Monday, February 1, 2010

A Word to the Wise

Here's a little nugget that was planted in this space several years ago, but the subject's universality still bears fruit.

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 that which we bring to our professional capabilities?

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

I once 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 himself 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 differently.

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 differently? Sound differently! Keep a dictionary or 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.

When Gloria Estefan sings of telling 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.

See you the first Tuesday of next month for another etymological sampling of Not Your Usual Marketing Tips.

Joel Kweskin
704.846.4835 office
704.575.8850 mobile
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