The power of words is especially important in all human cultures and must be thoroughly understood for effective advertising. Regardless of which language is spoken by which people, we are in awe of the impact word choice can have. “The pen is mightier than the sword,” according to English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton. All of existence began with “the Word” according the Old Testament, which also begins with the Word. The Persian poet Rumi once said, “Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” The First Amendment to the United States Constitution deals entirely with the protection and importance of self-expression. So what impact does the power of words have on your marketing efforts and the perception of your brand?
In today’s fast-paced, digitally-obsessed world it can be easy to forget the complexity and fundamental nature of language. Marketers are constantly hearing from social media platforms, designers, and ad agency executives that visual cues matter most. Video reigns supreme on social. People love to capture a moment in a photo for a succinct communication of its impact. But have you ever stopped to think about the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words”? The importance is the relationship. The picture is defined in terms of words – not the other way around. No one ever said “one thousand words are worth a selfie”. Words are the foundation of our understanding. They are the foundation of our communication.
All advertising is a means of communication. Marketers use every media available to communicate a message, story, and emotion to their intended audience. People receive and process each attempt into words. A deaf person learns to communicate with visual words. A blind person learns to communicate with tactile words. It is our words that matter in advertising so that we can achieve the desired result.
As mentioned before, the power of marketing can and should elicit an emotion. The emotion could be the joy of saving money or the nostalgia of the past or anything in between. Every purchase decision ever made is rooted in an emotion. Now take a look at the following two words and the difference their meaning may have:
Both could be used as a call-to-action in an advertisement. “Discover the new Porsche 911 today” or “Learn about the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class today”. The difference lies is the imagery evoked by the words. “Discover” offers a connotation of adventure, exploration, and excitement. “Learn” delivers recollections of classrooms, tutors, and textbooks. Both words imply the acquisition of knowledge, but in very different ways.
One important tactic for marketing success is to understand that context matters. If the audience is comprised of engineers, programmers, or other professionals with a technical skill set, the word “learn” may be the best choice. “Discover” would serve a better purpose if the audience is young skydivers looking to purchase apparel. Knowing the psychology of an audience is vital to effective word choice.
Professor Gerald Zaltman is a Professor Emeritus at the Harvard Business School, and author of Marketing Metaphoria. He has spent years teaching the customer mind to his students and using metaphors to better interact with those customers. There is an understanding among qualitative market researchers about how people process and associate images and experiences through the power of words. That is the goal of successful marketing.
Metaphors have been famously used in advertising jingles for decades. Chevrolet was “Like a rock”. State Farm is “Like a good neighbor”. Such phrases conjure easily understood imagery. The power of words can actually produce a chemical reaction in the brain. If powerful words are used to trigger an emotional reaction they can prompt the release of dopamine. That dopamine enhances the brain’s ability to remember. A good call-to-action is a memorable one. The audience should be directed to embark on a single action after receiving the stimulation of the advertisement. Effective branding includes recall rate and top-of-mind awareness. For the audience to remember the advertiser and what they were asked to do, they need an emotional stimulant.
According to a 1959 study by J.A. Easterbrook, high levels of emotional arousal result in narrowing of attention and stronger commitment of that experience to memory. Today’s consumer is more easily distracted than ever. They require greater stimuli to capture their attention. The average American transient attention span is 8.5 seconds. A goldfish has 8.0 seconds. Their attention must be captured and then acted upon.
Now for the cheat sheet. Here are 10 words that you can use in your marketing campaigns.
The 10th word on this list is the most powerful of them all. It changes the intent and interpretation of the statement. Most importantly, it personalizes everything within it.
“You” forms a connection with an individual. It encourages them to place themselves along the path you want them to follow. In radio, it is a key component of the “theater of the mind”. Humanizing a product, service, or even a result can make a substantial difference in ad recall, action, and revenue. By including the word “you” in marketing, the audience immediately thinks of what the product or service does for and with them. A separation from the group and focus on the individual. This is a shining example of the power of words.
Technology and data are being combined to create the most personalized and customized marketing in history. Marketers have the ability to know their customers on a very personal level. As this capability advances, marketers must be ever more aware of the power of words and the language used in each media.
As you depart this blog, remember:
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