A little while ago I was struck by the title of the lead article in The Marketer – What are words worth? The piece talks about how important the specific language you use is in the development of a brand identity. It points out that with the increasing interaction with customers and the world at large via websites, ads, direct mail and social media then how you ‘sound’ as a business has never been more important.
This article focuses on advice and ideas perhaps more applicable for larger businesses, and concerns itself with things like tone of voice, picking two – what it calls a warmed-up version of plain English and the cheeky chappy tone of smoothie brand Innocent – as the most common ones observed. In reading the piece however I was more interested in thinking about how important individual words and phrases are in your business communications.
Words that work
Let’s take perhaps the most often used word – free. It is certainly successful in grabbing attention. Put it in a headline and you’re likely to get the rest of your copy read, whether you’re writing a web page, advert or direct mail letter.
But be careful, it can also create attention for all the wrong reasons. You’ll notice I won’t repeat the actual word in this article because I don’t want this newsletter picked up by spam filters and I would certainly avoid using it in the subject line of an email.
But it’s not just technology that doesn’t like the ‘f’ word. I was at a business support group meeting recently when a new member explained their services and said that their website stated they were offering the first session for nothing. Everyone in the group advised against this approach with comments ranging from “you don’t want to be seen as desperate for work” to “you shouldn’t undervalue what you do, if you do, others will”. There was a consensus that the ‘f’ word in this instance created more negative connotations than positive ones.
Another example of an overused and sometimes misused word is ‘new’. Don’t get me wrong it’s a powerful word and will get attention, but to use it you need to be able to prove your product or service is genuinely new and that in being so it is worth telling the customer about. You may well have a new product but that’s not enough to make me interested in wanting to buy it. Unless, that is, I’m a fan of yours – so an avid Harry Potter reader might be interested in the new JK Rowling novel, a keen amateur gardener may be interested in the season’s new seed catalogue but a business owner is unlikely to be interested in your new service just because it’s new – you need to either target existing users (fans) who are already switched on and might buy the improvements offered, or target people who you know can benefit from what you are selling. In both instances, it’s the benefits you are selling, not just the fact it’s new.
One of the most powerful words you can use in business is ‘guarantee’, again provided you use it genuinely. If you can provide a guarantee with your product or service, you will not only grab attention but you’ll also start to persuade. Just think about these examples and how powerful they sound:
At Genuine Accountants and Tax Advisors we guarantee you will recoup our fees fully in the first year in tax savings, or you won’t have to pay.
Try Zazzy washing powder for 3 months and if you’re not satisfied we’ll give you a year’s supply of your previous brand.
Delivery within 20 minutes or pay nothing.
Of course, these guarantees need to be backed up with a consistency in communications, great systems and service to match the promise but all are achievable and guess what, they don’t only impact on the customer they keep the business focused on what it needs to deliver too.
Words are very powerful things, use them wisely and you can persuade and influence, use them unwisely and you can miss sales opportunities and ruin a brand’s reputation – just ask Mr Gerald Ratner who it’s said killed his company in 1991 by describing its products as “total crap”.