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Published on November 9th, 2015 | by Contributing Author

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Why Certain Marketing Words Sing, While Others Just Stink — and How to Tell the Difference

For all the visual nature of modern marketing, words are still powerful. A mesmerizing video or stunning picture gains even greater impact with a few descriptive words, and consumers still rely on language to communicate and share their reactions to everything they see online. Choosing just the right words for your marketing materials can make all the difference in how well they succeed at engaging consumers.

As you craft marketing content, it’s easy to find online lists of marketing words that sell, and just as easy to find lists of words to avoid. Of course, some advice will be more useful than others, and unless you’re a professional wordsmith — few small business owners are — you may find it difficult to assess the value of the tips you read. However, if you understand why certain words are powerful while others are ineffective, you’ll be better able to choose marketing words that hit the mark with your target audience.

What makes words sing?

Why Certain Marketing Words Sing, While Others Just Stink

Professional wordsmiths, whether novelists or ad copywriters, carefully consider virtually every word they choose. They know that word choice drives a reader’s/user’s visceral reaction to the key message the text is intended to deliver. Pick the right words in the right combination, and your prose will entertain and enlighten while conveying your message. Choose poorly or lazily, and your content will bore readers at best, and annoy or repulse them at worst.

When you’re evaluating word choice for any piece of marketing content, keep optimum qualities in mind. Good marketing words are:

Emotionally evocative

Certain words inspire specific emotional responses in people who hear or read them. For example, you might consider using the word “hurry” in an email subject line to entice recipients to take advantage of a limited-time offer. But average Americans are hurried enough in virtually all aspects of their lives; they might perceive the word “hurry” as stressful. A good marketing word will evoke a positive emotional response from your audience. You don’t have to be a professional wordsmith to interpret the emotion associated with a word; go with your gut. If a word gives you a negative feeling, chances are good your audience will react the same way.

Informative

We’ve all seen ads, emails or commercials that are all flash and no substance. They use word gimmicks to attract attention, but fail to tell the consumer anything useful about the product or service they’re supposed to buy. While such words have an initial impact, they can’t hold attention long term, or lead to the level of engagement that results in a purchase. Good marketing words tell the consumer something about your product or service, which is why words like “you,” “now” and “free” resonate.

Personal

Good marketing tells consumers what’s in it for them if they choose your product or service. It helps them understand how what you’re selling relates to their lives. Word choices that create a personal connection for prospects — “you,” “kids,” “pets,” “parents” — help consumers understand the value proposition you’re selling.

Colorful

Certain words just have style or flare. They are colorful, fun, engaging, exciting or humorous, and they can be powerful enough to overcome the innate dullness of a naturally lackluster product or topic. For example, mopping the floor is drudgery, but when you use the words “deluxe,” “deliver” and “sanitize” to describe a floor cleaner, suddenly the task seems more exciting.

Easy on the ‘inner’ ear

Most people subvocalize when they read, meaning they “hear” the words spoken in their head in their own inner voice. While people may try to sublimate subvocalization when reading lengthy materials, most will “hear” your ad slogan, email subject line or web header when they read it. This means words that sound harsh when spoken aloud are likely to evoke the same response when read “silently.” Be aware of how a word sounds and consider if that sound fits with what you’re trying to achieve.

Active

The difference between active and passive can be hard to grasp, even for professional writers. Words that speak to the reader of “doing” rather than “being” are active, and they’re more interesting to read. While you likely think of certain verbs as being active — run, jump, call — nouns and descriptive words can also imply action. For example, “driver” feels more active than “motorist” in describing someone behind the wheel of a vehicle.

Economical

Often in marketing you have mere seconds to grab someone’s attention, whether it’s with the subject line of your marketing email or a 10-second radio spot. It’s important to act quickly using as few words as possible. Good marketing is economical; it packs a lot of meaning into just one or two words. This is why “super-sale” is more effective than “everything on sale at rock-bottom prices.” Mastering word economy makes your writing brilliant. Dubious about the power of word economy? Consider the shortest English “novel” ever penned (attributed to Ernest Hemingway): “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Companionable

Great marketing words are familiar, easy to get along with and don’t require consumers to run to Dictionary.com to figure out what you’re trying to say. Words that create a sense of companionship — “Oh, I know what that means” — make prose more relatable and consumable.

Fresh

Familiarity doesn’t, however, mean you can rely on words that are stale and over-used. Given the sheer volume of content Americans see and hear every day, certain words and phrases can quickly saturate their awareness. Consumers welcome content that’s fresh and engaging. Words and messages they’ve seen too often before quickly lose impact.

Grammatical

Although social media is an important component of your overall marketing strategies, that doesn’t mean you should apply social media “speak” to every piece of marketing you do. It is possible, and imperative, to be grammatically correct, engaging and brief. When consumers see grammatical errors in content, they may not be able to cite the grammar rule it breaks but they can still know it doesn’t “sound right” to them. What’s more, poor grammar implies a lack of care and laziness that no small business owner wants associated with their products or services.

Contextual

Good marketing words make sense in the context in which you’re using them. For example, “gleam” makes perfect sense when you’re talking about toothpaste or car wax, but is less relevant in the context of a fitness club or produce stand. A word can be emotionally evocative, informative and entertaining and still not fit the context of your marketing goal.

Optimized

While people, and not search engines, make purchases, it’s important that you optimize online content for search engines; they’re the gatekeepers between your marketing content and the audience you hope will see it. While SEO should never be the deciding factor in your marketing word choices, whenever possible use words that will earn your content higher ranking by search engines.

What makes words stink?

Why Certain Marketing Words Sing, While Others Just Stink

Words fall into three categories when it comes to marketing: good, indifferent and bad. Poor word choices can undermine the most positive marketing message. One or more wrong words can dilute your brand identity, create a negative connotation for consumers, and even get you into legal trouble.

It’s imperative to avoid words that are counter to your marketing objectives. Here are some guidelines to help you identify words you should never use in marketing:

Is it jargon?

Every industry has its own language, and while jargon may be useful for communicating specific ideas and topics within an organization or industry, it’s almost never helpful in marketing. Jargon makes consumers feel like outsiders. It’s confusing, and average people can’t relate to it.

Is it offensive?

While there may be some validity to the idea of societal backlash against anything that’s overly politically correct, giving offense is the last thing you ever want to do in marketing content. It’s virtually impossible to eliminate all risk of ever offending anyone, but certain words are bound to be offensive. You know what they are — words that have racial, ethnic or biased overtones, that belittle certain groups of people, or would prompt your mother to remind you that if you can’t say anything nice you should say nothing at all. Case in point: outraged consumers leveled the ire on a huge discount chain after the retailer added a “fat girls costume” category to its website for Halloween.

Is it derogatory or insulting?

Yes, this is slightly different from being offensive. It’s possible to say something negative that, while not necessarily offending the consumer, is still off-putting. Positivity drives purchases, and using derogatory words in your marketing can give consumers the impression that your brand identity is inherently negative.

Is it crass or icky?

Some words just lack class. Others are inherently icky. Still others just make people uncomfortable. It’s hard to imagine words like cancer, rancid or puss ever evoking an uplifting feeling. Sometimes, they’re necessary — if you’re talking about a fund-raiser to benefit cancer research, you have to say the word — but often they’re not. Always look for alternatives to words that could cause consumers discomfort.

Is it duller than dirt?

Just as there are words that will always be associated with negative feelings and meanings, some words have no emotive value at all. Or, they’ve become so overused that they are no longer effective in creating a desired response. Still others just aren’t put together well, and they lack that sparkle that makes for compelling content.

Where words should sparkle

Why Certain Marketing Words Sing, While Others Just Stink

Of course, it would be wonderful if every line of your marketing materials sparkled. Certain spots, however, are more important than others when it comes to creating impact with words. Here are the top four places where your word choice must shine:

  • Headlines/titles – In our speed-conscious society, many consumers make decisions about what to read and what to buy based solely on a piece of content’s headline or title. A few great words in a headline can ensure customers are interested enough to listen to the rest of the pitch.
  • Your slogan – You can probably think of some great slogans – “Just do it.” “Don’t leave home without it.” “Say it with flowers.” A good tagline tells consumers who you are, what you’re selling and why they need it, all in a few choice words.
  • Email subject lines – The subject line of your marketing email is the digital equivalent of a newspaper headline. It will either convince the recipient to open it, or hit “delete” without reading further. Subject lines that are long, dull, confusing or misleading won’t perform well.
  • The first line of your pitch – If your headline, title, slogan and subject line have all worked to get the prospect this far into your marketing materials, it would be a shame to lose them with a lackluster first line. Packing the beginning of your content, whether it’s an email or print ad, with great words can help ensure customers will stay with you until you close the deal.

Despite the rise of digital marketing, or perhaps because of it, words remain as powerful as ever. When you choose strong words that sell, inform and elicit emotion, you create engaging content that builds your brand, boosts sales and impacts your bottom line.

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© 2015, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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