Communication drives business success – it’s used across all departments from marketing to finance, and it’s the key to building quality relationships with employees, business partners and customers. Thus, language matters. I’m not talking about language like learning to speak Spanish or how English is the global language of business. I mean words – words matter.
Words used impetuously create uncomfortable situations, misunderstandings and skepticism that are difficult to undo once established. Words used intentionally set the tone for the brand’s personality and how the company and its employees are perceived.
Why do you think marketing people spend so much time carefully crafting, reviewing and retooling ad copy? They want to get it right – they have one chance to say what they mean and elicit a desired reaction among consumers that will then foster a desired behavior – becoming customers. (Or the marketers burn out on concepts, give up and roll with, “Just Do It”… which seems to work, too.)
How about euphemisms? We’re all used to trying to soften the blow in our communications when we want someone to react well (or less badly than we expect) to what we’re saying. Euphemisms are mild words or indirect expressions used instead of those considered to be too harsh or blunt; “let go” versus “fired,” for example.
But what if your communication isn’t negative? Have you ever stopped to consider how you might take that normal, neutral, or generally positive thing you’re saying, and say it better?
Discount v. Savings
When you hear the word “discount,” you probably have a positive reaction because a reduced price leaves more money in your wallet… and that’s always a good thing! But when you really think about the word and how it’s used, a discount is generally off of a retail price – in other words, removed, reduced, brought down. A discount devalues the original price, as if that price wasn’t worth paying to begin with. This is actually pretty negative-sounding isn’t it?
“Savings,” on the other hand, is usually on something, suggesting a bonus or benefit. The price is lower regardless of what you call it, but using the term savings elicits a more positive reaction and a higher feeling of value for both the customer and the company. The customer feels positive about the product and the shopping experience, and the company feels positive about the customer’s perception of the brand.
Visitor v. Guest
You are a visitor to a prison, or to the moon. You are a guest in someone’s home. Need I say more? It’s easy to use jargon or seemingly normal words to describe business activities, especially within a given industry like the wine biz. For example, “We see X visitors per year in our tasting room.” “Visitor” sounds cold and unwelcoming, which is the opposite of how we want to make someone feel when they visit our winery, right? “Guest” sounds as if they have been invited, that you’ve been expecting them – and that is how the guest/visitor/inmate/martian should feel from their arrival to departure.
It’s a discussion of semantics, but whether communicating as an individual or on behalf of an entire organization, we should strive to say what we mean and mean what we say, choosing our words carefully, intentionally and positively. It might just yield better business results.
#TakeAction – Read through your marketing materials and highlight words that sound generic, cold or negative. Think of new ways to convey the same message but in a way that elicits a positive response and connotes a feeling of value. When you begin to acquire a rhythm of doing this with written words, it'll be easier to do it when you speak.