Sunday, November 25, 2007

Words That Count

According to Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert Siegel in “The Story of English” (Penguin 1992), “The statistics of English are astonishing. Of all the world’s languages (which now number over 2,700), it is arguably the richest in vocabulary. The compendious Oxford English Dictionary lists about 500,000 words; and a further half million technical and scientific terms remain uncatalogued.”

Author David Wilton adds, in “Wilton’s Word and Phrase Origins,” that “about 200,000 words are in common use today. An educated person has a vocabulary of about 20,000 words and uses about 2,000 in a week's conversation.”

So, with all the wonderful words available to us, why in the name of “multi-tasking” do we continue to use cliché after cliché to describe the “extras” that we bring to our professional capabilities?

Welcome to another addition of Not Your Usual Marketing Tips from JDK Marketing Communications Management.

Recently, I did a demonstration before my business referral group of how I develop a print ad. To help determine the eventual concept, I interviewed a volunteer “client” by asking him different questions about his business. Sure enough, when asked what differentiates him from his competition, he proudly intoned “Service.” Oh really, I asked. What else? “We care about the customer.” Hmmmm, you don’t say... “And we’re experienced,” he added.

I’m going to take a wild stab at this, but I’ll just bet that isn’t the first time those words have been used to excite and entice a potential customer.

Look, we’re all guilty of falling back on the familiar – in this case, words that have been used ten thousand times before. But the more serious consequence of using these hackneyed phrases is that they simply lose their meaning after a while.

If you say about your business that you provide “ great service,” that you really and truly “care” about your customer, and that no one can match your “experience,” I’ll counter that every time with “SO WHAT?” Every business can, in one facet or another, make that claim! You may BE different from your competition…but you’re not SAYING anything different. (Put it this way -- if text for your brochure, ad or 30-second oral commercial is worded in such generalities that ANYBODY else can put their name at the end of it, it’s time to consider rewriting the piece.)

So how can you sound different? Sound different! Keep a thesaurus next to your computer. Illustrate examples of your “service.” Use case studies that back up how you “care.” Quote testimonials where others have benefited from your “experience.”

You’ll come across as uniquely differentiated, more accomplished and with a better chance of getting your points across.

Now…the flip side of word usage is determining which ones are better equipped than others to be truly persuasive.

Motivational guru Paul Huff notes that the Psychology Department at Yale University has identified 12 words of “extraordinary persuasive power.” They are, in no particular order:

You, Money, Discovery, Easy, Guarantee, Save, Results, New, Proven, Help, Love and, of course, Free.

These words apparently have the subliminal influence to help sell a marketing message. It’s a no-brainer, for example, that when we combine “You” with “Free,” we’re bound to get eyebrows raised and glazed-over eyes to suddenly refocus.

When Gloria Estefan sings of her lament in trying to tell her lover how she feels “but the words get in the way,” we all know how that feels. But we can’t afford, literally, to let that happen when it’s time to sell our products and services.

Whether it’s developing your printed or electronic marketing materials…speaking at a seminar…or simply doing your 30-second spiel at a networking get-together…choose your words well, and wisely. And make them words that count.

Joel Kweskin

1 comment:

Richard said...

Good article. I am still learning as I go along but found your approach more interesting than most others. Good job.