system. The training
project 3 ∼ 5 is part of software operation, mainly using
communication software for business communication. The
training project 6 ∼ 9 is a part of comprehensive training.
Students can simulate the actual combat of business negotiation through the analysis of communication topics and
learning analysis methods.
(3) Analysis of Learning Objectives. According to the hierarchical structure, learning objectives are divided into three
levels: general objectives, unit chapter objectives, and class
hour objectives. The goal of intercultural business communication course is as follows: through the study of this
course, students can have strong oral communication ability
and turn classroom teaching into practical preparation.
3.3.2. Teaching Activities. According to the innovative
learning mode, this paper makes a detailed design of the
innovative learning activities of the intercultural business
communication course. The course implementation process
should include three links: preclass preview, classroom interaction, and after class practice.
Preparation stage: First of all, teachers should recommend the use of blue ink cloud class app and Zhisheng cloud
network platform to students, introduce the functions and
operation of the platform to students, and be familiar with
new learning methods. Secondly, the teacher creates a class
named intercultural business communication in the blue ink
cloud class and generates a class number after the class is
created. After downloading the blue ink cloud app, students
fill in their personal information and set the real name
system to facilitate the management of teachers. After entering the class number and joining the course, students can
see online resources such as preview content and afterschool exercises published by teachers in their own app. On
the teacher side of blue ink cloud platform, check the students who have joined the class, and carry out such operations as invitation, permission, management, and exit.
On the teacher side of Zhisheng cloud platform, teachers
can create classes in student management, which will be
given student accounts, passwords, and initial funds. Students log in to the student end, can query the market in real
time, and conduct business negotiation simulation operation, and teachers can check the students’ communication
situation in real time and comment at any time.
The specific implementation stages: First, preview before class: In the preclass preview stage, teachers can make
preview content through PC and can publish courseware
regularly or in real time to students. In the preclass stage,
Security and Communication Networks
students can download the preview courseware or watch
the teaching video to understand the learning content and
focus on and record the content they do not understand, so
that they can have a targeted learning in the classroom
teaching and ask the teacher to discuss the key content at
any time. For some small problems that can be solved
online, you can ask the teacher for advice at any time, which
is really not limited by the time and place. But it also
increases the workload of teachers. Secondly, classroom
interaction: In the process of classroom teaching, the
teacher’s teaching and the students’ passive listening are the
same as the traditional teaching mode. Intelligent teaching
focuses on classroom interaction; especially in the crosscultural business communication class, students’ communication and expression can be timely pushed to the
teacher’s platform. Teachers can understand students’
operation in time and make comments accordingly. Finally, practice after class: After class practice is to consolidate the learning effect. Practice is the only criterion to
test truth, especially oral communication. Zhisheng cloud
platform can be an online learning platform, an interactive
platform in class, and also a platform for practice after class.
Adjust at any time according to the actual situation. At the
same time, blue ink cloud class is also the main place for
after-school learning activities. After class exercises are
made by the teacher through the PC terminal, and then the
homework is released and tasks are arranged through the
blue ink cloud class platform. After the release, the students
will receive the homework reminder in real time and click
to enter the question making process.
3.3.3. Teaching Evaluation. Teaching evaluation includes
process evaluation and result evaluation. Process evaluation
mainly includes the completion of preclass learning tasks,
classroom performance, students’ attendance, and the
completion of small tests. The evaluation of learning results
includes the final examination and the completion of
communication. Of course, it also includes the learning
effect obtained through big data. The background can
regularly remind teachers of students’ login and learning
effect, so that teachers can change teaching methods and
supervise students who fail to meet the standard at any time.
4. Conclusion
With the continuous development of the times and the
continuous progress of information technology, it not only
affects today’s economic development and social life, but
also profoundly affects our education and injects fresh blood
into education. Education continues to absorb modern information technology, especially the new generation of information technology such as big data and mobile Internet,
to make classroom teaching more intelligent. Intelligent
teaching has become a new hot issue in the current school
information teaching. Intelligent teaching is the inevitable
development of the times. It is an irresistible trend to introduce intelligent teaching into the cross-cultural business
communication course.
Security and Communication Networks
Although intelligent teaching is emerging in recent
years, its teaching mode is not perfect, but there are still
many problems that have not been solved. But it conforms to
the trend of the call for education informatization and the
requirement of talent training. This makes the author believe
that intelligent classroom will have a great development
space in the future, and its application in various disciplines
teaching will be more and more popular.
Due to my limited ability and lack of teaching experience, there are many deficiencies in this paper. In the future
study and teaching career, we will further explore the intelligent teaching mode, in order to provide reference for the
development of various subjects teaching.
Data Availability
Data are available on request.
Conflicts of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
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Copyright © 2022 Yali Gao and Faiza Latif. This is an open access article
distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (the “License”),
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original work is properly cited. Notwithstanding the ProQuest
Terms and Conditions, you may use this content in accordance with the terms
of the License. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Welcome Back, We’ve Missed You! Humanized Business
Communication in Shop Window Messages during
Early 2020-Lockdown
Kurt Feyaerts 1, *
and Geertrui Heyvaert 2

Citation: Feyaerts, Kurt, and
Geertrui Heyvaert. 2021. Welcome
Back, We’ve Missed You! Humanized
Business Communication in Shop
Window Messages during Early
2020-Lockdown. Languages 6: 104.
Academic Editors: Anne Bannink and
Jet Van Dam
Received: 16 March 2021
Accepted: 2 June 2021
Published: 10 June 2021
Department of Linguistics, University of Leuven, 3000 Leuven, Belgium
Department of Business & Management, Artevelde University of Applied Sciences, 9000 Ghent, Belgium;
Correspondence: kurt.feyaerts@kuleuven.be
Abstract: This paper focuses on the way in which small and medium-sized businesses in Flanders
adapted communication with their customers during the economic lockdown in March–May 2020.
It documents, more specifically, how shops tried to maintain, re-establish, or even re-invent communication with their customers during this two-month period. Based on pictures of shop windows in a
Flemish city, we analyze the (semi-)commercial messages that appeared in this setting during this
period. This analysis adopts an interdisciplinary perspective, in which a cognitive linguistic approach
is integrated with analyses and practical advices by marketing agencies. Despite their orientation
towards distinct, theoretical and practical goals, both approaches share an analytical interest in
mapping participants and their mutual relationship as part of a communicative interaction. In the
period of economic lockdown, marketers urged shop owners to ‘humanize’ their business strategy
by downplaying content-related issues in favor of maximal social outreach towards customers. Considering this advice, it was hypothesized that under these circumstances participants in commercial
transactions would be construed much more prominently, presenting themselves and each other as
unprecedented empathetic business personas. Much of our data comply with this expectation, thus
providing empirical evidence of a subjectified communicative ground, in which both buyer and seller
personas figure with augmented prominence as parts of the object of conceptualization. Messages
include, among other things, expressions of empathy, solidarity, combativity, but also creativity
and humor thus incorporating a new type of humanized business communication. With respect to
the analysis of marketing strategies, the collected data at the same time instantiate and legitimize
marketers’ communication advice about humanizing one’s business exchange.
Keywords: business communication; empathy in discourse; intersubjective construal; communicative
ground; business persona; COVID-related marketing strategy; multimodal discourse analysis
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Attribution (CC BY) license (https://
1. Introduction
Early March 2020, Belgium, just like major parts of Europe and the world, faced a rapid
increase of infections with the COVID-19 coronavirus among its population. To prevent
an uncontrolled outbreak of the virus, the Belgian government ordered an almost general
lockdown of its society, allowing only essential entities like food and retail businesses,
(air)ports, medical services etc. to remain open. All so-called ‘non-essential’ shops were
closed between 18th March and 18th May 2020. This study focuses on the way in which
small and medium-sized non-essential businesses in Flanders tried to make sense of the
fact that they were cut off from their customers for two months. More specifically, we
analyze the way in which businesses attempted to maintain, re-establish, or even re-invent
communication with their customers during this two-month period. In line with the
methodological steps laid out by modern linguistic landscape research (Gorter 2018), our
approach is based on multiple pictures of shop windows in the Flemish city of Leuven,
Languages 2021, 6, 104. https://doi.org/10.3390/languages6020104
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in which we analyzed the (semi-)commercial messages that appeared in this specific
setting during this period. In our aim to uncover the socio-cognitive meaning of these
creative messages along with the underlying construal mechanisms, our analytical focus
adopts an interdisciplinary perspective integrating both a cognitive linguistic approach
and practical advice of marketing agencies. Despite their orientation towards distinct, both
theoretical and practical goals, these two analytical models share a common interest in
carefully mapping participants and their interactional relationship as part of the so-called
communicative ground.
Already during the economic lockdown, marketers gave out warning signals about
an unmistakable seismic shift shaking up consumer behavior because of the COVID-19
pandemic. Accordingly, companies were urged to fundamentally revise their so-called
buyer personas, which are commonly defined as highly elaborated, semi-fictional representations of a business’ ideal customer(s). At the core of their advice, marketers argued
in terms of humanizing one’s business strategy by downplaying content-related issues in
favor of maximizing social outreach hence expressing genuine involvement in empathetic,
supportive, engaged, trustworthy and credible behavior.
Considering this advice, it might be expected that compared to the pre-coronavirus
period, both buyer and seller personas—mutually assumed key participants in the business
process and as such members of the communicative ground in this type of interaction—be
construed much more prominently, thus revealing themselves as empathetic business personas. Interestingly, most of the examples in our data comply with this expectation. Several
aspects of both buyer and seller personas do indeed appear as objects of their conceptual
content. For instance, messages include, among other things, expressions of empathy (we
care for you), solidarity (together we shall overcome this), combativity (let’s beat corona), but
also creativity and humor. Messages like these draw our attention because under regular,
non-COVID conditions we are not used to this type of content in a commercial setting.
Elements of the communicative ground like the business participants (buyer and seller)
as well as material aspects of the message itself (marked, for instance, by vintage technology and materials used) are being highlighted as parts of the conceptualized content,
thus embodying the humanized aspect of this type of interaction (Androutsopoulos 2020,
pp. 295–98; Ramjaun 2020; Dancygier et al. forthcoming). This interdisciplinary study
provides empirical support for the linguistic analysis of this type of communication in
terms of (inter)subjective construal, which categorizes the operation of pulling elements
of the ground towards the center of an expression’s conceptualized meaning. On the
content level, our data at the same time seem to instantiate and legitimize the marketers’
COVID-related strategic advice of humanizing business communication.
In line with these observations, this paper pursues both a content-related and a methodological objective. On the level of marketing-driven business communication, first, our
case study aims to demonstrate that under drastically changed societal circumstances,
as is the case with the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses’ marketing and communication
processes cannot be continued as if it were ‘business as usual’. On the level of local, off-line
shops and businesses, our small-scale study provides empirical evidence demonstrating
a fundamental shift in business communication at an early stage of the first lockdown in
Spring 2020. It shows, more precisely, how in this specific period of time product-oriented
brand communication, considered the mainstream type of business communication in
pre-COVID days, is relieved by a different type of communication, which plays on general
human values like empathy and solidarity, which in pre-COVID times instantiated an
atypical model of business communication.
Our second objective relates to the interdisciplinary nature of this study as it involves
the integration of a cognitive linguistic methodological approach into a marketing-related
analysis. We will show, more specifically, that the operationalization of two ground-related
mechanisms of cognitive construal, objectification and subjectification, serves the goal of
obtaining a more fine-grained analysis of the creative variation in this type of communication. At the same time, a close-reading analysis of these (semi-)commercial messages in
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terms of construal operations makes complex theoretical constructs like common ground
assumptions, intersubjectivity, theory of mind etc. very tangible in the ways they are being
applied in a highly elaborate and realistic usage event.
The paper is structured in six main sections. Section two describes the complementary
framework of cognitive linguistics (Section 2.1) and marketing analysis (Section 2.2). Section
three elaborates on the empirical set-up of this study along with the resulting corpus of
pictures. In section four, we describe eighteen cases illustrating this humanized business
communication and which in technical terms of underlying linguistic construal operations
can be identified as instances of subjectification or—in case the increased focus on the
communicative ground is reflected by linguistic sanctioning—objectification. In section
five, we reassemble the linguistic and marketing perspectives for a final reflection over
the empirical data followed by, in section six, a description of what may be some of the
wider implications of this interdisciplinary study. We conclude this paper in Section 7 by
wrapping up its major findings.
2. Mapping Participants in Business Interaction
Despite their orientation towards distinct theoretical and practical goals, both cognitive linguistics and strategic marketing analysis share a common interest in mapping
participants in their mutually dynamic relationship as part of the communicative interaction under scrutiny. On the background of what both theoretical models characterize as
regular and unmarked shop window-communications, it will be interesting to observe along
which dimensions of construal the (potential) participants of this new and distant type of
commercial interaction—buyers and sellers but other people as well—will be represented.
2.1. Construing the Ground in Cognitive Linguistics
2.1.1. Meaning is Conceptualization
Cognitive linguistics qualifies as a usage-based account of meaning, according to
which meaning is not a system-inherent value sticking to a linguistic form. Instead, meaning is said to emerge from the rich conceptual structure of our encyclopedic knowledge as
well as from our embodied, attitudinal, contextual, and other experiences that are constitutive of any usage event. Within this complexity of conceptual and situational resources, not
all elements are activated with equal prominence. In every communicative event, participants are joined together in their common focus on the conceptual entity being designated
by a linguistic expression, and which is referred to as the expression’s profile or its onstage
region of conceptualization. Meaning, then, is said to reside in the tension between what is
verbalized as the profile and the so-called base, which represents the profile’s background,
where all sorts of conceptual elements linger with different degrees of prominence. Among
the elements of the base, the so-called offstage region gathers those conceptual entities
that are the most prominent ones in the background and thus immediately conceivable
during a usage event (Langacker 2008, p. 77; Feyaerts 2013, p. 206). Depending on all
sorts of situational and personal circumstances, gesture, mimicry, prosody and many other
things, the same formal utterance may mean different things as in each usage event a
different conceptual background may be highlighted. It makes quite a difference indeed
whether an utterance like for this I need my red pencil pertains to an evaluative situation in a
classroom, or a pen that looks red on the outside, but writes in black ink, or to a ritual-like
habit for writing down the negative revenue of one’s business at the end of the month, or
a reference to an oversized souvenir pencil with kitschy Lenin-decoration from my trip
to the Soviet Union in the early eighties of the previous century etc. In all these usage
events, the same wording is being used and reference is made to a pencil, but its relation to
different conceptual backgrounds leads to different meanings in each of these usage events.
2.1.2. Engaging the Communicative Ground
Among the many elements that constitute an expression’s meaning there is one
conceptual dimension, the so-called communicative ground, which in the context of this
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paper requires specific attention. As the central aspect of any utterance, the ground consists
of the communicative event itself, including all participants in their roles of producers
or receivers/consumers of a message, the specific temporal and spatial circumstances
of a usage event as well as the symbolic structure of the utterance itself in terms of its
form/meaning pairing (Langacker 2008, p. 259). Under unmarked circumstances, the
ground and object of conceptualization figure in a highly asymmetrical relation since
“subjects are mostly submerged in the process of conceptualization, focused on the object
of conceptualization and hence not aware of their role as viewers or conceptualizers”
(Feyaerts 2013, p. 208).
Regarding the specificity of the data in our present paper, the relative prominence with
which the ground is represented as part of the object of conceptualization will prove to be a
distinctive feature in our empirical analysis. Under regular, non-pandemic circumstances,
messages in and on shop windows are not only scarce but also small, leaving as much
free surface on the window as possible in order to allow maximal and undistracted visual
contact with the products on the inside of the shop window. Further, normally, the few
messages that do appear on shop windows hardly show any traces of the ground, restricted
as they are to announcing product-related or practical information like price offers, brand
logos, opening hours and closing day, a no-dogs-allowed sign, obtained quality labels etc.
Apart from obvious counter examples like taglines underneath brand names, positioning
the companies as family businesses (Fourth generation of shoemakers) or publicity campaigns
that call to action (Come in and share our excitement!), elements of the ground like the
message’s producer and addressees are excluded and kept at maximal distance from the
object of conceptualization, thus allowing only minimal, if any, awareness of their presence.
As a result, by default people processing conventional shop window communication,
either as producer or addressee, are largely absent from the conceptual structure of the
corresponding usage event, as their presence might blur the envisaged clear alignment
between potential customers and the products on display.
In our daily communication, we constantly make use of grammatical and lexical
elements to connect the content of our utterances with the ground. Think of the use of
tense morphemes to specify a temporal reference point or the use of the definite article
(the product) to indicate familiarity, and thereby establish an implicit link with the speaker.
For various communicative reasons, as the examples in (1)–(3) show, elements from the
ground can be dragged towards or even into an expression’s conceptual profile (or ‘onstage
region’) with even greater prominence. In (1) the modal verb must turns the utterance into
an epistemic predication, revealing (but not explicating) the producer behind this utterance
as the source of this cognitive process of deduction. In (2) the pronouns we, you and our
openly refer to participants assumed to take part in this trading interaction, even when the
referential meaning of these elements is generic (we as sellers, you as customers). When
displayed in a shop, the pronoun us in a call to action like (3) puts the staff (employees or
owners) onstage as a prominent (and visible) part of this utterance’s meaning. We will refer
to the latter construal operation, in which an element from the ground is brought onstage
and thus verbally coded as in (2)–(3), as objectification. Cases in which elements from the
ground clearly enter the offstage region of the conceptually prominent elements without
however being verbally sanctioned, as in (1), will be characterized in terms of the construal
operation subjectification.
She must have seen how it happened.
We want you to come in and smell our coffee.
Looking for a different color? Ask us!
2.1.3. A Socio-Cognitive Model of Meaning
From the previous description one might draw the conclusion that in cognitive linguistics the process of meaning construal is an individual matter with a single participant
ultimately deciding how an experience in a particular usage event will be represented
hence interpreted. Although traditionally the social dimension of interaction was relegated
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to the periphery in cognitive research (Barlow and Kemmer 2000, p. ix), nowadays studies
in cognitive and interactional linguistics explore both the cognitive structure and the interpersonal dynamics of a usage event, commonly referring to it in terms of intersubjective
aspects of meaning (Langacker 2001; Verhagen 2005, 2008; Dancygier and Vandelanotte
2017, among others). According to a socio-cognitive model of linguistic analysis, meaning
involves a constant coordination process among interlocutors as members of the ground
(Brône 2010, p. 399ff). People engaging in interaction, be it a face-to-face conversation or a
distant written exchange, do not produce their utterances in a social-interactional vacuum,
but design them for an addressee.
This socio-cognitive view identifies language use, both in terms of production and
interpretation, as a constant process of intersubjective coordination among interlocutors.
Clark (1996) describes it as a joint activity comparing it to dancing a tango: dancers like
interlocutors need to be able to adjust to their partners as much as they both need to be able
to anticipate their partners’ movements or utterances (Feyaerts 2013). This mutual coordination process very much relies on what interactants assume to be in the hearts and minds
of their interaction partners, the so-called common ground (Clark 1996), so that they can
align their construal with it. Communicative interaction can therefore be characterized as a
process requiring constant alignment and negotiation among intersubjective viewpoints.
This view on intersubjectivity is very much in line with the theory of mind (Whiten 1991;
Givón 2005), which evolves around our ability to conceptualize thoughts, ideas, emotions,
attitudes, beliefs etc. in other people’s mind (Brône 2010, pp. 91–92)1 . This intersubjective
take at any stage of the communication process is of major importance for an adequate
analysis of our dataset. With regard to the specificity of our data, we will demonstrate that,
much in parallel to expressions of creativity (Feyaerts 2013; Veale et al. 2013), most of the
COVID-related shop window messages are (like) stance-taking acts, the interpretation of
which integrates construal processes of objectification and subjectification into a subtle
choreography of intersubjective meaning coordination, in which multiple elements of the
communicative ground are engaged. With respect to the paradigm of linguistic landscape
research, this perspective on the relatively prominent construal of elements of the ground
in messages like these tackles one of the new, yet still under-investigated research topics
in the field, where only a “very limited number of studies focus on cognition” (Shohamy
2018, p. 35).
2.2. Modelling Business Personas in Marketing
One of the major questions in modern professional marketing advice concerns the
strategic adaptation of so-called buyer personas, which are commonly defined as highly
elaborated, semi-fictional mappings of a business’ ideal customer(s) (Revella 2015; Bianchi
2015). Interviewed by J. Harris (2020), Adele Revella, CEO and founder of the Buyer
Persona Institute, specifies that these representations are based on market research, select
educated speculation and real data about a company’s existing customers. Since they
are supposed to tell the story of the dynamic behavior patterns, shared pain points, and
universal goals of a company’s potential and customer(s), buyer personas cannot just be
reduced to traditional static (sub)categories labeling target markets or specific real people.
Developing buyer personas—if necessary, more than one within a single firm—helps
companies to get into the mindset of their prospects to attract and reach them in the right
way (Chemko 2016; Lee 2017; Dongleur 2020; Arts 2018; von Schmeling 2020; Phelan 2020).
2.2.1. A Pin-Up on the Wall
In the early days of the new millennium the concept of a buyer persona entered
the world of commerce—its foundation and methodological elaboration being claimed
by strategists like Tony Zambito. It was designed to assist businesses in keeping a close
In terms of Relevance Theory Forceville (2020, p. 100) speaks of communicators who “share a larger or smaller store of knowledge, beliefs, past
experiences, etc., that is, a greater or smaller mutually manifest cognitive environment.”
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eye on their target market(s) on the background of ever-changing economic and societal
circumstances. In 2013, a now widely quoted study (Sutton 2013) by MarketingSherpa into
the impact of a targeted persona strategy revealed an increase of sales leads by 124% for
companies engaging in this type of marketing research. Among the explanations for this
success rate and therefore also the major reasons why companies should be engaging in
this kind of strategy, experts indicate that having access to elaborate and quarterly updated
customer profiles adds a huge amount of agility to one’s business allowing to make fast and
well-founded strategic decisions, aligned with changing circumstances. Companies willing
to develop one or more buyer personas are required to take multiple resources into account
including market studies but also data from interviews and questionnaires involving
real and potential customers. Moreover, in order to get a realistic and sustainable access
to customers’ habits, attitudes, motivations, concerns, frustrations, intentions and goals,
a buyer persona must become what it pretends to be, which is a ‘real’ person characterized
by all relevant features one can think of. Accordingly, companies are invited to construe
for every of their buyer personas a full-fledged personality, including information about
their gender, education, generation, age, style, hobby’s, political preferences, aversions,
etc. right up to a name and even a visual representation in a picture, ready to be used
as an omnipresent pin-up in the office space. Importantly, dressing up a buyer persona
should not be limited to a static inventory of personality features along with a focus on
the specifics of the products or services to be sold. Of even greater importance is the
contextualization of these features in the buyer’s so-called customer journey (Alvarez et al.
2020, pp. 5–8), which maps all possible ‘touch points’ a business might have with the
customer. This constructed, empirically grounded journey consists of multiple scenarios,
in which the buyer persona is actively involved, as they occur at various stages of the
commercial transaction process. It leads from the buyer’s preparatory scanning of the
market (Where do people gather information? Which communication media do they use?)
over the circumstances, in which the purchase is embedded (Which sources of information
do people use in the period leading up to the purchase? In what type of shop do people buy
our products?) to questions about what products and services the buyer persona prefers or
avoids, where their loyalty lies, which goals they pursue etc. (Arts 2018). Interestingly for
the purpose of our study, the process of developing an adequate buyer (or seller) persona
as an idealized, empirically grounded depiction of one’s business partner(s), represents a
highly elaborated and successful application of the aforementioned ‘theory of mind’.
2.2.2. Pandemic Advice: Humanize Your Business
Already at an early stage of the pandemic, marketing researchers agreed that “the
COVID-19 pandemic represents one of the most significant environmental changes in the
modern marketing history, which could potentially have a profound impact on corporate
social responsibility (CSR), consumer ethics, and basic marketing philosophy” (He and
Harris 2020, p. 176). Vis-à-vis the unprecedented impact of this crisis on every sector in
our society, marketers appealed to entrepreneurs and shop owners to seriously reconsider
their business communication along with (some of) characteristics of the business personas. In order to stay aligned with shifting social, emotional, and commercial attitudes
favoring local, online, and sustainable shopping, businesses were advised to abandon
rigid content-centered sales strategies and take the face, instead, of a seller persona who,
among other things, reaches out on a social level, for instance by genuinely engaging with
customers’ personalities, problems and needs (Majercakova and Rostasova 2021, p. 2).
Accordingly, regarding the market’s unpredictability in the first months of this lockdown
period, entrepreneurs were told to build trust, credibility, and authority in the relation
with their clients (Tom Wardman, 17 March on the blog of MMGrowth). In her blog entry
for Fronetics on 19th May, Ulrika Gerth (2020) summarized her advice in a powerful way:
“Humanize the company ( . . . ) Think tactful and empathetic. Stay active and engaged”.
A scan through the advice of several marketing blogs during the months March–June
2020 about how to adjust business personas, pictures a clear tendency towards adopting
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an empathetic and human-inspired marketing and communication strategy. A year later,
these early views appear to have further stabilized in mainstream marketing research.
On 10th March 2021 in the Harvard Business Review, Balis (2021, p. 8) projects as one of the
outcomes of the crisis “a mindset of marketing agility that is likely to be permanent. This
includes continuous consumer listening and demand sensing, not only for the benefit of
marketing but for the full company to capture the zeitgeist of consumer sentiment.” Next to
quality, convenience and price as relatively stable consumer factors, she notes that features
like “sustainability, trust, ethical sourcing, and social responsibility are important to how
consumers select their products and services” (Balis 2021, p. 8). In light of a large-scale
Kantar (2020) survey, which reveals that no less than 92% of the customers expected firms
to continue advertising during the COVID-19 pandemic (Demsar et al. forthcoming, p. 5),
businesses are warned not to drop their marketing activity completely during a major
crisis like this. Instead, they need to maintain their brand’s voice and presence, be it in an
adjusted and more agile, customer-oriented way (Ross 2020, p. 30).
Along with the observations of marketers being able to give adequate advice based
on early readings of new societal trends and developments, the major hypothesis of this
study was that compared to pre-COVID days, communication by shops and other businesses during the first lockdown of March and April 2020 was expected to profile less
product-related content while at the same time unveiling more of the human characteristics of every business participant. In more technical terms of the construal operations
involved, according to this hypothesis we expected to find mechanisms like subjectification
and objectification operating quite frequently on elements of the communicative ground,
drawing one or more participants and/or aspects of the message itself towards or even
into the onstage region of conceptualization. For the domain of business communication,
any empirical evidence for this would amount to further investigating the sustainability of
this phenomenon in terms of a new trend or even a ground-braking shift.
In the next section, we take a closer look at our data. First, we describe the features of
the data set, after which we focus on the analysis of a selection of eighteen examples.
3. Data and Method
The empirical part of this study is based on a small data set of about 30 authentic
pictures taken in the Flemish city of Leuven during the first period of economic lockdown
between 13th March and 13th May 2020. Over these two months regular life came to
a standstill, people and companies had to work online, schools were closed for several
weeks offering online teaching, and pubs, restaurants sports infrastructure as well as
all non-essential shops and businesses were kept closed. The pictures we analyze here
focus on the messages, which soon after the lockdown was installed, started appearing
on and inside shop windows. Right away, many of them expressed messages of personal
involvement, empathy, and concern, hardly referring to products and business and as such
revealing a distinct perspective compared to pre-pandemic commercial communication.
Apart from shop owners and employees exposing themselves, passersby reading these
messages may have wondered what person or instance was behind them, who could
be meant as addressee and how the unusual message should be interpreted properly.
Already these reflections taken by themselves, as the very fact that questions are raised
about the identity and the role of the participants in this communicative exchange, reflect
a major shift in the construal constellation of this type of communication. Moreover,
in this respect, quite a few messages, especially those appearing in small autonomous
shops during the first weeks, appeared as messages with a high degree of self-made or
vintage craftmanship: messages hand-written or home-printed on household writing paper,
attached to the window or some object inside the shop using adhesive tape etc. (see also
Ramjaun 2020 on visual COVID-related communication in UK retail outlets). These striking
material characteristics draw attention to the message as such, which by consequence is
then conceptually staged as yet another element of the communicative ground. Although
we realize that we base our analysis on a very limited set of data points, our specific interest
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in documenting and analyzing the aforementioned qualitative aspects of this humanized
commercial communication motivated us to adopt a close-reading description of these very
first tokens, which inevitably were scarce and had to be hand-picked on walks through
the city.
4. Empirical Analysis
Considering the observations made above, we now present a series of pictures of shop
window messages, whose analysis will demonstrate in what ways these early lockdown
messages align with the marketing advice to humanize one’s company. At the same
time, we dig into the various specific construal constellations a linguistic analysis of these
messages will reveal.
A first picture (Figure 1a) shows an English message Let’s beat corona together accompanied by a heart-shape symbol2 , as it appeared in a Leuven delicacies shop. The
second picture (Figure 1b) is taken a few months after the lockdown, and it demonstrates
how the message in (Figure 1a) was created on the same spot using the same material
elements as in pre-COVID times the shop’s opening hours were announced. Already
this first example nicely illustrates the marked character of this shop-based interaction,
in which no commercial message is being communicated. Instead, the one-liner appeals to
passersby through its human message of combativity and caring solidarity—symbolized
by the heart shape at the beginning—against corona as the common enemy. Next to the
reinterpretation of the communicative space and materialities, this non-commercial content
is another aspect of incongruity, which inevitably draws attention to the communicative
situation itself (Who produced this? the shop owner? an employee? Is it meant for me?).
Through both incongruities and especially the interpretational effect of de-automatization
that comes with them, the communicative ground is drawn towards the onstage region of
Languages 2021, 6, x FOR PEER REVIEW
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conceptualization. The use of the enclitic pronoun (u)s provides the clearest illustration
this process of objectification.
Figure 1. (a,b): Let’s
Let’s beat
beat corona.
The picture
picture in
in (Figure
(Figure 2)
2) shows
shows aa note
note which
which is
is taped
taped to
to aa terrace
terrace fence
fence just
just outside
outside aa
restaurant. Unlike
Unlike the
the previous
previous example
example in
in (Figure
(Figure 1a),
1a), the
the message
message itself,
itself, which
which informs
about the restaurant’s closure but also about the possibility to buy take-away dishes as
as of
16 March, is quite neutral and unmarked in this commercial context. In terms of marketing
strategy, it does comply with the advice to engage with the customers on the level of genYus (2014) refers to ‘pictograms’ or ‘emoji’, which arguably constitute a ‘micro-language’ with regularities (Forceville 2019; Cohn 2020).
eral human needs. The negative message about being closed is cleverly countered by the
announcement of the take-away dishes, which already at the earliest stage of the lockdown meets the customers’ needs. What stands out in this message, rather, is the improvised material character of the note, which is a home-printed message, taped to the glass
of the terrace fence with one corner of the paper coming off. Along with the typographic
Figure 1. (a,b): Let’s beat corona.
Languages 2021, 6, 104
The picture in (Figure 2) shows a note which is taped to a terrace fence just outside
9 of 26
restaurant. Unlike the previous example in (Figure 1a), the message itself, which informs
about the restaurant’s closure but also about the possibility to buy take-away dishes as of
16 March, is quite neutral and unmarked in this commercial context. In terms of marketing
to to
on the
of general
on the
of genhuman
is iscleverly
eral human
announcement of the take-away dishes, which already at the earliest stage of the lockmeets
needs. needs.
What stands
out inout
is the is
down the
the customers’
What stands
this message,
the impromaterial
vised material character of the note, which is a home-printed message, taped to the
of of
of the
‘takethe adjective heerlijke (‘delicious’) next to meeneemgerechten, the Dutch equivalent for ‘takeaway
concerned, apart from the customer being addressed explicitly by the pronounuu(polite
variant of
of ‘you’)
‘you’) as
as part
part of
announcement, no
no construal
construal of
communicative ground can be noted.
The restaurant
restaurant will
will be
be closed
closed until 3rd April. But luckily starting
starting from
from 16
16 March
March you
you can
The following picture is another illustration of the way, in which shops have improvised about the way to communicate with their customers during the first weeks of the
lockdown period. In (Figure 3) we notice a four-fold message by the local Neckermann
traveling agency, which is printed on four separate A4-pages and then visibly taped one
right next to the other on the shop window. The result is a remarkable mixture of slogans
(dream with Neckermann; we are ready for you), practical information (e-mail, URL, telephone
number), wordplay (sea/see you soon), symbols (hearts, flower leaves), an emotional oneliner (we have a heart for you) and all of that in different typographic styles, colours as well
as font types and sizes (see Stöckl 2005; Forceville 2020, among others, on the relevance of
analyzing the visual dimensions of the written-verbal mode). As such this communicative
assemblage draws immediate attention as an overdone customer-oriented reaching-out.
It seems like every employee in the office could put up their personalized message with
this uncoordinated result in the middle of the shop window. In terms of construal, both
the message’s material form and inconsistent content make the communicative message in
all its aspects to an object of interpretation. Along with it comes the inevitable question
about who acted as the producer(s) of this communication, embedded in some sort of
stance-taking act through which the message is evaluated as more or less appropriate
and successful. In three one-liners, finally, the potential customers are being objectified
as addressees using the deictic pronouns je/jou (the informal object-forms of the personal
pronoun je (‘you’) and even the English pronoun you).
Figure 4 shows an extreme example of the way in which shop owners, in this case
of a sandwich shop, may humanize their business by reaching out in solidarity to other
people outside the shop. The message consists of a drawing made and captioned by a
child showing two cheerful figures separated by two arrows and one of them asking the
other to stop at 1.5 m. The caption above reads as Keep enough distance while the one below
Languages 2021, 6, 104
traveling agency, which is printed on four separate A4-pages and then visibly taped one
right next to the other on the shop window. The result is a remarkable mixture of slogans
(dream with Neckermann; we are ready for you), practical information (e-mail, URL, telephone
number), wordplay (sea/see you soon), symbols (hearts, flower leaves), an emotional oneliner (we have a heart for you) and all of that in different typographic styles, colours as well
10 of 26
as font types and sizes (see Stöckl 2005; Forceville 2020, among others, on the relevance of
analyzing the visual dimensions of the written-verbal mode). As such this communicative
assemblage draws immediate attention as an overdone customer-oriented reaching-out.
It seems
in the office
put up
message with
is every
as it could
and then mentions
this uncoordinated
in theAll
In terms
of construal,
of the shop (deresult
The A4-page
the message’s
and inconsistent
content make
on it ismaterial
taped toform
the glass
of the shop window.
In this
message, inmessage
in all
its aspects to an
object of interpretation.
Along with
the inevitable
looks sweet-awkward,
the itshop
reveal themselves
as thus
the producer(s)
of their
this communication,
sort of
a child
institutional roleembedded
as sellers inina some
transaction. Through this drawing, all participants of the communicative ground, which
the potential
as adinclude
the In
up this
message customers
as well asare
the deictic pronouns
(the informal
being using
without any
noun je (‘you’)
even the English
pronoun you).
of thisand
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Figure 4 shows an extreme example of the way in which shop owners, in this case of
a sandwich shop, may humanize their business by reaching out in solidarity to other people outside the shop. The message consists of a drawing made and captioned by a child
showing two cheerful figures separated by two arrows and one of them asking the other
to stop at 1.5 m. The caption above reads as Keep enough distance while the one below the
picture is essentially commercial, as it promotes good lunch and then mentions the name
of the shop (de Pandora). All letters are in multiple colours. The A4-page with the message
on it is taped to the glass of the shop window. In this hybrid message, in which the business-related information looks sweet-awkward, the shop owners reveal themselves as
parents of a child thus downplaying their institutional role as sellers in a commercial
transaction. Through this drawing, all participants of the communicative ground, which
include the shop owners putting up this message as well as the passersby reading it, are
being highlighted—yet without any verbal objectification—as part of the conceptual
structure of this semi-commercial communicative act.
4. Keep
Keep enough
enough distance.
As the
the following
following pictures
pictures show,
5 and 6 were taken on the same day of the same shop window. Both messages share the
style, colors,
font type
as wellasaswell
same language
style, colors,
size, paper
the hardonto
is gluedis(see,
others, others,
Stöckl 2005;
2020). Apart
onto the
the A4-page
(see, among
2005; Forceville
air bubbles
below inbelow
5, Figure
giving away
its status
the enclosed
air bubbles
5, giving
away of
of a handthe
quite professional
and well-designed
as they blend
item, the
look quite professional
and well-designed
in nicely
amidst the white tones of the shop interior. So, as far as formal and material features are
not draw do
to their
we look at
any specific
to their
we look at the wording, it is striking that both messages are expressed in English, which
and circumstances,
which may be
may deviate from
rules and
may be
their meaning
to convey.
More likely,
of the generic,
was intended
to convey.
however, may be that the use of English expresses a corporate marketing communication
strategy according to which a buyer persona is a global citizen, who speaks English as a
globally widespread lingua franca.
Languages 2021, 6, 104
Apart from the enclosed air bubbles below in Figure 5, giving away its status of a handmade item, the messages look quite professional and well-designed as they blend in nicely
amidst the white tones of the shop interior. So, as far as formal and material features are
concerned, these messages do not draw any specific attention to their producers. When
we look at the wording, it is striking that both messages are expressed in English, 11
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may deviate from pre-pandemic rules and circumstances, and which may be an indication
of the generic, humanized character their meaning was intended to convey. More likely,
however, may be that the use of English expresses a corporate marketing communication
which according
a buyer persona
is aaglobal
a globally
to which
is aspeaks
citizen, as
speaks widespread
English as a
globally widespread lingua franca.
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Figure 5.
5. You
You can

say: II got
got this
referdiscourse a shop window would require under normal circumstances. In their reference
to the of
of the lockdown,
regular commercially
the lockdown,
both slogans
driven shop
driven shop
window communication.
cases their
hinges on a
In both cases In
on a perspectival
perspectival shift, in which one or more deictic elements are involved, but which clearly
differ from one another (Dancygier and Vandelanotte 2017). In Figure 6, the possessive
pronoun your is embedded in a powerful wish expressing inner strength and self-control
thus orienting the message at anyone reading it. Within the message another perspective
Languages 2021, 6, 104
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shift, in which one or more deictic elements are involved, but which clearly differ from one
another (Dancygier and Vandelanotte 2017). In Figure 6, the possessive pronoun your is
embedded in a powerful wish expressing inner strength and self-control thus orienting the
message at anyone reading it. Within the message another perspective is adopted as I got
this implies taking on the perspective of the person referred to in the first part by means of
the possessive pronoun. Passersby reading this message can hardly avoid interpreting it
as being aimed at themselves and by consequence feeling highly involved in it3 . In that
plausible sense, both the possessive and the first-person personal pronoun operate as a
grounding predication through which especially the customer as addressee is brought
onstage. In case of the possessive pronoun, the addressee is explicitly mentioned and
therefore put onstage in the conceptual scene, along with, by implication (who formulates
this wish?), the shop owner as this message’s assumed producer. In the case of using the
pronoun I as part of the direct speech in this quoted utterance, the customer is objectified
as the idealized agent of an (also idealized) desirable action.
The slogan in Figure 5 also involves the deictic pronoun you as in Figure 6, yet here
it serves another function as it refers to the national authorities imposing the lockdown.
More interestingly though, depending on the interpretation of the first-person pronouns
us and we, this scene can be interpreted in two ways. A first reading arises from the
interpretation of both pronouns as referring to ‘every citizen’. The mannequins, then,
metonymically4 stand for the population as a whole, their missing faces emphasizing that the
referential meaning does not align with them but, rather, with other entities beyond them.
What this scene depicts, then, is the mannequins acting and protesting on behalf of the
entire population as it were.
Yet, a second interpretation is plausible as well. In order to get that right, we need to
get a closer look at the local constellation in which the verbal message is being displayed.
Of crucial importance is the immediate proximity of the message to the two mannequins,
which upon closer inspection, appear to pose hand in hand. Because of this direct proximity,
the semi-concessive, provoking message (you can lock us down . . . ), can also be interpreted
as a materialized text balloon thus aligning the referential meaning with the (personified)
mannequins themselves, who ultimately might be seen as metonymically standing for the
shop owners. Further, in this multimodal link between the message and the mannequins,
the second clause (we will get dressed) still makes perfect sense: even in closed fashion shops,
mannequins (we) get dressed. What we see here, then, resembles a screen shot or a panel in
a comic, whose interactional dynamics is driven by the text balloon.
In either interpretation, the construal of the mannequin as an acting person, gaining
identity and protesting for being locked down by the government, involves a personification metaphor. Moreover, in both interpretations, the message motivates the marked
pose of holding hands as a symbolic gesture of solidarity, the mannequins metonymically
standing for either ‘their’ shop owners or for all people being shut down. The entire
scene appears as a subtle interplay of different perspectives and other construal operations
being integrated into a highly intersubjective scene, which appeals to at least three strong
feelings of human involvement. First, the scene expresses solidarity among all people
struck by the lockdown, second, the concessive clause expresses a subtle protest against
the drastic measures that were taken, and third, the wish in the second message sends
out a message of encouragement. Overall, the messages in this shop window engage in a
remarkably diverse and sophisticated manner with all humans behind the participants of
the commercial transaction process. In doing so, here also the communicative ground has
taken center stage in the interpretation of this interaction.
Whereas the previous examples have revealed a good deal of creativity involved
in the production of these messages, the picture in Figure 7 comes with plain humor.
Very prominent in the middle of its shop window, an exclusive wine shop has a pyramid of
This observation also appeals…
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